Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hungry and Far from Home

By Beth Green

Image by Pong/
What do peanut butter, cheese, beans for breakfast, maple syrup, Vegemite and McDonald’s Big Macs have in common? They’re all fixes for homesickness—although the remedy usually only lasts through the final bite.

When I was young my parents and I sailed through the Caribbean and South Pacific on their home-built trimaran. If we were on a longer ocean crossing—more than a few days—my mother and I would play the “what will you eat” game. We’d sit in the cockpit watching for flying fish and describe, in as much detail as possible, the perfect meal for when we reached shore: strawberries, fleshy and red; milk as white as the crest of a breaking wave; crumbly, chocolatey Butterfinger bars. And my favorite, the cold, delicious thickness of a chocolate milkshake.

Since then, my tastes have changed a bit, I suppose (though it’s difficult to imagine a world with too many chocolate milkshakes), and the foodstuff I hanker for most when thinking of the U.S. is that wonderful, juicy, symbol of Americana—the hamburger.

Photo by gt_pann/
When I lived in the States (I’m based in Southeast Asia now), I nearly never ate a hamburger. I was a slow-food kind of girl. I’d still whip through a McDonald’s drive-thru for a shake and possibly an order of fries, but I kept the hamburger to a once or twice a year maximum.
But somehow, my various transitions around the world have given me a slight obsession with the proper way to prepare a hamburger. This is why it was quite distressing to find that, in China, the word hamburger has been translated to han bao 汉堡 (sometimes doubled to han bao bao) and the term has expanded to include all sandwiches made with buns—even sometimes all sandwiches. Order a hamburger in China, therefore, and occasionally it would be a ham sandwich. Or, ask for a cheeseburger—and get a lonely Kraft single between two slices of sweet white bread. Hold the (fruit-flavored) mayo.

For the record, this is how I like my hamburgers, from the top down:

Toasted buns, topped with sesame seeds. Buns should be fluffy enough to sink your teeth into easily, but not so fragile that the juices from the meat leak through to your fingers.

Frilly lettuce. Not too much. Spinach leaves acceptable.

Image: Sura Nualpradid/
Thick, red slices of tomato. Not those skinny Roma tomatoes that fall out onto your lap when you bite into the burger, either.

Dill pickle slices. Leave your sweet pickles for hot dog relish, thank you.

Mustard. Yellow mustard is OK, but brown mustard is that much better. Hot or fancy mustard gets more points.

Ketchup. Not so much that it drips, but I love that sweet-and-sour taste.

Cheese optional. If put on, it should not have come pre-wrapped and shouldn’t be too drippy when cooked on top of the…

medium-rare beef patty. I am not a cook, so I can’t truly describe what I like here—but I know it involves high quality beef, finely chopped onion, a good twist or two of freshly ground pepper, and, I believe, some egg yolk.

And, then we’re down to the bun.

Did you enjoy our little game of “what will you eat?”

Your turn!

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