From the Bargain Bin: Hamburgers and Fries

I can never resist whenever Fully Booked, the bookstore with the most expansive selection in the country, goes on sale. I love how they have an entire shelf dedicated to a genre I didn’t really know existed until over a year ago – Food Literature. Up until I saw the labels on the shelfs, I thought books about food were limited to cookbooks, and maybe encyclopedic cookbooks (Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, the Larousse Gastronomique, Alain Ducasse’s Grand Livre de Cuisine, even Julia Child’s French Cooking at Home). Then I realized that there is prose to be written about food, and if it’s relatively good prose, then yeah, I guess it could be considered food lit. The first book of this kind I came across was Anthony Bourdain’s controversial Kitchen Confidential,, which is autobiographical, I guess. I’ve read a few others, among them being Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man who Ate Everything (a collection of columns for Vogue Magazine), Jacques Pepin’s memoir, The Apprentice, and one piece of fiction which wasn’t on the food literature shelf, but on the bestselling novels, Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barberry.
I may not be American, but this is my story, too.
I saw on the internet that Fully Booked had a pile of books on sale for as low as Php 50 (slightly over US$1), or huge coffee table books for up to 90% off. How could I say no? Being broke, I decided to pick out a couple, Hamburgers and Fries: An American Story by John T. Edge, and Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis (more on the latter when I read it) at Php 100 each.
Hamburgers and Fries was the third in a series on what the Gourmet, Saveur and Oxford America contributor felt were the quintessential American favorites foods. The other books were about fried chicken, apple pie, and donuts. This was a well-researched work, as Edge traveled around America, even as far as Hawaii, to try out the different variations of this red, white and blue classic. He also pointed out the main factor for egging him to research this book – the calorific fall from grace of McDonald’s and the burger due to the documentary film Supersize Me, and the reaction of chefs such as Daniel Boulud into creating gourmet burgers that extravagantly transcend fast food. He delved into the hamburger’s history, from the ancient Mongolian myths to the port of Hamburg, and best of all, provided recipes for his versions of the classic iterations of ground beef patties in bread that he enjoyed the most.
Note the Php 100 price tag! From $19.95 to just over $2

I finished this book in a day; it was such easy and light reading. This got me to thinking about how our selection of burgers in the Philippines are quite limited. I’d love to have onion-smashed burgers available at flat tops like the local Burger Machine. Or authentic sliders (the closest would be Charlie’s Grind and Grill, but they leave me wanting more. Watch out for an upcoming post on this). Or animal style double-doubles. Or decent cheese-stuffed burgers (Citizen and Bite Club fail miserably). We have enough decent high-class “gourmet” burgers (I’d say Lusso is tops, followed by Elbert’s, then maybe Myron’s). We also have good pub-style burgers, with the 1/3 pound and larger patties (Charlie’s, Wham, Brother’s et. al.). Most of our burgers are variations of three different styles. The gourmet burger, the pub burger, and the flat top burger. Creativity has been quite limited, and enjoyable burgers have become an upper class luxury rather than a democratized commodity. Foie gras and truffles had been done to death in the States at the turn of the century, but they only made their way into burgers here in the past couple of years. On the other hand, some of the classic regional Amerian styles have yet to have clones attempt to replicate their success on this side of the Pacific. Here’s hoping that the landscape of Philippine burgers expands over the next few years. If I just had the money, I’d try to start something up myself.

Beef tallow poached burgers. How could those not be good?
For a more accessible information source (which I think could have been inspired by this book), with a much simpler writing style as well, check out Serious Eats’ A Hamburger Today’s Guide to Hamburger Styles. You’ll see how much we’re missing out in the Philippines.

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