The Chinese Hamburger

When we were growing up, my family’s favorite Chinese restaurant was called dong lai suen, and I remember it specifically because I could get my favorite dish: The Chinese Hamburger.

Of course this isn’t what it was called on the menu, nor was it what how my parents ordered it from the waiters, nor did it even resemble an actual American hamburger all that much. What it was, was a juicy disc of ground and juicy (so juicy!) pork wrapped in a thin chewy dumpling-like wrapper. The whole thing was pan fried so the outside was oily and the bottom and top crispy and slightly charred. The whole thing was the size of, well, it was the size of a hamburger. In any case, whatever it was or was not, it most definitely was delicious.

I’ve recently encountered yet another Chinese Hamburger. Well, hamburger-ish. This is a different version of the Chinese hamburger I remember from my youth, so it’s technically a hamburger twice-removed. But it’s got the same characteristics: flavorful meat wrapped in a sesame-seed speckled doughy outer layer, eaten with your hands from a wax paper pouch on the street as meat juices drip down your fingers. Dare you say it’s not a burger(ish)?!

This particular “burger” is made super fresh to order- the line for this street market vendor stretches the longest at the Raohe Night Market in Taipei. Sliced strips of a peppered beef filling (heavily peppered, to my great delight) is scooped with a long pair of metal chopsticks and placed in a small disc of rolled-out dough, not unlike a dumpling only three times as big and meaty. This meat and dough is taken in the palm and gets dipped- meat first- in a vat of chopped scallions, where they generously stick like flies on honey as the dough is quickly wrapped back over the meat and scallions to form a bun. What look like big fluffy smooth white cream puffs are tossed aside to be baked.

The baking process is just as unique as the Chinese Hamburger itself. The buns are literally stuck to the inside of a large, cylindrical brick oven wall that is heated by charcoals. I could make another comparison to wood-fired pizza ovens, but I think I’ve done enough International food comparisons for today.

After waiting for what seems like an eternity, a pouch containing a steaming hot bun is finally handed over. They operative word here is: Hot. Hot out of a hot coal oven. So hot, that even after ten minutes I was not able to bite through my beloved “burger”. After fifteen minutes though, I couldn’t wait any longer. Juicy, chewy, tender, peppery, hot, salty, steamy. Sirens blared in my head. This version of the Hamburger hasn’t replaced my love of In-n-Out, Shake Shack, or the Chinese Hamburger from my youth. No sir, it’s only been added to the esteemed (and growing) list.

胡椒餅, 饒河夜市創始攤

饒河總店 台北市饒河街249號

Black Pepper Buns, at the Raohe Street Night Market

Raohe Market Shop, 249 Raohe Street, Taipei

A Burger at the Ritz Carlton

The Ritz.  Such prestige, such class.  Even though I can’t afford to stay at one of their hotels (yet), I’m happy to take advantage of their bar.

The Churchill is located on the 3rd floor of the Ritz Carlton (丽思卡尔顿), Guangzhou.  “A Man’s Bar” is what a friend to it as, and a man’s bar it was indeed.   Smothered in rich mahogany, claw-foot furniture, horse head lamp bases and canvas pictures of Churchill, I was truthfully surprised to find such a delightfully cliche place in this city.  But as intriguing as the scenery was, the real reason we came was for the burger.

Oh, the famed burger of the Ritz.  We had heard about this burger from a handful of our friends- a $20 burger that took about 45minutes from order that was worth both the price and the wait.  Of course, we had to see for ourselves.

The DiploMan and I had initially planned to make this our Christmas dinner.  Seeing that we never got around to do it, we decided to ring in the new lunar year with this burger (again, probably breaking cultural traditions of all sorts).  Saturday night at the Ritz was pleasantly low-key, as I had prepared myself for something akin to the W Hotel in Westwood.  Greeted at the Churchill door by the friendly bow-tie clad waiter, we were escorted to our chairs.  The DiploMan then leaned over, as if he had a secret password, and muttered “We’ve heard you have…a burger…here.”  The waiter smiled, said yes, and pulled out my seat for me.

He presented us with a thick, leather bound drink menu the size of my torso, along with two half-sheets of paper and pens: their make-your-own-burger list.  Shifting the drink menu to the side we set our eyes on our priority.  Among the standard “Australian Beef” patty were the options of Wagyu beef, ostrich, and lamb patties.  Sticking to the traditional, we vowed to come back for the other options in the future.  From there we chose our choice of bun, cheese, and any other condiments and sides, waved our papers to the waiter and ordered our drink.

No more than 20 minutes later- a lot less than the famed 45minutes we had been told, our burgers arrived on a do-it-yourself arrangement of a plate.  I clapped my hands in delight and took about 30 pictures.

The patty was slightly underseasoned, but full of flavor nonetheless.  The bun was buttery and perfectly toasted;  the fact that they did the bun right, in China, was a feat miraculous in itself.  The cheese was expertly melted, and to my delight the sides and condiments came in their own little tapas-style portions.  Maybe I’ve been deprived a good burger for too long, but altogether the trip to Churchill was well worth it.  A great new tradition to ring in the new year if you ask me.

Ritz Carlton, Guangzhou
Churchill Bar
Xing An Road
Pearl River New Town
Guangzhou 510563
Open daily 5:30pm-1am