8 of The Most Unusual Hamburgers in Japan
The humble hamburger is considered around the world to be the quintessential all-American food, but you may be surprised to find that Japan offers a lot of hamburgers. These can be found everywhere from American chains to home-grown Japanese burger restaurants. Hamburgers arrived in Japan following World War II, when there was a large US military presence in Japan. One of the earliest places to offer hamburgers was Sasebo city in Nagasaki prefecture, where US military personnel from the local Sasebo naval base would spend their free time off base. The “Sasebo burger” was created due to the demand of these American soldiers, and in the decades since, the popularity of burgers has spread all throughout Japan.
But hamburgers in Japan aren’t just about the traditional American beef patty and buns. In fact, Japan is home to a lot uniquely Japanese and more unusual hamburgers.
Japanese Hamburgers: A Tasty and Atypical Assortment
The shirasu burger is a perfect example of a unique burger you won’t find anywhere but Japan. Shirasu are tiny baby sardines or anchovies that are eaten whole, either raw or dried. For shirasu burgers, they're often used as a topping for a satsuma-age patty, a type of deep-fried fish cake that originated in the Kagoshima area of Japan. Topped with shirasu sardines and sandwiched between two hamburger buns, the satsuma-age patty creates a tasty fish burger packed with seafood flavor. If you enjoy fish fillet burgers, then the shirasu burger might just be the thing for you.
Since the 1970s, teriyaki—a soy sauce-based Japanese glaze—has been a popular sauce used in Japanese hamburgers. The hamburger patty is coated in teriyaki marinade before grilling or topped with a thick teriyaki sauce after cooking. It’s best enjoyed with a plain white hamburger bun so that the full flavor of the teriyaki sauce can shine. As an extra treat during the fall, many hamburger chains in Japan offer a “Tsukimi Teriyaki Burger”, where the patty is topped with a fried egg cooked sunny-side up, as the egg yolk is believed to look like the moon.
Korokke, or Japanese croquette, is a popular food item in Japan featuring a breaded and deep-fried patty of mashed potatoes, which can also include ground meat. To make a korokke burger, the korokke patty is sandwiched between two hamburger buns and served with sweet Japanese mayonnaise or a sweet, dark tonkatsu sauce that’s reminiscent of Worcestershire sauce.
Japanese hamburgers aren’t just about unusual ingredients sandwiched between two bread buns. Rice buns, made from steamed white rice molded into a disk shape and then toasted until crispy, are also popular in Japan. Rice burgers may contain all kinds of fillings, including yakiniku meat, stir-fried vegetables, and seafood tempura. It’s a modern fast food twist on traditional Japanese foods.
Ebi Katsu (Fried Shrimp) Burger
The ebi katsu burger features a delicious patty of fried shrimp that seafood lovers are sure to enjoy. Ebi katsu is made by mincing fresh shrimp and mixing it with flour and egg to bind it together. The mixture is then molded into a patty, breaded in panko breadcrumbs, and deep fried. It’s a delicious burger option for those who don’t eat red meat or poultry.
Menchi Katsu Burger
A menchi katsu burger is kind of like a regular hamburger if you were to take the ground beef patty and, instead of grilling it, coat it in panko breadcrumbs and deep fry it. Menchi katsu is a popular food in Japan that gets its name from the minced meat (ground beef, ground pork, or both) used in the patty. When made into a burger, it’s usually eaten with shredded lettuce or cabbage and katsu sauce.
Tonkatsu is a crispy fried pork cutlet coated in Japanese panko breadcrumbs. Tonkatsu sandwiches have long been popular in Japan, but tonkatsu burgers are now also making an appearance everywhere from burger chains to supermarket bento lunch counters. A tonkatsu burger features a crispy tonkatsu pork cutlet, topped with plenty of crisp shredded cabbage and tonkatsu sauce, sandwiched between two hamburger buns.
The sabamiso burger is a type of fish burger featuring a saba (mackerel) fish fillet simmered in miso. Saba stewed in miso is a traditional Japanese dish enjoyed with finely shredded leek and a side of rice. It’s cooked long and slowly until the bones become tender enough to eat. The burger equivalent features a slow-cooked saba fish fillet coated in a thick miso sauce, topped with shredded Japanese leek, and sandwiched between two toasted rice buns. It’s a uniquely Japanese burger that combines the modern with the traditional.
Japanese Hamburgers Are a Twist on Tradition Worth Trying
Japan is home to a lot of quirky and unique foods that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. The next time you’re in Japan, in addition to enjoying staples like ramen and sushi, why not browse Gurunavi’s hamburger restaurant listings to find where you can try one of Japan’s unique and unusual hamburgers?