Like the light bulb or the Internet, the burger is an invention so important many people want to take credit for it. At this point many, including the Library of Congress attribute it Louis Lassen from New Haven, Connecticut. The tiny diner that bears his name is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. Others, however, date the burger back to the 1880s and give credit to meat lovers in Texas or Wisconsin. But all those burger historians might not be looking back far enough. In England they found a Roman cookbook from the 5th century with a recipe that looks suspiciously burger-esque.
The dish, called Isicia Omentata, contains minced beef, pepper, pine nuts, wine and garum—an ancient fermented fish sauce—formed into patties and cooked over an open flame. According to food historian Dr. Annie Gray, “Burgers aren’t a modern invention, rather a staple throughout the centuries that has evolved.” The cookbook doesn’t include any mention of fries, but the Romans seem like side salad people anyway.
Cooks will serve the ancient recipe this weekend at Birdoswald Fort at Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. We’ll have to see if the millennia-old burger holds up over time.