A German with A Heavy Sweater On Is Called American?

A few days ago, I was watching a TV travel show. What I saw was several Belgian people in a group who were sitting at the table and giving their orders for their lunch in a local restaurant in Belgium. Some ordered “steak”. A waiter asked them how they wanted it. To whom wanted “black pepper” for their steaks the waiter said “Oh, you’ll have a fantastic night with your wife!” And some wanted their steak “American”, saying “American is the best!”. I was so curious to know what “Steak American” was…

In Japan, if you say just “American” to a waiter in a restaurant, he will bring you a cup of coffee. A coffee which is not so strong as Italian espresso is called “American Coffee” here in Japan.

On the other hand, in Belgium, “American” was a steak tartare, a dish of raw minced red meat. It seems to be called “Steack à l’Americaine” or “Filet americain”.

I was eager to know why on earth it was called American because for me the USA was a country which image was far from “raw” but rather “well-done”. I asked my Belgium friends on Facebook and I looked through the information on the internet…. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any clear definition on why it is called American but I found some interesting theories.


The origin of Steak Tartare was in Mongolia and was first brought to Russia.

1209-1121 – Genghis Khan (1167-1227), crowned the “emperor of all emperors,” and his army of fierce Mongol horsemen, known as the “Golden Horde,” conquered two thirds of the then known world. The Mongols were a fast-moving, cavalry-based army that rode small sturdy ponies. They stayed in their saddles for long period of time, sometimes days without ever dismounting. They had little opportunity to stop and build a fire for their meal.

The entire village would follow behind the army on great wheeled carts they called “yurts,” leading huge herds of sheep, goats, oxen, and horses. As the army needed food that could be carried on their mounts and eaten easily with one hand while they rode, ground meat was the perfect choice. They would use scrapings of lamb or mutton which were formed into flat patties. They softened the meat by placing them under the saddles of their horses while riding into battle. When it was time to eat, the meat would be eaten raw, having been tenderized by the saddle and the back of the horse.

1238 – When Genghis Khan’s grandson, Khubilai Khan (1215-1294), invaded Moscow, they naturally brought their unique dietary ground meat with them. The Russians adopted it into their own cuisine with the name “Steak Tartare,” (Tartars being their name for the Mongols). Over many years, Russian chefs adapted and developed this dish and refining it with chopped onions and raw eggs.

Quoted from “Hamburgers – History and Legends of Hamburgers” http://whatscookingamerica.net/


The culture of eating minced red meat went to Germany from Russia.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, minced beef was a valued delicacy throughout Europe. Hashed beef was made into sausage in several different regions of Europe.

1600s – Ships from the German port of Hamburg, Germany began calling on Russian port. During this period the Russian steak tartare was brought back to Germany and called “tartare steak.”

Quoted from “Hamburgers – History and Legends of Hamburgers” http://whatscookingamerica.net/


The culture of eating minced red meat was brought to the US by immigrants from Germany.

Immigrants to the United States from German-speaking countries brought with them some of their favorite foods. One of them was Hamburg Steak. The Germans simply flavored shredded low-grade beef with regional spices, and both cooked and raw it became a standard meal among the poorer classes. In the seaport town of Hamburg, it acquired the name Hamburg steak. Today, this hamburger patty is no longer called Hamburg Steak in Germany but rather “Frikadelle,” “Frikandelle” or “Bulette,” orginally Italian and French words.

Quoted from “Hamburgers – History and Legends of Hamburgers” http://whatscookingamerica.net/


Moreover, from my Belgian friend and the Belgian site, I knew that in Belgium there are “Steak Tartare” AND “Filet Américain”, and the difference between the two was mayonnaise. And finally I reached, after some hours of net surfing all around the world, “Filet Américain” was invented by a Belgian called Joseph Niels (1890-1940) for the hotel-restaurant “Canterbury” at the Boulevard Emile Jacqmain 129 which he founded. Before opening his restaurant, he went to London to work at the Savoy Hotel. So I assume that he named the dish that he invented as American for the “exotic” and “new” image that America had at that time… But for the truth… we must ask him directly!
(Information from the site of Au Vieux Saint Martin http://www.auvieuxsaintmartin.be/)


A German with a Heavy Sweater On Is Called American?

Photo from My Belgian Rrecipes where you can find many fabulous recipes of Belgian dishes!


There maybe many other things named after some countries without clear and logical reasons. In Japan, too! Here are some examples in Japan which popped up in my mind.

American Dog (アメリカンドッグ/あめりかんどっぐ)
-American Dog is what is called “Corn dog” in other countries. Many people who have been in Japan have definitely seen it sold at convenience stores. It is a hot dog sausage coated in a thick layer of cornmeal batter, typically deep fried and served on a stick. I didn’t know it before but fish sausage is normally used for American Dog.



Igirisu Pan (イギリスパン/いぎりすぱん)
-Literally it is English bread. It is a loaf of bread but in general, a loaf of bread is called “SHOKU-PAN” in Japanese. The difference between SHOKU-PAN and Igirisu-pan is the shape. If it is risen in the shape of a mountain, it is called Igirisu-pan. You may not imagine how deeply shocked I got when I saw people in Britain eating toasts of SHOKU-PAN, square type, but not IGIRISU-PAN…




UINNAA (ウィンナー/うぃんなー)
FURANKUFURUTO (フランクフルト/ふらんくふると)
BORONIA SOOSEEGI (ボロニア・ソーセージ/ぼろにあ・そーせーじ)

-These three are basically the same thing, sausage. The difference among them is simply a diameter.
UINNAA for Vienna is less than 20 mm (0.79 inch), FURANKUFURTO for Frankfurt is from 20 mm (0.79 inch) to 36 mm (1.42 inch), BORONIA for Bologna is over 36 mm (1.42 inch). BORONIA SOOSEEGI (Bologna sausage) is absolutely derived from Mortadella of Bologna, Italy, but only its thickness remained.

UINNA (Vienna)


BORONIA (Bologna)


SHIBERIA (シベリア/しべりあ)
If you have seen the latest film of Hayao Miyazaki, “KAZE-TACHINU”, “The Wind Rises” in English, you may have remembered the scene where the man of main character bought a cake for himself but gave it to a starving children he found on the road. That’s SHIBERIA named after Siberia of Russia. ANKO (sweetened bean paste) or a slice of YOOKAN (jellied ANKO) is sandwiched between slices of Castella, sponge cake. I found no clear explanation on why it was called Siberia, but it was the desert that kids wanted to eat in early 20th century.




ANDESU MELON (アンデス・メロン/あんですめろん)
I think it is well known that a kind of melon is sold for 10,000 yen (100 US dollars) in Japan. It is called muskmelon, which has net-like pattern on surface and whose fruit is light green. There are also other types of melon which are far cheaper than muskmelon. Among them there is a melon created by selective breeding and called ANDESU-MELON which its’ appearance and the taste are similar to those of muskmelons. Many Japanese believe that this melon is brought into Japan from the Andes of South America, Cordillera de los Andes, but I found that it was the name which derived from the abbreviation of the Japanese phrase “ANSHIN-DESU MELON”, which literally means a melon which is safe, reassuring, or a melon which makes people feel relieved… Relieved with the quality or the price? I have no idea, but I’m quite sure it can also cause anxiety for whom want to get a real muskmelon!




By the way, hamburger is a worldwide dish developed in Hamburg, Germany. We found that it was actually a baked “Steak Tartare (Mongolian)”. In Japan, however, hamburger means only a sandwich of a hamburger, which is such a famous American dish with the phrase “I’m loving it”. A hamburger itself, I mean a patty, is called “Hamburg”, whose pronunciation is ‘HAMBAAGU’ with an accent on “BA”. It is the third best dish loved by Japanese children next to Curry rice and Fried chicken. (Saionji Net. “Will Washoku Accept Friend Request from Curry Rice?”) You may notice that all the top three dishes don’t have their origin in Japan. I am not a narrow-viewed nationalist and I love the intercultural exchange. But I really hope that the globalization does not mean “hollowing out”.

PS. Unfortunately, it is prohibited to serve raw meat in restaurants in Japan today and you cannot eat Steak Tartare in Japanese style…

にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

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