I love Japanese cuisine just as much as the next gal, but every now and again this born and bred American just has a hankering for a hamburger. While up in Sasebo this past weekend, I decided to assuage my craving and seek out one of the city’s famous patties.
Sasebo is considered the home of the burger, the port of entry for this now-ubiquitous beef sandwich. When Americans moved into the Sasebo Naval Base in the 1950s, they brought with them their own culinary traditions. Chefs out in town soon learned the new recipes and the Sasebo Burger was born.
Not all Sasebo Burgers are created equal. Most start with a juicy 100% beef patty (American- sized, it’s important to note) but the choice of toppings diverges wildly. Lettuce, tomato and onions are a standard choice but only a portion of the patties come topped with cheese and many are more likely to be slathered in mayonnaise. Some shops even top theirs with an egg and bacon, a true protein power meal.
For our burger experience, we picked one of Sasebo’s best-known joints, Big Man. This small corner shop has been in the business for decades and was even featured on the NHK program Waratte Itomo. Despite it being a Friday evening, the shop was fairly empty. That was a good thing, since the tiny premises only hold about a dozen seats. Banish any notions of these burgers being “fast food”; it took a good ten minutes for our order to go from griddle to table. Not being a burger connoisseur, I can’t claim with utter certainty that these are Japan’s best beef patties, but I can proclaim them pretty darn good. My husband tried the famous bacon and egg burger, while I went with the slightly more unconventional steak burger with thick slices of marinated beef. It was juicy and slathered with just the right amount of mayonnaise on a perfectly toasted bun with lettuce and onions.
I’m not about to make this my every evening meal, but if you happen to be passing through Sasebo town, don’t pass up the opportunity to taste a Japanese burger in its birthplace.