So I went to see the film Hamburger America at the Enzian Theater yesterday, along with This is My Cheesesteak. Both films were wonderful takes on food in America. I’m happy the Florida Film Festival included these films this year, because I am such a food lore geek, and I love hearing about the history of little mom & pop establishments, even if they’re serving up a bunch of meat I don’t eat.
This is My Cheesesteak focusing on the iconic Philly cheesesteak sandwich and a few of the sandwich shops and their owners who have made it such an institution in the city. It was a visual love letter to the authentic cheesesteak. My favourite scene was when the cheesesteak owners were shown sampling a Hot Pockets microwavable Philly cheesesteak… and all that were shown trying it spat the bite they took out! It was great. If you want to find out more about this film, the documentary has a website: www.thisismycheesesteak.com. There’s a schedule of other film festivals it will be appearing at, as well as a film trailer, and apparently you will be able to buy the DVD online soon. There’s also a listing of the steak shops featured in the film, with nearly all of them having their own website, so if you’re planning on making a visit to the city, you have your selection of cheesesteaks to try… unless you’re veg like me. Take photos at least, though, because these sort of establishments are a part of food history.
While This is My Cheesesteak showed American cuisine in one city, Hamburger America went all across the foodscape of American to tell these amazing stories about the small businesses and local chains that make up our food culture identity. It fascinated me how these little places scattered around the country are so unique in their history and also their take on the classic American hamburger. The film starts out in Memphis, Tennessee, with a burger whose burger meat is deep-fried, which should come as no surprise to the rest of the Southerners out there. The real kicker is that the meat is fried in grease that’s over 90 years old. The grease is strained and filtered, but essentially it’s still the same grease that was being used nearly a century ago.
As well as Wisconsin’s Butterburger, where a healthy(?) dollop of butter is added into the burger, New Mexico’s burger with chiles, Connecticut’s steamed meat patties (which I actually found more bizarre than the deep-fried burger patties… but then again, half of my heritage is from people raised on vitamin G–grease), there was a little place called the Wagon Weel out in some fly-over state that puts peanut butter on its hamburger patties. Ah yes, hence it’s known as the Guberburger. During the Q&A section with the director afterwards, someone had asked him which burger was his favourite, and he earnestly said he liked all of them, but he regularly makes the Guberburger at home because of its ease of replication: just add peanut butter.
This inspired me. Later on that evening, with the help of my wonderful friend Marie who bought me a few of the rather essential ingredients, I created a Southeast Asian/vegetarian hommage to the Guberburger. I put lettuce and a sliced-up cherry tomato on the bottom bun, then added some fresh basil leaves, then cooked up a veggie burger patty and plopped in on top. While it was still hot from the pan, I put on a layer of non-hydrogenated peanut butter (stir, stir), then sprinkled on some crunchy bean sprouts and squeezed a proper bit of lime on top of that and on the underside of the top bun as well. It was gorgeous! I forgot to take a photograph, as I was so caught up in wanting to know what it would taste like, but I’ll definitely include another entry of making it with a photograph for my Open Source Food profile. It will be brilliant.
If you missed out on the film, you can buy it on DVD from the Hamburger America website. In addition to the film, George Motz is putting out a book that will showcase more burger establishments in the United States. There’s also a Hamburger America blog, which should keep you up-to-date about the upcoming book tour in, as George Motz put it, the Burger Belt.
Praise the man or woman who came up with the concept of putting peanut butter on a hamburger, and praise films like this that champion the small establishments that contribute to America’s flavour.