Sep 22

Japanese Mini Hamburgers

in Bento, Bento Buddy, Japanese, Meat

Japanese Hambagu Bento

When you say hamburger here in the US, the image conjured to mind is a meat patty, usually cooked on a grill, served inside a bun, sometimes with a variety of condiments or toppings.  When you say hamburger in Japan (ハンバーグ–“hambagu”), the image conjuired to mind is much different—a meat patty that is like a cross between a hamburger and a slice of meatloaf, served simply glazed or topped with a spoonful of a steak-sauce like mixture alongside plain steamed white rice and glazed carrots.  I love both, but today we’re talking about the “hambagu” of Japan, which also happens to be a fantastic item to pack into a bento!

Japanese hambagu are made with sauteed onions, ground meat, panko bread crumbs (those fabulously coarse Japanese bread crumbs that you can usually find in the aisle with the Asian ingredients), and egg.  They are made by first pan-frying them, getting a good sear on each side of the patty, then finishing them off by steaming them, so that they stay wonderfully moist inside.  Half of the time I make my hambagu with a mixture of ground beef and ground pork, and the other half of the time I make them with crumbled silken firm tofu (my favorite is Morinaga silken firm tofu) and ground turkey.  Both are delicious and it’s always nice to switch things up!

Firm Silken Tofu

My friend Noriko makes hers with a sauteed mixture of onions, carrots, and celery, which I love and have adopted when making mine.  The little bit of extra color makes the burgers more visually appealing and also makes them a bit more healthy.

Sauteed veggies for hambagu

I like to finish my hambagu with a simple glaze made of soy sauce and honey.  When served as a meal, hambagu are traditionally served with plain steamed Japanese white rice and glazed carrots.  I tend to pack them into bentos with rice, some fresh veggies, and whatever else I can scrounge up.  But these little burgers are also fabulous served as sliders.  They’re especially good on King’s Hawaiian rolls.  This is a turkey tofu burger on a King’s Hawaiian roll.  See? Perfect fit.

Japanese Hambagu Slider

I make hambagu in a mini size so that they are easy to pack into my kids’ bento boxes, and I make huge batches so that I can pop them into individual silicone baking cups and freeze them, making it easy to grab one or two at a time in the weeks to come to use in bento lunches.

How to freeze hambagu for later

Print This Recipe Print This Recipe

Japanese Mini Hamburgers

Makes 4 servings

2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 rib celery, finely chopped
1/2 small carrot, finely chopped
8 ounces ground beef
8 ounces ground pork
1/4 cup panko
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey

1. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a frying pan and saute the vegetables until tender. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the vegetables to cool to room temperature.

2. Combine the ground beef, ground pork, panko, egg, and cooled vegetables in a large mixing bowl and mix everything together. Knead the mixture with your hands to ensure even distribution.

3. Divide the meat mixture into 8 equal portions. Roll a portion between your palms into a ball, then gently squash the ball into a patty of even thickness (about 3/4-inch thick). Repeat with the remaining portions of the meat mixture.

4. Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meat patties to the pan and brown on both sides. Add the 3 tablespoons of water to the pan, cover the pan with a lid, then turn the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, or until the patties are no longer pink in the middle. Remove the frying pan from the heat.

5. Mix the honey and soy sauce together in a small bowl. Return the frying pan to the stove, over high heat, and pour the honey soy mixture in. Shake the frying pan to coat the patties, then flip the patties so that the opposite sides get glazed as well, then remove the patties from the frying pan and place on a platter to cool slightly before serving.

*Recipe Variations:

  • Gluten Free: Replace the panko bread crumbs with lightly crushed rice chex cereal and a gluten-free soy sauce, gluten-free tamari, or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos in place of the soy sauce in the glaze.
  • Soy Free: Use Coconut Aminos in place of the soy sauce used in the glaze.
  • Paleo: Omit the bread crumbs in the meat mixture and use Coconut Aminos in place of the soy sauce used in the glaze.
  • Turkey Tofu Variation: Use 6 ounces of firm silken tofu (I use Morinaga tofu) and 10 ounces of ground turkey in place of the ground beef and ground pork listed above. Prepare the tofu by pouring off any extra liquid and blotting the surfaces of the tofu with paper towels. Then wrap the tofu in fresh paper towels, place on a microwave-safe dish, and microwave for 30 seconds on a high setting. Discard the towels and repeat the process with fresh paper towels once or twice more until the tofu feels firmer. This process will extract some of the extra water from the tofu so that your hamburger mixture isn’t too watery. Then crumble the tofu and use the tofu and ground turkey to make hamburgers according to the directions above.

*Recipe Notes: These hamburgers are perfect for making in large quantities and freezing. To freeze, place each hamburger in a silicone baking cup, then arrange in a storage container. Let the hamburgers come to room temperature before covering them with a lid and putting them into the freezer. Covering the hamburgers while they are still hot, or even warm, prevents heat from dissipating quickly which causes unsanitary condensation to form on the inside. These burgers will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator, or for 1 month in the freezer. When packing in a bento box, the hamburgers can be packed frozen or refrigerated into the bento, or reheated until piping hot in the microwave, then allowed to completely before packing.


*Disclosure: I was not asked to promote Morinaga or King’s Hawaiian in any way.  I chose to include brand names in this post because they are items that I love and purchase for my family.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Olga @ MangoTomato September 22, 2014 at 1:12 pm

These remind me of Russian kotleti: meat patties that are served with mashed potatoes or rice or noodles. Now I’m hungry!


Fuji Mama (Rachael) September 23, 2014 at 9:22 am

Oooh, now I have to try kotleti! They sound delicious!


Tina Bonney via Facebook September 22, 2014 at 1:24 pm

I think my kids would love these!


Nolwenn September 22, 2014 at 1:34 pm

And for the bento, why not make them in a meatball shape, too ? would not be proper hambagu but… fun for the kiddos (and for us !).

thank you so much for the recipe and tips.


Fuji Mama (Rachael) September 23, 2014 at 9:12 am

The sky is the limit! Just FYI, you would need to adjust your cooking method if you make them into meatballs, to make sure that they cook through completely, since you won’t be searing them on two sides and they will be thicker than if you shaped them into patties.


Kika Newell via Facebook September 22, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Thank you SO much for posting this!!! My Izzy will love them:) When we were in Japan last May, I finally caved in after the boat ride to Miyagima and let her go to a japanese fast food burger joint. It was definitely NOT McDonalds!! Awesome quality and service. Even the fries tasted better:)


Fuji Nana September 22, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Wow, this is a marriage of two of Fuji Papa’s favorite things. I will definitely be making these.


Fuji Mama (Rachael) September 23, 2014 at 9:18 am

Fuji Papa will love these! Plus you will love them, because they are easy to make!


Jennifer Kitajima via Facebook September 22, 2014 at 8:18 pm

I am loving all your awesome bento recipes. These would go so well in a box with some kyuri asa-zuke, which is still my all time fave of yours to date!


roberto September 24, 2014 at 4:05 am

I’m very hungry and I liked these very delicious Hamburgers. I will prepare them for my lovely family.


Robert October 9, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Love the tofu taste in the hamburger!


Kika Newell via Facebook November 11, 2014 at 1:22 pm

I’ve made these several times and discovered Iz liked them better baked! Much easier than frying, less mess and a crispy exterior….


Alison November 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm

I made the tofu/turkey version last night and they were fabulous! My children loved them. Good thing I made a double batch because between dinner and today’s lunches, they are all gone now. I couldn’t believe how soft they were. Thank you so much for the recipe- it’s a keeper!


jennie Blakely February 1, 2015 at 11:42 pm

Wow, I’m impress!I didn’t think about how to make a mini hamburgers like that by just using Silicon baking cups. i will try this at home for my boyfriend. can’t wait to make some and try it! :)


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