Pickles and Tea Adventures in Asian American Cooking

Wafu Hamburgers

Hamburger patties sans buns are now very popular with the low-carb/gluten-free set but the Japanese may have been the geniuses who thought of it first.

The wafu hamburger can be described as a cross between a teriyaki burger patty and meatloaf. My dear friend Yuki who gave me this recipe, eats it with rice and a side of broccoli and carrots. I’ve never been to Japan (Tokyo-Narita airport doesn’t count) but I’ve been told that this dish is very popular on yoshoku menus at family restaurants. I have yet to see it on the menu at a Japanese restaurant in the U.S. (holler if you have!). Many of my Japanese friends grew up eating wafu hamburgers at home.

And because the Japanese always think of the darndest things, the Japanese fast food chain MOS Burger offers the Tsukune Rice Burger, a teriyaki beef patty sandwiched between rice compressed into a bun!

The word ‘wafu’ refers to Japanese-style Western food or Western-style Japanese food however you choose to call it, and is added as a prefix, for  example, wafu salad dressing, wafu steak, and the list goes on.

I admit I was skeptical when I first saw this recipe: a hamburger patty without a bun, eaten with rice, and mixed with tofu? Sound iffy to you? It did to me, and I didn’t dare give my husband any details!

As it turned out, the wafu hamburger was a hit with both my boys. And it’s now on regular rotation at our house.

So here’s another favorite, under-the-radar recipe from “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.”


Japanese-Style Hamburgers (Wafu Hamburgers)

From The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook–Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens, Pg 153


A popular meal eaten at home, these hamburgers sans buns are similar to Salisbury steaks. In this recipe from Yuki Morishima, seasoned beef patties are cooked, doused in sauce, and then served with broccoli and carrots. For a healthy twist, Yuki, a Tokyo native who has lived in the United States for about twenty years, learned from her mother to add tofu to the patties to cut down on the amount of meat. You can also make the burgers with ground pork.

Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

14-ounce package firm or medium-firm tofu
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (see Pat’s Notes)
1/4 cup milk
8 ounces ground beef
2 green onions, white and green parts, finely chopped (2 tablespoons)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons Japanese soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
Grated daikon radish for garnish (optional)

Wrap the tofu in cheesecloth or a non-terry kitchen towel and squeeze out as much water as possible. You want the tofu crumbled.

In a large bowl, mix the panko and milk together. Add the crumbled tofu, beef, green onions, ginger, soy sauce, and pepper and mash everything together. Divide the mixture into 4 balls and flatten to form patties about ½-inch thick and 4 inches in diameter. They will be very soft.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Place the patties in the skillet and cook until the undersides are brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip and cook until cooked through, another 5 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, combine the soy sauce, mirin, water, and sugar in a small bowl.

When the burgers are done, reduce the heat to low and add the sauce to the burgers in the skillet and simmer for 1 minute. Slide the burgers onto 4 individual plates. Drizzle the sauce over the tops and garnish with grated daikon.

Pat’s Notes:

Panko, Japanese bread crumbs with a coarser texture than regular bread crumbs, is used as a coating for deep-fried food, especially seafood. It is available in the Asian section of larger supermarkets. Unopened packages last indefinitely, but once opened, panko should be frozen.

I’ve used ground turkey in this recipe with great success too.

Instead of burger patties, turn the ground mixture into meatballs for a fun appetizer or school lunch!


  • Frugal Hausfrau

    Pat, this looks amazing. I have been experimenting in trying to make a chicken burger I like, and they’re always dry. It just came to me that this might be a great recipe to try with chicken. At any rate, the tofu makes these beef burgers seem healthier than the average ones.

    • Pat Tanumihardja

      Hi Frugal Hausfrau! So happy to hear from you after this long while. And I’m glad you’re still making my recipes :). I love that char siu recipe, so easy but so versatile. Take care, Pat

    • Pat Tanumihardja

      I make this with ground pork as well and you can’t even tell the tofu is there!

  • Filed Under

    October 9, 2014
    Comfort food
    Course-type    Entrees    
    Culture    Fusion    Japanese    
    Main ingredient    Meat    
    • Posted By

      Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, Pat Tanumihardja writes about food, travel, and lifestyle through a multicultural lens. Pat especially enjoys covering topics that converge on food, history and culture and has been published in numerous international, national and regional publications. Her cookbook, The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook—Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens is a treasury of family recipes and stories spanning over a dozen Asian cultures.

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