The hamburger is definitely a good place to start if you want to reduce traditional global meat production. It’s probably the most popular fast-food meat product, especially in the Western world.
But that’s all in the future. For people who want to make an impact now, there are already plenty of vegetarian burger options available – in Maastricht, too. I’m going to try some of them with Paul Smeets and Nicolas Duran, who both work at the School of Business and Economics. Paul considers himself a “default vegan”: he usually buys and cooks plant-based food only, but he does eat meat when he’s eating at a friend’s place, for example. Nicolas, by contrast, is from Uruguay, where life revolves around the barbecue, preferably with a lot of meat and just a hint of vegetables. In Uruguay, switching to a vegan diet is almost akin to treason. Nicolas has been eating much less meat since he moved to the Netherlands. But if a man like him can learn to love a vegetarian burger, there is hope for the rest of the world yet.
We’re having dinner at restaurant Burgerlijk (Rechtstraat), considered by many to be the best burger joint in Maastricht. They offer a wide range of burgers, including two plant-based options: one made from soy and seaweed and one made from tempeh. To provide the necessary context, we also order a traditional hamburger made from Limousin beef, a venison and wild boar burger, and a burger made from Wagyu beef. Our first round of food consists of the plant-based options and the Wagyu burger.
Let’s start with the soy and seaweed burger. It’s soft inside, but the crust is nice and crunchy. The burger is topped with wasabi mayonnaise and guacamole, which make for a somewhat dull combination. You’d expect the seaweed salad to add a sense of freshness to the dish, but it’s all just a bit boring. The bun is green, as if to really drive home the point that we’re eating a plant-based product here. It’s also a little too soft.
The tempeh burger consists of a thick, round slice of tempeh with peanut sauce, mung bean sprouts and sweet and sour vegetables. It’s essentially gado gado on a bun. It’s certainly not bad, although it could be spicier. The tempeh doesn’t really do anything for the overall dish. We appreciate the fact that a burger needs to contain a thick, round slice of something in order to qualify as a burger, but the tempeh is a little dry and its texture is somewhat unpleasant. It doesn’t work for us.
The Wagyu burger is a lot better. It comes with cheese au gratin, caramelised onion and truffle mayonnaise. The flavours combine beautifully: they’re pleasant but not too strong, allowing the beef to take centre stage. Nicolas is very impressed with the meat, which is a real compliment coming from a Uruguayan.
We’re served coleslaw and chips as side dishes. The coleslaw is all right, but it’s too mayonnaisey and could do with a squeeze of lemon and some pepper. The chips are nice. They’re still hot and crunchy after five minutes and are served with good mayonnaise.
Our second round of food consists of the venison and wild boar burger and the traditional Limousin hamburger. This is truly something else. The traditional hamburger has everything that makes a burger good: deliciously crispy bacon, a nice bun, solid traditional toppings (tomato, onion, lettuce and pickles) and a cocktail sauce that supports all the flavours and really brings them together. The beef is excellent.
As it turns out, we saved the best for last. We all agree that the venison and wild boar burger is one of the best burgers we’ve ever had. Nicolas is smiling blissfully and even default vegan Paul is impressed. The meat is perfectly cooked, nicely brown on the outside and still a little pink inside. It’s wonderfully juicy and tastes like heaven. The toppings are great, too: a delicious combination of port sauce and caramelised endives, and pecans to add some crunch. The bun is phenomenal. It’s all-around excellent work.
Burgerlijk clearly serves high-quality meat burgers. Their plant-based burgers, though well intentioned, don’t quite measure up yet in terms of taste. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time until Mark Post’s cultured meat changes this situation.