Are Montanans Eating ‘Cannibal Sandwiches’ Too?
A story out of Wisconsin has been circulating this week in the national media, with the attention-grabbing headline that screams something like, "Health Officials Urge Residents to Stop Eating Cannibal Sandwiches." Here is the NBC News version of the story, which dramatizes the apparently popular midwest, ground beef dish even further by claiming these 'cannibal sandwiches' are also known as 'tiger meat.'
Ok, back up the bus for a second. Once you get past the nauseating headline, you realize there is nothing cannibalistic or tigerish about what is more commonly known as beef tartar. Thought to originate in Scandinavia or eastern Europe, the Wisconsin Historical Society describes the dish as,
An appetizer of raw, lean ground beef served on bread (especially rye cocktail bread) with sliced onions, salt and pepper. Also known as "tiger meat," "steak tartare," or simply "raw beef and onions," the sandwiches have traditionally been served at holiday parties and other festive gatherings in the Milwaukee area.
Do people eat this in Montana? After all, quite a few Montanans (myself included) come from Germanic backgrounds and many of our families came to Montana from somewhere in the Great Lakes or Upper Midwest region of the country. I had a buddy tell me years ago that some of his relatives would occasionally serve the raw-burger delicacy during the holidays. At the time, I thought it sounded pretty disgusting. He said "it's actually not bad." To this day, I'll have to trust his assessment.
I reached out to the only German food person in Billings I could think of, Birgitt Adams. Her and her husband own the Oktoberfest Food Truck. She said the dish definitely is a German thing, although she admitted it doesn't seem very popular around the Billings area. She only found it served in a restaurant once (at the now-closed Lilac) and mentioned that none of her German relatives really seem to serve the mix of raw ground beef with salt and pepper and onions.
Birgitt also said she would be very hesitant to eat the dish unless she was quite familiar with the beef, where it was raised, what it was fed and when the cut of beef was ground into burger. Freshness is key, although the entire reason the 'cannibal sandwich' story is getting attention, is because health officials ALWAYS urge you to not eat raw hamburger.