Baking for Bookworms: Hamburgers from Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary


Sorry for not getting this up on Friday. I was going to make this for dinner, but I finished the first draft of my novel, and we went out to celebrate instead (by the way, if you’re ever in Eugene, Oregon and looking for Italian food, Beppe and Gianni’s Trattoria has this roasted garlic appetizer that’s out of this world).

Hamburgers are a quintessentially American food, but what happens when you take the burger out of the states? This question can generally be used about this book in general, if you substitute the word “man” for “food.” The main character, Paul Kemp, is a kind of wanderer, a man who’s been everywhere but belongs nowhere. When he lands in Puerto Rico, it’s no different, and he and his coworkers, who share his undistinguished journalist status, drown their sorrows in rum and cheap burgers.

The first mention of the burgers in the book occurs when Paul’s new coworker shows him the ropes, so to speak:

“We parked in front of Al’s and went back to the patio. ‘I’m getting three hamburgers,’ said Sala. ‘That’s all he serves.’

I nodded. ‘Anything–I need the bulk.’

He called to the cook and told him we wanted hamburgers. ‘And two beers,’ he added. ‘Real quick.’

‘I’ll have rum,’ I said.

‘Two beers and two rums,’ Sala shouted. Then he leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarette.” (18)


This was the first Hunter S. Thompson book I read, and I was struck by how bleak the landscape was in the novel, down to the food. The sense of desolation is compounded by the repetition of the patterns in the characters lives. It is a cycle they see but cannot break–down to their daily watering hole.

But I really couldn’t give you such a bleak burger. Instead, these hamburgers are a reflection of the flavors of Puerto Rico: lime, coriander, and garlic. Feel free to serve these with rice for breakfast or with buns and fries for dinner. They’re flavorful and pack a lot of punch.

Makes 3-4 hamburgers, depending on how large you like them.

For the burgers:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander

For the peppers and onions:

  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves (or more, I’m always generous) garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon each of chili powder, coriander, and cumin
  • juice of half a lime

For the creamy sauce (adapted from Girl Versus Dough’s Chipotle Lime Crema):

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1 minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

(If you’re making fries to go with your dinner, throw them in the oven before you start, as the burgers are done pretty quickly)

Slice up the onion and red pepper. Set a pan on the stove over medium heat with a little olive oil in it. Carmelize the onions so that they’re brown and delicious. Then add garlic, red pepper and spices, stirring until the peppers are tender. Squeeze in lime juice. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the meat and spices and form into patties. Put the same pan you used for the peppers back over medium heat and grill the patties until they’re cooked through (you could also do this on an actual grill, I just don’t have one).

While the burgers are going, make the creamy sauce if desired. Stir all the ingredients into the sour cream and set aside. When everything is ready, assemble the burgers and eat!


Remember if you have a book suggestion for me to read and cook from, give me the title and author in the comments!

If Puerto Rico doesn’t make your skirt fly up, what’s your favorite tropical destination?

2 thoughts on “Baking for Bookworms: Hamburgers from Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary

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