Ginger Beef appears to have its origins in a Northern Chinese dish called Geung Ngao Yuk. It is traditionally drier and less sweet than the popular restaurant version that we are familiar with here in Canada. Ginger beef epitomizes the evolution of Chinese-Western cuisine and while its status as an iconic Canadian dish may be under the radar, its the perfect springboard to jump off into the murky waters of Canadian Chinese food and its origins.
In 1975, a newly arrived family in Canada, from Hong Kong, decided to open a Chinese restaurant outside of Calgary, Alberta’s Chinatown. Two sisters, Louise Tsang and Lily Wong found an old cafe with a sign that said ‘Silver Inn’. The building was worn out but the sign was still in excellent condition. They started serving both Canadian and Chinese dishes which was the norm for many restaurant owners of Chinese decent during this period. But they found in order to suit the tastes of the North American palate, they initially had to serve a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches. With the help of Lily’s husband, George Wong (who was also the restaurants’ chef), they began to adapt certain recipes. Because George Wong had experience cooking in England, he was used to the typical Western palate. Ginger beef was born, also known on their menu as ‘No. 65 – deep fried shredded beef in chili sauce’. Ironically, the dish has very little ginger in it and its actually the sweet chilies that are mistaken for ginger.
Although ginger beef is indigenous to Alberta, I think its safe to say, it can be found on pretty much any Chinese take-out menu in Canada. You would be hard pressed though to find anything resembling it in China, I’m sure. It is neither Chinese nor Canadian and yet it is both.
Today’s blog recipe moves away from the traditional deep fried beef to a marinated version using (of all things) ginger ale. Not only is ginger ale a great meat tenderizer but you get a bold ginger flavor without grating fresh ginger. Just a little side note… the term marinade, originally came from the use of seawater to preserve meat. The roots of the word are derived from the Latin word for sea (mare). This marinade works well with pork as well as beef.