Calgary Ginger Beef is one of Alberta’s most famous culinary creations.
The popular beef stir fry beef dish originated in Calgary, quickly spreading across Canada into local Chinese restaurant menus.
The sweet and sour Chinese stir fry features thinly sliced beef strips dipped in batter and deep fried until crunchy. The golden brown, crispy deep fried flank steak strips are then tossed in a sweet and sour ginger sauce with bell peppers, onions, ginger and garlic.
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Travel to Alberta by Cooking Calgary Ginger Beef at Home
I love traveling across Canada. I was born in Edmonton, so consider any visit to Canada’s scenic Prairie region a return to home.
Drive across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta towards British Columbia and you’ll find sprawling farms as far as the eye can see. There’s a saying that every city and small town in Canada has a Chinese restaurant, which is undeniably true.
Chinese labour was used to build Canada’s railroad. Over 17,000 Chinese came to Canada from 1881 through 1884. Several thousand came from the coastal areas of the United States where they helped build the American transcontinental railroad, but the majority arrived directly from southern China.
After the Chinese workers finished building Canada’s railway, many settled in communities from Vancouver to St. John’s, opening some of the first Canadian Chinese restaurants. The Globe and Mail did an excellent job chronicling the history of Chinese restaurants in Canada in the feature Chop Suey Nation.
Most Chinese restaurants in Canada were family run businesses. These entrepreneurial families had to adapt traditional Chinese recipes to suit local palates while incorporating ingredients that were available on local grocery store shelves.
Creative Chinese chefs across Canada helped craft new recipes that would later become Canadian mainstays. Newfoundland offered chow mein, Montreal had Peanut Butter Dumplings, Thunder Bay served Bon Bons, Edmonton offered Green Onion Cakes and Calgary served crispy ginger beef.
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History of Calgary Ginger Beef
Calgary is known for being home to a plethora of innovative chefs. Calgary Ginger Beef is just one of the classic dishes that was invented in Alberta’s biggest city, quickly making its way onto Chinese restaurant menus across the country.
In the 1970’s Silver Inn’s Chef Wong began to push the boundaries, adding his own flare to a popular Northern Chinese dish in Calgary’s Chinatown. Calgarians quickly developed an addiction for what was then described as “deep fried shredded beef in chili sauce”.
News of the trendy dish quickly caught fire and it now lives on as a national favourite and a dish so iconic that it was included in the Royal Alberta Museum’s Chop Suey on the Prairies exhibition.
Local food writer Elizabeth Chorney-Booth shared, “Local legend is that Wong (whose wife Lily co-owned the restaurant with her sister) was finding that non-Asian customers were more interested in eating crispy fried food than more traditional Chinese recipes. He adapted an existing beef recipe by coating the strips in batter and deep frying them to better suit local tastes.”
So does Calgary Ginger Beef taste the same at every restaurant? Chorney-Booth added, “The recipe does differ from place to place. The commonality is that for it to be Alberta-style ginger beef (as opposed to other Chinese dishes that flavour beef with a ginger sauce), the beef has to be cut in very thin, almost stringy strips, it has to be coated with a batter that becomes very crispy after frying, and the sauce has to be sticky and sweet. The variations usually have to do with the sauce and colour: I’ve seen ginger beef that is a golden yellow in colour and others that are the colour of Coca-Cola.”
The patriotic foodie from Calgary exclaimed, “To me, the most fascinating thing about ginger beef is that it is so uniquely Albertan. I would never dream of ordering Chinese food without it.”
Calgary Beef Tip: if you’re ordering take out, make sure that you give it a good stir before eating. That way the beef is evenly coated with the sauce, which tends to sink to the bottom of the take-out container.
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Where To Eat Ginger Beef in Calgary
I love traveling to Alberta as the province offers a unique mix of culture, history and natural beauty. Many people compare the province to Texas, citing similarities to their oil industries, cowboys and delicious barbecued beef.
The best way to enjoy authentic Calgary Ginger Beef is to visit the city itself. Here is a list of the best restaurants in Calgary to order Crispy Ginger Beef:
- Silver Inn: Considered the birthplace of Calgary Ginger Beef, Silver Inn has been a foodie destination for Westernized Peking-style dishes since 1975. For over 40 years, folks have loved this family-run restaurant’s Chinese food, from their signature Ginger Beef to things like Sweet and Sour Pork to Lemon Chicken.
- Silver Dragon: A go-to destination for Dim Sum in Calgary, Silver Dragon in Chinatown has been open since 1966. If you’re headed in for dinner, their menu has over 200 dishes in the Cantonese and Szechuan styles, loaded with all sorts of soups, vegetarian options, noodles, seafood, meat, and more.
- South Silk Road Chinese Restaurant: With an aim to bring more authentic flavours and dishes to the table for Calgarians, South Silk Road offers a menu featuring some more Canadian-style Chinese fare alongside Yunnan specialities. Head in with a big group and reservation so you can tackle multiple dishes from their epic menu, particularly their Yunnan-style dishes–like the pork dishes you’ll need to pre-order.
- Szechuan Restaurant: This local Chinese restaurant is all about serving spicy Szechuan dishes. If you’re brave enough to face the heat, feast on their whole spicy fish dish, hot sauce fish soup, Kung Pao Chicken, or their spicy green beans.
- Bill’s Peking House: With nearly 30 years of serving up Chinese food to hungry Calgarians, Bill’s Peking is a favourite for many locals. While they’ve got some Western-style dishes, they also have more authentic Chinese fare, and are known for their delicious Peking Duck.
- U & Me: This local favourite is the late night retreat for some of the best Chinese food in the city. Only closed between the hours of 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., U & Me has been serving Calgary top quality Chinese food almost 24/7 since 1999! After a night out, U & Me is an absolute must and a staple to Calgary’s Chinatown.
- Deane House: Offers a modern take on the dish, from Ginger Beef to vegetarian Ginger Beets. The culinary team has been working on what they are calling a modern Calgary Ginger Beef evolution.
My Family Loves Chinese Crispy Ginger Beef
While the best place to eat Crispy Ginger Beef for the first time is in its hometown of Calgary, you can also find the dish at Chinese restaurants across Canada.
In Ontario many Chinese restaurants offer their own unique spin on Calgary Ginger Beef. Most menus simply call the dish Crispy Ginger Beef or Crispy XO Beef. In Toronto, Ginger Beef can often be found on the menus at Not Just Noodles, Rol San, Chop Chop, Swatow, Hutaoli, Yueh Tung Hakka Restaurant and Crown Princess.
Over the years my family had ordered Crispy Ginger Beef from endless Chinese restaurants. We typically order it alongside Singapore Rice Noodles, Sweet & Sour Pork, Shrimp Fried Rice and General Tso’s Chicken.
One day when I was having a Chinese food craving I thought to myself, “why not perfect my very own Calgary Ginger Beef recipe to make at home?”
Tips For Cooking Calgary Ginger Beef
Calgary Ginger Beef is prepared by submerging thin strips of battered skirt steak into bubbling vegetable oil. If you don’t have a deep frier at home, we suggest using a large wok.
You only need to fill the wok half full with vegetable oil. This will give you enough room to manage any oil splatter when cooking. You can use a regular pot but a wok is much safer as it has a shallow bottom and wide rim.
Some Calgary Ginger Beef recipes instruct cooks to dredge steak slices in cornstarch before submerging in oil. Other recipes feature a wet batter made of beaten egg and cornstarch, which ends up yielding a tempura-like consistency. We’ve tested both recipe variations and can confirm a wet batter produces a superior product.
If it’s your first time cooking with hot oil, review these deep frying safety tips.
In order to create the perfect texture and consistency of the dish, be sure to finely mince the garlic and ginger so no large chunks appear. The scallion, peppers and carrot should all be sliced uniformly as thin julienned strips. This will ensure they cook at at a similar rate and are easy to eat with chopsticks.
What To Serve With Ginger Beef
If you’re making our Calgary Ginger Beef recipe for a potluck or dinner party its best to create a menu that is well balanced in flavour and texture.
We love serving Calgary Ginger Beef with Vegan Chinese Cucumber Salad, Goi Ga Vietnamese Salad, Shrimp & Pork Egg Rolls, Homemade Cong You Bing, Vietnamese Crepe Bánh Xèo, Indian Chickpea Crepes, Vegetarian Shahi Paneer and Chicken Shahi Korma.
On it’s own, Calgary Ginger Beef is best complimented by steamed rice, fried rice, spicy noodles or steamed Chinese vegetables.
Can You Make The Dish In Advance?
If you are making Calgary Ginger Beef for a dinner party we suggest slicing the vegetables in advance and whisking together the sweet and tangy sauce.
You could also quickly deep fry the beef strips until they are golden brown then cool them on a rack until moments before you’re ready to serve the meal. Be sure to only flash fry the crispy beef strips as you don’t want to overcook them. The centre of the beef strips should be raw as you will be reheating them with the vegetable stir fry and sauce before eating.
We do not suggest making the entire dish in advance and reheating it for guests as you will lose the desired crispy beef exterior. The sauce absorbs into the cornstarch crust, quickly changing the dishes desired texture.
How To Store Crispy Ginger Beef
We typically double the recipe when making homemade Crispy Ginger Beef as we like to enjoy it for lunch and dinner throughout the week.
The texture of the beef strips will slightly change, taking on a more soft mouthfeel. You can easily reheat Calgary Ginger Beef in a wok over the stove or in a microwave. We prefer to use direct heat over the stove as it helps crisp up the beef strips making them crunchy again.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days. Do not freeze cooked Calgary Ginger Beef and reheat it later, the batter and sauce will congeal into a slimy, unappealing mess.
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Best Calgary Ginger Beef Recipe
Best Calgary Ginger Beef
- French knife
- mixing bowl
- measuring spoons
- measuring cups
- Metal slotted spoon
- baking sheet
Crispy Ginger Beef
- 1 1/4 cup Cornstarch
- 1 Egg
- 1 cup Water
- 3 tbsp Flour
- 1 lb Flank Steak thin strips
- 2 cups Vegetable oil for frying
Calgary Ginger Beef Sauce
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 6 tbsp rice vinegar
- 6 tbsp sherry
- 5 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
Vegetable Stir Fry
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 tbsp carrots matchstick
- 1 red bell pepper julienned
- 1 jalapeno pepper julienned
- 2 tbsp ginger minced
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 2 scallions julienned
- Mix cornstarch, flour, egg and water in a large bowl. Toss the flank steak in the batter and mix until beef strips are coated evenly.
- Pour the oil into a large wok. Over high heat put 1/4 of the beef strips into the wok. Quickly separate with metal tongs. Deep fry until the coating is crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Remove the beef and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat with the remaining beef strips.
- To make the sauce, in a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sherry, sugar, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes.
- In another pan, add 2 tablespoons of oil, the carrot, jalapeno, red pepper, scallions, ginger, and garlic. Cook over high heat. Pour in the sauce and cook until boiling.
- Add a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce (1 tbsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp water). Transfer the beef strips back into the pan. Stir-fry until combined.
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