Connie Ho Blog, Montreal Canada

East Meets West : Art, Culture, People, Society

Ginger Beef: History & Culture of Chinese Immigrants in Canada

Have you tried Chinese food? Is there a dish that you really like, general tao chicken, sweet & sour pork? Being a Chinese I am familiar with Asian cuisine. My favorite is Ginger Beef. It is a signature delicacy in Canadian Chinese cuisine.

ginger beef

Ginger Beef, Chinese Immigrant in Canada

Did you know that Ginger Beef tells the story of Chinese immigrant in Canada? In fact, Calgary is well known for this dish. With the oil boom, Calgary has increased its reputation in the global arena. It is like Texas. During my years in Calgary, I have sampled the best Ginger Beef. Now I live in Montreal, the sight of Ginger Beef brings back fond memories. More importantly, I have discovered the truth about food, culture and society.

Ginger Beef, History of Immigrants in Calgary

According to Anthropologist, Dr. Josephine Smart of University of Calgary, Ginger Beef is a uniquely Calgarian invention. In her research, Smart traces the history of Chinese food in Canada since it was first brought in by immigrants in 1850. According to her, Calgary is the rightful birthplace of Ginger Beef. Canadian Chinese cuisine is as much a part of our Chinese heritage as the hockey rink. A lot of Chinese food as we know today is actually North American inventions, says Smart.

chinese immigrants

When the first Chinese immigrants came to Canada, they opened their cafés. Their main customers were Caucasians. Their cuisine had been localized for two reasons. First, to accommodate to North American tastes. Second, difficulty in getting traditional oriental spices for many of the dishes. The result is that we now have Canadianized Chinese food. In other words, Ginger Beef is not authentic but Westernized Asian food.

Chinese Restaurants, Caucasians, Chinese Customers

According to Smart, history shows that Chinese restaurants pay much attention to Caucasian consumers. Whether it is Ginger Beef, egg rolls or chop suey, restaurant owners adjust their dishes to what customers like. For instance, when restaurant owners observed Caucasians consuming roasted meat smothered in gravy, they quickly increased the sauce content of their own dishes to simulate it. They also added sweetness to the sauces. This is because Caucasians ate more desserts and sweetened their beverages with sugar. By contrast, the Chinese ate less sugar. We have to realize that culture is never static. It is evolving as we speak, says Smart. Canadianized Chinese cuisine is very much a part of our identity, though we may not realize it.

Food, Culture, Society

Food is an essential part of our lives. It serves basic needs. Beyond that, it tells our past, our story and ourselves. My mom always says, “You are what you eat?” Her concerns are nutrition and health. For me, the concerns are different. Food reveals our roots, culture and history. Next time when you are eating your favorite food, think about yourself, your root, and your stories. Remember, mundane things can lead to self-discovery. You can understand yourself more through trivia.

Memories of Food, Favorite Food

Do you have a favorite dish?
Does your tasty food bring any fond memory?
If so, what are those memories?
Share them with me, I am happy to know.

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