Shanghai Noon at Midnight

5 Jul

When weary, bleary-eyed Stampede-goers leave the chuckwagons, midway, beer and bars behind in the early morning hours, they make way for a post-midnight snack at Singapore Sam’s on 11th Avenue and 5th Street S.W.

But take heed, late night revellers: If you’re not here before midnight, you’ll be waiting in a lineup that snakes out the door and down the sidewalk.

For these 10 days of excess, locals and visitors alike will line up until 3 a.m., largely for the ginger fried beef and its storied reputation as preventative medicine for hangovers.

More than a hundred patrons drum their chopsticks at once on tabletops and glasses in time to Queen’s We Will Rock You or whatever is blaring over the speakers. The chopstick cacophony is part of the party.
The mahogany slivers of crunchy, deep-fried meat in a pool of sweet, spicy sauce is said to have first surfaced in Calgary at the Silver Inn restaurant at 2702 Centre St. N.E. during the 1970s.

K.W. Cheung started serving the dish shortly after the Peking restaurant opened in 1974. The dish was introduced by George Wong, who had been a cook in England.

In a research project on Chinese-Canadian cuisine and cultural identity a few years ago, University of Calgary anthropologist Josephine Smart discovered most people in Eastern Canada and the United States had never heard of ginger beef.

We love the charm of regional specialties. North American inventions blending Hunan and Szechuan styles are as firmly rooted on takeout menus now as they ever were. New York claims General Tso’s chicken, Phoenix, Arizona-based P.F. Chang’s orange peel beef  (chicken or shrimp also) has the same devoted following. A legion of loyal fans in Springfield, Missouri swoon for cashew chicken.

We recently a Pacific Northwest take on ginger beef at Victoria, B.C.’s J & J Wonton Noodle House. Thin, square slabs of marinated flank steak were deep fried, but not battered in an eggy coating. The sauce was sticky and sweet and brightly flavoured with ginger. Not a candied carrot sliver in sight. Dare we say it rivals our homegrown ginger beef? It’s a worthy contender and one we’ll take for a spin.

Calgary’s beloved dish has become a phenomonen. Be careful when ordering ginger beef outside of the city. Deep-fried shredded ginger beef is what you’re after. Ask for ginger beef, and you’re taking a gamble. You might get a very different dish. Or a blank stare.

GINGER FRIED BEEF
Recipe from The Best of Bridge: Grand Slam
These Calgary moms say this is “a ‘must’ for out-of-towners.'” If you love real Calgary-style ginger beef, do give this version a try. Be patient, and cook it in batches, otherwise you’ll end up with a mess. Take the time to have the ingredients chopped and ready to go. Try it once to get the technique down, and make note of any tweaks to suite your tastes if you like things spicier, or an extra punch of ginger. This could be your new famous dish!

1 lb. flank steak
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
vegetable oil
2/3 cup grated carrots
2 Tbsp. chopped green onion (or more to taste)
4 Tbsp.(1/4 cup) minced ginger root (or more)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. cooking wine – Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp hot chili oil or crushed red chili flakes
Slice steak while partially frozen into narrow strips. Mix beef and eggs. Dissolve cornstarch in water and mix with beef. Pour ample oil in wok. Heat to boiling hot, but not smoking. Add beef to oil, 1/4 at a time. Separate with a fork (or chopsticks if you’re talented) and cook, stirring frequently until crispy. Remove, drain and set aside. (This much can be done in advance)
Put 1 Tbsp. oil in wok. Add carrots, onion, ginger and garlic and stir fry over high heat. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.

Add beef, mix well and serve. If your steak is over one pound, cook it all anyway.

Serve with steamed rice.
Serves 4

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One Response to “Shanghai Noon at Midnight”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Year in the Life « Saucy Cherie - June 28, 2010

    […] fried beef is another top hit leading searchers here. Since we posted a deep-fried, battered version, we have discovered a batter-free ginger beef that was just as sweet, spicy and chewy. Hopefully we […]

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