Ginger Beef Stir Fry - Key ©

Eastern Secrets: Canadian-Chinese Food!

Okay… Cue Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy in the background and settle in for a charming little tale about how the Chinese folks who came to Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the late 19th century triggered the creation of a whole new ‘Chinese Food’ tradition – Canadian-Chinese!

Ginger Beef Stir Fry - © dishmaps.comGood old all-Canadian Chinese Ginger Beef Stir Fry!

What do you order when it’s Take-Out Tuesday and Chinese has come up in the standard rotation and you’re looking for something different that’s also familiar and comforting at the same time? Probably something like Ginger Beef and Broccoli, Egg Foo Yong, Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls…

But are the dishes you’re ordering really Chinese? Or just Chinese-inspired? Could be you’re preparing to enjoy a feast of old standbys that are more Canadian than Asian!

Not as Chinese as you thought…

I think many people already know that stuff like Bean Sprouts and Chop Suey and Chow Mien were created by Chinese immigrants who originally came to work on the U.S. trans-continental railroad and settled in large numbers in the San Francisco area. likewise, Chinese workers and their families settled in large numbers in the Vancouver area.

But did you know that iconic dishes such as Sweet and Sour chicken Balls (S&S anything, actually), Egg Foo Yong and most of the familiar Stir Fry Vegetable combos were actually born here? Don’t worry. The cultural legitimacy, here, comes a distant second to the satisfaction and enjoyment factor. But it’s an interesting story, how this export of Chinese cooking techniques and traditions came to our shores but came to be employed with indigenous North American ingredients…

Yes, even those odd-seeming little chunks of Baby Corn…

As happens many times throughout culinary history, it was all a matter of necessity – the Mother of Invention.

Remember when we told you about how the po’ folks of the American South created Barbecue as a means of making what used to be regarded as ‘waste’ or ‘undesirable’ (ergo, cheap) cuts of meat tender, tasty and desirable?

Well… Chinese immigrants found very little that was familiar or inexpensive, food-wise, when they looked around their new homes on the West Coast. So, like the Afro-Americans and share croppers of the South, they learned how to make do with what they could find locally and cheaply or – better yet – grow themselves.

So that’s why you get Carrots, Celery and Broccoli a lot in ‘Canadian Chinese’ food. And, yes, even those seemingly incongruous little cobs of Baby Corn… We owe them all to the creativity of Chinese immigrants who tried to perpetuate their traditional cuisines in a foreign environment. At least one entire dish – Ginger Beef Stir Fry – can trace its origin to… Calgary! And, just to tip the whole crazy story on its head, one scholarly researcher insists that the iconic Canadian Hot Roast Beef Sandwich (distinguished by its smothering coat of Beef Gravy) was created in a Chinese restaurant – before Canadian diners got totally tuned into Chinese styles and spices and still demanded non-Asian dishes!


Eat what you love and don’t worry about the ‘authenticity’ of your next Chinese Take-Out feast. Canadian-Chinese Food has apparently become a legitimate sub-genre of the overall Asian culinary mystique!

~ Maggie J.