When we came to Calgary looking for good Alberta Beef, CBC food commentator John Gilchrist strongly suggested we widen our search to include not only steak-house cuts and hamburgers but also ginger beef. Now a specialty of virtually every Chinese restaurant in the area (and there are many such restaurants!), Ginger beef was introduced to Calgary by the Silver Inn in 1974. As John tells the story, when Louise and Alice Chan opened their restaurant in 1974 they were looking for a good beef dish to add to their then-adventurous Chinese menu that included grilled dumplings, hot and sour soup, and cashew chicken in yellow bean sauce. They came up with ginger beef.
A quarter century ago, when Chinese food meant little more than chow mein, egg-foo young, and spring rolls, the Silver Inn menu was cutting-edge. Since then, the Chinese food scene in Calgary and beyond has blossomed so that tastes of all the Chinese provinces are available and even ginger beef is commonplace. Everyone makes theirs a little differently. Some are sweeter than others; some have more of a ginger kick; the fried crust on some pieces is only a thin veil; on others, it is thick as the coating of a corn dog.
However it is prepared, ginger beef is an inspired idea. Deep-fried strips of beef are rolled in ginger and chili, becoming something with crunch and chew and a tidal wave of flavor that is equal measures beef, crust, and spice. As presented at the Silver Inn, it is a well-balanced dish tending towards sweetness. It comes in a broad bowl so that the top pieces of beef are dry and crunchy. Those toward the bottom wallow in the spicy chili oil, absorbing the sweet ginger zest. The lower pieces lose their brittle snap, but become laden with flavor in such a way that they are impossible to stop eating.
Beyond ginger beef, the Silver Inn offers a full menu of Pekinese cuisine that was once cutting-edge, but has now become de rigueur on Chinese menus throughout the city.
"Originally served at the Silver Inn, ginger beef has become a signature dish of most Chinese restaurants in Calgary. Each version has its own unique character. That served at the Silver Inn is sweet and spicy with an addictive balance of beef, crust, and sauce."
"The Silver Inn has been at the forefront of Calgary's thriving Asian restaurant scene for more than a quarter century."