Chinese Pepper Steak May Have Originally Been Made With Pork

It goes without saying that steak is an essential component of Chinese pepper steak. Not only could you not make the dish without it, but it's the star of the show — the onions, green pepper, and tomatoes are just supporting characters. But there once was a time when Chinese pepper steak was made from another meat entirely. The original dish was overall pretty different from the pepper steak you know and love today, and proof that Chinese pepper steak has undergone more than one transformation over the years.

While the dish has roots in China, pepper steak is actually considered a Chinese-American food. It didn't arrive in the U.S. until 1948, and in typical American fashion, the seasonings were then increased to keep up with taste buds here. But the original pepper steak comes from Hokkien, or Fujian, cuisine, which is primarily found in the provincial capital of Fsuzhou, China. Seasonings aren't the only difference between the pepper steak we devour in the states and the authentic Chinese version. In fact, Chinese pepper steak was first made from pork.

A fresher and simpler dish

Chinese pepper steak in the U.S. is typically made by marinating flank steak in soy sauce, Japanese rice wine, cornstarch, chili sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. Once the steak has had time to soak up all those juices, it's stir-fried in a complex sauce with veggies like bell peppers and onions. But while this dish is a Chinese-American takeout favorite, the original Chinese pepper steak wasn't even made with a steak at all — it contained pork instead.

It also wasn't called pepper steak. The authentic Chinese dish was known as "qingjiao ròusi," or stir-fried pork and green peppers. Compared to pepper steak, the pork dish is lighter and simpler, using less marinade and ingredients overall. However, there are plenty of similarities between the two — pork with peppers marinates the meat in rice wine, soy sauce, and cornstarch, and seasons the vegetables with soy sauce, sugar, and salt. But the pork dish leaves out all the extra ingredients added in Chinese pepper steak, like oyster sauce, Chinese five spice, and peanut oil.

Once the dish came to the U.S. in the 1940s, the Chinese found that Americans didn't want to consume pork for religious reasons, which may have been the reason for the switch to steak in restaurants. Most recipes in the states use beef instead of pork, but you can make simpler versions with just beef and green pepper to mimic the authentic Chinese dish more closely.