The Supposed History Of Beef And Broccoli Dates Back To The 1920s

As one of the largest and most populous countries, it's no surprise China's culinary contributions are rich and varied. In addition to the nation's extensive selection of regional Chinese food, a large diaspora created crossovers in a multitude of other locales, too. From Peruvian-Chinese fusion cuisine called chifa, to Peranakan foods found in South East Asia, Chinese culinary methods adapted into a multitude of forms. Such hybridization occurred in North America, too — creating Chinese American cuisine.

This culinary umbrella includes staples like sweet and sour sauce, orange chicken, as well as takeout favorite beef and broccoli. This beloved stir-fry first took hold in the U.S., presumably crafted by Chinese immigrants in California. They fused broccoli — brought to the West Coast by Italians — with beef, tied together by familiar Chinese ingredients like ginger, oyster sauce, and cornstarch. Precisely when such a spontaneous creation occurred is uncertain, but most suspect the 1920s, when the dish became a restaurant staple. Since then, it's remained a Chinese-American favorite.

Beef and broccoli was invented by Chinese immigrants in California

You won't find renditions of American-style beef and broccoli on menus in China, but it does take influence from Gai Lan Chao Niu Rou, a Cantonese dish. It's all due to the different versions of the green vegetable — in China, the variety is called gai lan, and is a dark leafy green rather than a floret. The ingredient is paired with beef in the Asian nation, but the dish takes on a different character with a less liquid sauce.

The U.S.-born adaptation likely emerged when Chinese immigrants encountered the new broccoli types in local markets, possibly in New York City (as evidenced by the city's prominent Port Arthur restaurant, which remained in operation from 1897 to 1982), but more frequently cited in San Francisco. Melding broccoli with beef took hold in Chinese-American chop suey-style eateries, which turned fashionable during the early 20th century. The two components — familiar to American palates — were served in a new style that nonetheless remained casual and affordable. The combination stuck and since hasn't faded, establishing beef and broccoli as a perennial American favorite.