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Chinese Tomato Beef w/Rice

ipsedixit Jul 13, 2009 11:35 AM

I'm really, really craving this dish for some reason.

Just about any Chinese joint in town has some variation of this dish and could probably make it on request (if you asked nicely).

But my question is, do you have a favorite?

A pure Cantonese take?

A Hong Kong cafe style version with scrambled eggs?

Something with a sauce that is more vinegar based than ketchup based? Or perhaps one with a good soy sauce foundation? What about ones made with oyster sauce? Too sweet?

And the beef. What's your preference? The French "style" fliet mignon served at Hong Kong cafe joints, or something more traditional?

Do tell, I want to go binging on tomato beef w/rice for about a week and and want recommendations.

  1. Midlife Oct 16, 2009 11:40 PM

    I've traveled all over Asia for years and have to say that I have found a very, very, minimal use of tomatoes in any type of Chinese cuisine, so I'm curious as to the origins of this dish. Some research points to info that the tomato is rather new in Asia, so that could explain why it is likely mostly in Americanized dishes.

    During my years of travel to Southeast Asia, most of the people I met and ate with did not eat tomatoes. For example, it took along time for pizza to get any foothold over there because neither tomatoes not cheese are preferred in the Chinese diet culture.


    10 Replies
    1. re: Midlife
      ipsedixit Oct 16, 2009 11:51 PM

      It's as an Americanized dish as things like egg foo young, sweet & sour pork (or shrimp), sesame chicken, etc.

      To consider tomato beef an authentic Chinese dish would be to say that Pizza Hut is traditional Italian ...

      1. re: ipsedixit
        Midlife Oct 17, 2009 01:14 AM

        You know, now that I think about it................ Tomato Beef was on the menu at the local Chinese places my family went to in Queens, NY a VERY long time ago. In Asia the only tomatoes I recall seeing in restaurants were carved up as ornaments on some dishes (made to look like roses usually).

        1. re: Midlife
          Tripeler Oct 17, 2009 02:14 AM

          Remembering this dish took me back to Sacramento in the 1970s. Most all of my Chinese-American co-workers loved this dish the most. I don't recall every trying it, but the idea of beef and tomatoes made perfect sense to me. I am under the impression that it's a California-Cantonese dish.
          Thanks for this post, ipsedixit.

          1. re: Tripeler
            ipsedixit Oct 17, 2009 03:09 PM

            Tomato beef is right up there with tomato and scrambled eggs as awesome Chinese-American comfort foods.

            1. re: ipsedixit
              J.L. Oct 17, 2009 03:48 PM

              So good. Gotta go make me some right now.

              1. re: ipsedixit
                Midlife Oct 17, 2009 04:00 PM

                OK............. I just have to ask how tomatoes and scrambled eggs is Chinese/American. Egg Foo Yung with tomatoes????

                1. re: ipsedixit
                  raytamsgv Oct 19, 2009 12:24 PM

                  Right on!

                  1. re: ipsedixit
                    K K Oct 19, 2009 01:47 PM

                    Not entirely Chinese-American...but yes not classical Cantonese either.

                    On a side note, one of Hong Kong's best dai pai dong's (Sing Heung Yuen) in Central, their specialty dish is tomato beef instant noodles (or macaroni), and from what I read, using beefsteak tomatoes from...Beijing?!

                    Here's a pic of their tomato beef macaroni soup


                    and pics of tomato pork chop instant noodles, plus other tomato broth based goodness offerings.


                    Sing Heung Yuen is easily 30 to 40 years old.

                    1. re: K K
                      Midlife Oct 19, 2009 04:31 PM

                      I spent 6 weeks a year between Taiwan and Hong Kong back in the 70's and 80's, and I just don't recall tomatoes much. Not that they couldn't have been where I wasn't, but could this be more prevalent now due to changes in what is grown locally?

            2. re: Midlife
              raytamsgv Oct 19, 2009 12:23 PM

              It seems that tomato usage is more common in SGV restaurants than in China (especially for HK cafes and their borscht soup). That's probably because we grow so many tomatoes in California. Anyhow, I've seen tomatoes in many home-cooked Chinese meals. I've also see them prepared for the staff in restaurants on a number of occasions. I think it just using good local ingredients when they are available. You adapt to whatever is tasty and affordable wherever you are.

              Tomatoes are also used in Vietnamese dishes and soups.

              I would guess that pizza's took a while to become popular with Chinese primarily because of the cheese and lactose-intolerance problem of most Chinese people.

            3. f
              ftk Oct 15, 2009 03:14 PM

              You just made me miss my mom's cooking in such a big way. She used to also do a tomato dish with scrambled eggs that never failed please.

              1. K K Oct 15, 2009 10:38 AM

                Yes Cantonese style tomato beef with crispy pan fried noodles is also a good touch.
                Agreed that some places use ketchup, much like how they do sweet and sour pork. Although traditional Sweet and Sour Pork, the chefsthat refuse to use fusion techniques e.g. strawberry or ketchup, use haw flakes (that is naturally sweet and sour) to melt down into sauce. I wonder if that technique carries over to stir frying tomato beef, or if it is just ketchup, vinegar, sugar, cornstarch etc.

                What also floats my boat is Taiwanese style tomato beef noodle soup. I don't think I've ever found a version in NorCal and the closest pseudo fix is the frozen version from Wei Chuan which is not bad once you dilute it a bit to ease up on the sodium levels (in the 4 digit range!).
                Would love to know for fun (and perhaps next visit) if such a beast exists in LA/Southern Cal/SGV + environs.

                1. s
                  snutr Oct 15, 2009 09:41 AM

                  How does one know if it's "pure Cantonese" or not? I thought it was like beef stew -- the elements are pretty much the same but the flavors vary greatly but you can't identify a definitive version.

                  The first time I had this was at the Golden Gate Restaurant in Boston's Chinatown. It was a run down place catering to late night drunks. They called it: "Roast Beef, Tomato, Gravy and Rice" which, by all accounts, was a very accurate description.

                  This version was made with huge inch and one half square chunks of rib eye (fat and all) with large tomato quarters (you were hard pressed to pick up the beef or tomato with chopsticks) all aswim in a brown gravy that may have been made with some sort of beef stock and brown bean sauce. This was dumped all over a huge bowl of rice.

                  The most important part was that it was served molten hot from the wok so it would burn the roof of your mouth -- which was probably a good thing considering the poor sanitary conditions there.

                  If anyone has a good recipe for this, by all means, please post it!

                  That dive has been replaced by a new incarnation called the "New Golden Gate" restaurant and they don't serve it (or the pan fried noodles). It's nice and clean and the food is good and it's a family friendly place (in spite of the occasional neighborhood stabbing).

                  Look up the New Golden Gate on yelp.com -- there are about 22 pictures of the food there (they look like they were taken by a diner and not by a professional firm in a studio setting).

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: snutr
                    fourunder Oct 15, 2009 09:46 AM

                    My recollection of this dish was it was very similar in preparation, if not the same as Beef w/ Oyster Sauce, but with the addition of onions and tomato wedges.....the secret ingredient was ketchup.

                    1. re: fourunder
                      ipsedixit Oct 15, 2009 09:57 AM

                      Yummm, tomato beef with rice ....

                    2. re: snutr
                      Chandavkl Oct 15, 2009 02:58 PM

                      I guess you weren't kidding about the occasional stabbing, based on the recent episode at New Golden Gate where some patrons pummeled another patron into unconsciousness.

                      1. re: snutr
                        raytamsgv Oct 15, 2009 04:55 PM

                        It's difficult to categorize a dish as "pure Cantonese" or any other cuisine for that matter. Tomatoes are a relative newcomer to Chinese cuisines because they came from the Americas. The same can also be said of Italian cooking which uses a lot of tomatoes. Chocolate and potatoes also fall into the category of newcomers to the cuisines not native to the Americas.

                        Having said that, tomato beef is an one of my favorite dishes. I just can't find a good version anywhere I've gone.

                        1. re: raytamsgv
                          ipsedixit Oct 15, 2009 10:35 PM

                          The best version I've been able to settle on is at Sam Woo.

                          Most of the versions at Honk Kong cafes are a bit too sweet for my taste -- maybe it's too much ketchup and no (or not enough?) oyster sauce.

                          1. re: ipsedixit
                            raytamsgv Oct 16, 2009 02:42 PM

                            I think the HK cafes have too much ketchup and not enough ripe tomatoes.

                            1. re: raytamsgv
                              ipsedixit Oct 16, 2009 11:30 PM

                              Agreed, although I think I prefer the "filet mignon cubes" that the HK cafes use.

                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                raytamsgv Oct 19, 2009 12:16 PM

                                Those cubes are wonderful--much tastier than flank steak.

                      2. c
                        Clinton Jul 14, 2009 08:37 AM

                        I like to think that tomato beef is true Cantonese comfort food. On a cold day, you can't beat it served over hot steamed rice. Have you ever tried beef tomato chow mein? Most old school Cantonese restaurants used to or still serve it. Peruvian restaurants eg. El Pollo Inka or El Rocoto have a slight variation called Lomo Saltado. Similar but different.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Clinton
                          nomo_fan Jul 15, 2009 06:27 PM

                          Not very traditional, but the tomato beef rice at Foo Foo Tei (in Hacienda Heights/City of Industry) is GREAT!

                          1. re: Clinton
                            Galen Jul 16, 2009 07:42 AM

                            Hi Clinton,

                            I usually order Tallarin Saltado (tomato beef pasta) from Peruvian restaurants because they come closest to tomato beef chow mein from old school Cantonese restaurants. I hate it when I order tomato beef from Chinese places and they end up using a yucky sweet and sour sauce on the dish.

                            1. re: Galen
                              J.L. Jul 16, 2009 10:48 AM

                              Great idea. Then you can also substitute quinoa instead of rice!

                          2. J.L. Jul 13, 2009 06:11 PM

                            I get the same cravings too, ipse...

                            Dumpy little place, but their beef & tomato with rice was incredible:

                            Bamboo House Chinese Restaurant
                            2718 W Valley Blvd
                            Alhambra, CA 91803-1815
                            (626) 458-8888

                            It's been a while since I last went. I think they use soy sauce & tomatoes for the foundation (Mandarin style). The beef tastes like thinly cut flank steak (just like Mama used to make).

                            Hope this helps. Buen provecho!

                            1. a
                              altstarr Jul 13, 2009 05:14 PM

                              Tomato Beef & Black Beans to balance out the "sourness" from the tomatoes served wok fried on top of flat rice noodles is one of my absolute favorite midnight snack dishes from East Coast Chinatowns. Haven't been able to find it here on the West Coast. Most restaurants will make it, but it never comes out quite right. Even though it is a Cantonese "family style" dish, most waiters seem to regard it as a "Chinese American" dish.

                              1. c
                                crystaw Jul 13, 2009 04:54 PM

                                I'm not very well versed on this dish, but the only place I've had it is May Mei in Arcadia. I assume that it is a Cantonese take on the dish since people rave that this place serves pretty authentic Cantonese fare. It was tasty!

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