Szechuan Beef vs Mongolian Beef

Szechuan beef vs Mongolian beef, what’s the difference?

Szechuan beef has a sweet and spicy flavor, and Mongolian beef has a mild taste.

Szechuan beef hails from the Sichuan Province in southwestern China. Its main ingredients are chili peppers, garlic, and Szechuan peppercorn. It has a sweet/spicy and complicated taste. It is famous for the distinctive tingly numbing sensation it produces when eaten.

Mongolian beef hails from Taiwan and has no actual Mongolian origins. Its main ingredients are flank steak, brown sauce, and green onions. It has a mild and simple taste.

Szechuan Beef vs Mongolian Beef Origins

You might be surprised by the origins of Szechuan beef and Mongolian beef. There is a lot behind these two seemingly simple dishes.

Szechuan Beef

Szechuan is not just the name of its respective beef dish. It is actually a type of regional cuisine.

Chinese cuisine is actually composed of eight traditional types of cuisines, and each cuisine corresponds to a different province in China. These eight provinces are Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan, and Zhejiang. These cuisine styles are an integral part of Chinese culture, and they are regarded as exemplars of Chinese cuisine. Even though most Chinese food in the US differs from its Chinese counterpart, almost all American Chinese food is derived from one of these eight traditional cuisine types.

Szechuan (also known as Szechwan or Sichuan) originated from the Sichuan Province which is located in the southwestern part of China. One of the key features of Szechuan cuisine is the prominence of chili peppers, garlic, and Szechuan peppercorns in its sauce.

Szechuan cuisine is the most consumed style of cuisine in China, and the Sichuan Province was acknowledged in 2011 by UNESCO for its renowned food culture. It was declared a “City of Gastronomy.” This is notable because it was the first time that a city in Asia won that distinction. Even though Szechuan cuisine is clearly favored in China, globally Cantonese cuisine is much more popular.

Szechuan is famous for its distinctive numbing flavor which is called ma la in Chinese (which translates to “numbing hot”). This flavor is due to the Szechuan peppercorn which is not even a type of pepper! It is a spice that is derived from the husks of seeds from prickly ash shrubs. The Szechuan peppercorn spice is derived from two species of the genus Zanthoxylum: Zanthoxylum simulans and Zanthoxylum bungeanum.

Szechuan peppercorn is not only the main ingredient in Szechuan cuisine but one of the spices in the ever popular Chinese five-spice powder. The other five spices are cinnamon, star anise, fennel, and cloves. Szechuan peppercorn is part of the citrus family which explains its citrusy taste, and its aroma is considered to be comparable to the smell of lavender.

Chinese five-spice powder

Szechuan cuisine has a diverse range of flavors which contribute to its complicated taste, and it can vary vastly in its level of spiciness.

Mongolian Beef

Traditional Mongolian cuisine, of course, originated in Mongolia, and it consists mainly of meats, animal fats, and dairy products. Authentic Mongolian cuisine typically uses boiling and stewing.

However, Mongolian cuisine in China (or even the US) is not even Mongolian!

Mongolian as we know it originated in Taiwan in the 1950s and was heavily influenced by the Japanese style of teppanyaki which was popular at the time. Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine that utilizes an iron griddle at very hot temperatures to cook food. It actually has very little in common with authentic Mongolian cuisine from Mongolia.

In China, Mongolian cuisine was thought to be luxurious, exotic, and containing a lot of meat. Therefore, a lot of dishes in China had Mongolian in the name, but they were in no way related to Mongolian culture. So Mongolian beef is actually Taiwanese stir-fry!

Szechuan Beef vs Mongolian Beef Translation

Szechuan is the former romanization of Sichuan. So while we still refer to the food from that region as Szechuan the correct romanization would be Sichuan. Sichuan translates to “four rivers.” This is a reference to the four major rivers in Sichuan Province: Jialing, Jinsha, Min, and Tuo.

Mongolian relates to Mongolia (a landlocked sovereign state in East Asia). China’s Mongolian population is over double that of the actual state of Mongolia, and Chinese Mongols are called Měnggǔzú in pinyin.

Szechuan Beef vs Mongolian Beef Ingredients

Please note that for the rest of this article the term Mongolian will be referring to the Chinese or American dishes and not actual Mongolian cuisine unless specified!

Szechuan-the most common ingredients in Szechuan are sesame paste, ginger, and peanuts. Typically, Szechuan consists of chili paste, egg whites, cornstarch, rice, cooking wine, sesame oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, sesame paste, Worcestershire sauce, crushed chili peppers, onions, peanuts, vegetable oil, minced ginger, carrots, and red bell peppers. Whew! That is a lot of ingredients for one dish. Szechuan definitely has a more complicated taste!

Mongolian– the most common ingredients are sliced flank steak, brown sauce, and green onions. Typically, Mongolian consists of hoisin sauce, chili peppers, soy sauce, scallions, cabbage, green onions, ginger, broccoli, and mushrooms. Mongolian has a much simpler taste than Szechuan.

Ingredient preparation

Szechuan relies on dried, pickled, and salted ingredients.

Mongolian relies on fresh ingredients especially green onions or scallions.


Szechuan focuses primarily on spiciness and heat. The signature of the dish is the sauce.

Mongolian focuses primarily on the meat and vegetables. The signature of the dish is the stir-fry method used to cook it.


Szechuan contains fewer vegetables and is less crunchy. Its crunch tends to come more from nuts like sesame seeds, cashew nuts, and salted peanuts.

Mongolian contains a lot more vegetables since it has fewer components and has a much crunchier texture.


Szechuan normally has a sauce that is much redder in appearance.

Mongolian normally has a sauce that is dark brown in appearance.


Szechuan tends to be differing types of hot such as “hot and sweet” or “hot and sour.” The hotness also has a different tingly sensation due to the Szechuan peppercorn used.

Mongolian tends to be mild and rarely uses spices. It is also has a lot more actual sauce typically than Szechuan.

Szechuan Beef vs Mongolian Beef Preparation

Szechuan beef relies on stir-frying, braising, steaming, and marinating. The beef is marinated for a few minutes and is then cooked along with the other ingredients (including the marinade). Usually, all the ingredients, sauce, marinade, and beef are combined when first cooked. Szechuan beef is typically served on steamed white rice.

Mongolian beef relies entirely on stir-frying. The beef and vegetables are always thinly sliced for quick cooking. Usually, all the ingredients, sauce, and beef are stir-fried in a large, round iron griddle or wok in oil or water at high temperatures. Mongolian beef is normally served on fried cellophane noodles but can also be served on steamed rice as well. A key point of cooking it on such a high temperature (above 500 degrees Fahrenheit) would be that the beef is supposed to caramelize.

Szechuan Beef vs Mongolian in China vs the US

Even though Szechuan and Mongolian cuisine are available in both China and the US, there are still some differences when you compare them regionally.

Szechuan in China typically uses beef, pork, tofu, and also rabbit. Rabbit is especially popular in the Sichuan Province. In fact, more so than any other province in China. However, in the US Szechuan is almost always served with beef, pork, or chicken. The most notable difference between Chinese and American versions of Szechuan is that the American version is much milder than its Chinese equivalent.

Mongolian in China typically uses beef or lamb. In the US beef, pork, or chicken are typically used. We also tend to label many Mongolian dishes as Mongolian barbecue even though they are not barbecued, and traditional Mongolian cuisine does not actually use barbecue cooking methods.

Many Chinese dishes and restaurants used the word Mongolian in their name to make the food seem more exotic, and the US followed their example. However, in China, these restaurants are standard pay and be served, and in the US most Mongolian restaurants are all-you-can-eat buffet style.

Also, Mongolian in the US has fewer varieties of meats, ingredients, and sauces compared to their Chinese counterparts. Mongolian beef tends to be the same no matter where you eat it in the US. The main difference in the US is that some restaurants serve their Mongolian beef mainly with green onions and others mostly with scallions.

Final Thoughts on Szechuan Beef vs Mongolian Beef

While many people think that Szechuan beef is just a spicier version of Mongolian beef, there is actually much more to both of them than only their level of spiciness. It can be easy to confuse them with one another, but if you just keep a few things in mind, it will be much easier to differentiate them.

Mongolian beef is stir-fried on a griddle or in a wok at high temperatures. It has more fresh vegetables, and the ingredients are always thinly sliced. It has a basic mild flavor and a thick brown sauce.

Szechuan beef can be cooked using different cooking methods. It also uses chilies mixed with Szechuan peppercorn as the distinguishing sauce ingredient. It has a complex spicy flavor and a thinner red sauce.


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