Mongolian barbecue (Chinese: 蒙古烤肉; pinyin: Měnggǔ kǎoròu) is a stir fried dish that was developed by Wu Zhaonan in Taiwan in 1951. Meat and vegetables are cooked on large, round, solid iron griddles at temperatures of up to 300 °C (572 °F). Despite its name, the dish is not Mongolian, and is only loosely related to barbecue.
Mongolian barbecue was created by the Taiwanese comedian and restaurateur Wu Zhaonan. A native of Beijing, Wu fled to Taiwan because of the Chinese Civil War, and opened a street food stall in Yingqiao, Taipei in 1951. He originally wanted to call the dish "Beijing barbecue", but because of political sensitivity with the city, which had just recently been designated as the capital of Communist China, he settled with "Mongolian barbecue" instead, even though it had no direct connection to Mongolia.
Wu's food stall became very popular and even attracted foreign diplomats and wealthy business people despite being a cheap eatery. However, it was later destroyed by flooding caused by a typhoon, in which Wu nearly drowned. He then developed a highly successful career as a comedian and exited the restaurant business, while numerous imitators emerged to capitalize on the popularity of the dish he created, with Genghis Khan, Tang Palace, Great Khan, and Heavenly Khan among the oldest and most popular. It was later successfully introduced to the West.
Typically, diners select a variety of raw ingredients from a display of thinly sliced meats (such as beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, and shrimp) and vegetables (such as cabbage, tofu, onion, broccoli, and mushrooms). The bowl of ingredients is handed to the chef who adds the diner's choice of sauce, then transfers them to the grill.
The round shape of the grill allows two or more chefs to cook food simultaneously, and to cook quickly due to the thinly sliced ingredients, so the food is typically cooked in one revolution of the grill. Oil or water may be added to ease cooking. The ingredients are stir-fried continuously over the high heat and all food remains identifiable and intact.
Some American chains place the food on different parts of the round grill, sometimes in a special wedge shaper. Each dish is stirred in its turn, as the operator walks around the outside of the grill and turns each individual's food in succession.
When cooking is complete, each finished dish is scooped into a bowl and handed to the diner. Many Mongolian barbecue restaurants follow an all-you-can-eat buffet format, and allow multiple visits to the grill.