Fusion Food Gone AwryPosted By | Posted On Dec 17, 2013
Anyone who has taken our Chinatown tour quickly learns that Chop Suey and Chow Mein are not authentic Chinese dishes. In the Cantonese language, the word Chop Suey actually means “leftovers”! Chow Mein translates as “stir-fried noodles”, but anything called Chow Mein in China bears little resemblance to the gloppy mess served up in the bad suburban “Chinese” restaurants here in the States. And where those crispy Chow Mein Noodles in a can came from, I have no idea.
New England has the honor of being the home of two rather unusual Chinese American dishes, that take both Chop Suey and Chow Mein to another level completely. In Rhode Island, and in parts of Southeastern Massachusetts, one of the most popular “comfort foods” in many of the diners is the Chow Mein Sandwich.
Originating in Fall River Massachusetts in the 1930’s, the Chow Mein Sandwich consists of a brown gravy based Chow Mein mixture, with those canned crispy noodles placed in a hamburger bun, or between two pieces of white bread and served hot. The sandwich can be ordered “strained” (with no vegetables), or “unstrained”, (with vegetables). The vegetables usually include celery, bell pepper, onion and bean sprouts, and the “gravy” often is made with molasses. The meat can be pork, chicken or beef, minced. The dish is popular in Fall River and New Bedford in Massachusetts, and in Woonsocket, Pawtucket, and Providence in Rhode Island. One Fall River restaurant reputedly sold more than two million during its 40-year existence. In the earlier 1990’s the sandwich could still be found on Fall River school lunch menus.
It is also easy to make at home. In Southeastern New England supermarkets, one can purchase “Original Hoo Mee Chow Mein Mix”, along with “Brown Gravy Mix”.
The north Shore of Massachusetts is the birthplace of the “Chop Suey Sandwich”, typically made of Chicken Chop Suey in brown gravy on a hamburger bun. Its sphere of influence never matched that of the Chow Mein Sandwich, and the only known restaurants still serving this curiosity are Salem Lowe, and Ghengis, both located at Salem Willows Park in Salem, Massachusetts.