New England’s Chow Mein sandwich: A fusion of cultures and flavours
New England’s culinary scene is known for its unique and diverse offerings, and one dish that stands out as a true representation of cultural fusion is the chow mein sandwich. Originating in Fall River, Massachusetts, this Chinese-American creation takes the concept of chow mein, a traditional Chinese fried noodle dish, and sandwiches it between a hamburger bun, resulting in a delightful combination of flavours and textures.
A historic fusion
The chow mein sandwich gained popularity in the 19th century, thanks to Fall River’s thriving textile industry and its diverse population of European and Canadian factory workers. As Chinese immigrants settled in New England, they opened restaurants to cater to the local community. To make their food more familiar and appealing to the European factory workers, Chinese restaurant owners began piling fried noodles, pork, vegetables and gravy on a hamburger bun, combining classic Chinese cuisine with the American sandwich concept.
Workers quickly fell in love with the chow mein sandwich for its filling and affordability. Back then, a plate of noodles overflowing from a bun cost as little as five cents, often accompanied by soda and French fries. Today, people still travel to Fall River to experience this unique fusion of cultures.
Ingredients and preparation
If you’ve ever had chow mein in a Chinese restaurant, you’re familiar with the basic concept of the dish. It typically consists of stir-fried noodles, vegetables and meat, seasoned with traditional Chinese flavours such as ginger, soy sauce, garlic and oyster sauce. However, when it comes to the chow mein sandwich, expect a generous portion of chow mein to spill out of a burger bun, making up around 90% of the sandwich, with the remaining 10% being the bread.
To make a chow mein sandwich at home, start by cooking the noodles until al dente. Once cooked, dry them and fry them in hot oil to give them a crispy texture. Next, sauté your choice of meat and vegetables until cooked through. You can use a variety of vegetables depending on what is available or in season. Combine the cooked vegetables and noodles in a frying pan and prepare the sauce using ingredients such as ginger, soy sauce, garlic and oyster sauce.
To assemble the chow mein sandwich, place half of the burger bun on a plate, spoon the chow mein mixture on top and top with the sauce. Finally, place the other half of the bun on top to complete the sandwich. It’s worth noting that the chow mein sandwich is best enjoyed with a fork and knife, as trying to pick it up like a traditional sandwich would result in a delicious mess of fried noodles, vegetables, meat and sauce.
While Fall River, Massachusetts is famous for its chow mein sandwiches, there is one restaurant that has been serving these delicious creations for over 50 years. Mee Sum offers a special menu with different versions of the chow mein sandwich. The flexibility of this dish allows for customisation to suit both vegetarians and meat lovers. Vegetarian options typically include noodles and a combination of vegetables, while meat eaters can choose from shrimp, chicken, beef or pork fillings.
Mee Sum isn’t the only place to find chow mein sandwiches. Other restaurants, such as China Star, also offer this unique dish to their customers. In fact, it has been reported that China Star sells around 400 chow mein sandwiches every week. The popularity of these sandwiches extends beyond Fall River, with renowned celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse even creating his own version with vegetables and either pork or beef.
A local delicacy
While it is possible to recreate the chow mein sandwich at home, experiencing an authentic one outside of Fall River, Massachusetts can be a challenge. The chow mein sandwich remains a local delicacy, deeply rooted in the history of the region’s immigrant experience. The people of Fall River are particularly passionate about their chow mein sandwiches, and they even have preferences when it comes to the type of noodles used.
The noodle of choice for chow mein sandwiches is Hoo-Mee Noodles, produced by the Oriental Chow Mein Company, also based in Fall River. Founded in 1938 by Chinese immigrant Frederick Wong, the Oriental Chow Mein Company specialises in producing thin, crispy noodles that are perfect for chow mein sandwiches. After a devastating fire in 2009, customers eagerly awaited the reopening of the factory, and today Hoo-Mee Noodles continues to be a staple in the creation of this beloved dish.
A culinary journey
The chow mein sandwich is a testament to the rich history and diverse culinary landscape of New England. Its fusion of Chinese and American flavours has captured the taste buds of many, both in the local community and beyond. Whether you’re a fan of Chinese cuisine, American comfort food, or simply enjoy exploring unique culinary creations, the chow mein sandwich offers a delightful and satisfying experience.
If you’re in Fall River, Massachusetts, don’t miss the opportunity to try an authentic chow mein sandwich at Mee Sum or other local eateries. The combination of crispy noodles, savoury fillings and the softness of the burger bun creates a harmonious blend of textures and flavours that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
For those unable to make the trip to Fall River, fear not. The Chow Mein sandwich can be recreated in your own kitchen, allowing you to enjoy this cultural fusion from the comfort of your own home. With readily available ingredients and a simple cooking process, you can embark on a culinary adventure and experience the unique flavours of the New England chow mein sandwich.
In conclusion, the chow mein sandwich is a shining example of the diversity and fusion that characterises the New England culinary landscape. Its origins and history reflect the immigrant experience and the willingness to blend cultures and flavours to create something truly special. Whether you enjoy it in Fall River or try to recreate it at home, the chow mein sandwich promises to be a delightful and memorable culinary experience that showcases the best of Chinese-American fusion cuisine.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a chow mein sandwich?
A Chow Mein sandwich is a unique culinary creation that originated in Fall River, Massachusetts. It combines the concept of chow mein, a traditional Chinese fried noodle dish, with the American sandwich concept. The sandwich consists of a hamburger bun filled with a generous portion of chow mein noodles, vegetables, meat and gravy.
How did the chow mein sandwich come about?
The chow mein sandwich was born out of the cultural fusion of Fall River in the 19th century. The town, known for its textile industry, attracted immigrants from Europe, Canada and China. Chinese restaurant owners in New England combined their traditional cuisine with the American sandwich concept, creating the chow mein sandwich to cater to the tastes of European factory workers.
What are the ingredients in a chow mein sandwich?
A chow mein sandwich typically consists of fried noodles, vegetables, meat (such as pork or chicken) and a savoury sauce. The sauce often contains ingredients such as ginger, soy sauce, garlic and oyster sauce. The specific vegetables and meats used may vary depending on availability and personal preference.
Can I make a chow mein sandwich at home?
Yes, you can make a chow mein sandwich in your own kitchen. Cook the noodles until al dente, fry them in hot oil for a crispy texture, sauté the meat and vegetables of your choice and combine them in a pan. Prepare a sauce using traditional Chinese flavours and assemble the chow mein sandwich by spooning the chow mein mixture onto a hamburger bun and topping with the sauce.
Where can I try a chow mein sandwich?
The chow mein sandwich is most commonly found in Fall River, Massachusetts. Local restaurants such as Mee Sum and China Star are known for serving authentic chow mein sandwiches. However, this delicacy remains relatively localised and can be difficult to find outside of Fall River.
Are there vegetarian options for chow mein sandwiches?
Yes, there are vegetarian options for chow mein sandwiches. Instead of meat, these versions typically include a combination of vegetables and fried noodles. You can customise your choice of vegetables depending on what you have on hand or what is in season.
What makes the chow mein sandwich unique?
The chow mein sandwich is a fusion of Chinese and American culinary traditions. It represents the blending of cultures and flavours, resulting in a dish that is both familiar and distinct. The combination of crispy noodles, savoury fillings and the softness of the burger bun creates a unique eating experience that continues to captivate locals and visitors alike.