January 15, 2012

Chow Mein Sandwich: A Unique Regional Dish


My good friend Ed is from Taunton, Massachusetts, and for Christmas this year he and his friend Bill mailed me a box of Hoo-Mee Chow Mein mix.


You may think this was an odd Christmas gift, but it was related to a discussion we had a few weeks earlier about one of New England's unusual culinary delights: the chow mein sandwich.

I'm from the Merrimack Valley, so I had never heard of chow mein sandwiches until I met Ed. It's a regional specialty that is found only in Southeastern Massachusetts (particularly in Fall River, Taunton and New Bedford) and in parts of Rhode Island (Pawtucket and Woonsocket). You can also order it at Nathan's Famous restaurant in Coney Island, but it arrived there from New England.


A chow mein sandwich is composed of three parts: goopy chow mein, crispy chow mein noodles, and a hamburger bun. Ed was quite explicit about the hamburger bun - nothing else is authentic!

According to Wikipedia, the chow mein sandwich has been delighting New England gourmands since the 1930s. That seems possible, since and chow mein has been eaten in the U.S. since the early 20th century - it's mentioned in Sinclair Lewis' 1920 novel Main Street. Hoo-Mee has been in production 
since 1926.


Usually when I write about New England cuisine I focus on old recipes from the colonial or Puritan eras, like Indian pudding, election cake, or cider pie. But folk culture is always changing and incorporating new things. The Puritans didn't care (or even know) about things like Bigfoot, phantom hitchhikers, or chow mein sandwiches, but they're part of our regional cultural heritage today. So I say, "Celebrate New England and have a chow mein sandwich!"

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you don't know how to make one, celebrity chef and Fall River native Emeril Lagasse has a recipe on his website. He instructs the cook to deep fry their own noodles, but for an authentic experience you should just buy a box of pre-fried crispy noodles, like those provided in the Hoo-Mee mix.


10 comments:

Heather Rojo said...

On the North Shore we call this a Chop Suey sandwich. You can still order them at neighborhood spots. The most famous place for the Chop Suey sandwich is at Salem Willows park on Fort Avenue, where there are two take out Chop Suey sandwich stands. One is called Lowe, and the other is the Salem Willows Arcade. My mother doesn't consider it summer until she has had her Chop Suey sandwich.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Chop suey sandwiches at the Willows are also a big tradition in my family, and it's interesting to read about the history of this tradition. Plus, Hoo-Mee...hilarious.

Peter M said...

Heather and Anonymous - Thanks for the comments. I did not know you could get a chow mein /chop suey sandwich at Salem Willows. I usually go to Salem for the witchy activities, but I'll try to pick up a sandwich at the Willows the next time I'm up there.

papijoe said...

Don't forget coffee milk to wash it down!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_milk

Peter M said...

Another regional delicacy!

Kate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

I don't know if you've read my 2009 blog post on Hoo-Mee, chow mein sandwiches, and Fall River, but I tried to shed some light on the possible origins of the sandwich.

Peter M said...

Hi Kate! Thanks for the comment and the great blog!

Anne said...

Kate, what is the name/url of your blog?

Anne said...

Got it, disregard, sorry