A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 11, 2008
Chow Mein Sandwich; Chop Suey Sandwich

Entry in progress—B.P.


Wikipedia: American Chinese cuisine
Chow mein sandwich— Sandwich of chow mein and gravy (Southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island).
Chop suey sandwich — Sandwich of chicken chop suey in gravy on a hamburger bun (North Shore of Massachusetts — the only known remaining restaurant serving this specialty is Salem Lowe at Salem Willows Park, Salem, Massachusetts.)

Wikipedia: Chow mein sandwich
Originating in Fall River, Massachusetts, in the 1930s or 1940s, the chow mein sandwich, which typically consists of a hamburger-style bun with a brown gravy-based chow mein mixture placed between and served hot, is popular on Chinese-American restaurant menus throughout southeastern Massachusetts and parts of neighboring Rhode Island.

Typically, customers ask for their sandwiches to be “strained” or “unstrained.” This refers to whether they would like their sandwich with vegetables. If the chow mein is strained it has no vegetables. 

Food Network
Chow Mein Sandwich
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2003
Show:  Emeril Live
Episode:  Viewers Choice

1 pound dried thin Chinese egg noodles
Vegetable oil for deep frying, plus 2 tablespoons
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 large white onion, cut into long thin strips
2 stalks celery, trimmed and cut on the bias into thin pieces
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 ounces mung bean sprouts, well rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup molasses
4 hamburger buns, warmed (...)

Boston.com
8 things you might not know about Chinese food
3. The chow mein sandwich
A delicacy favored in some New England Chinese restaurants, such as in Woonsocket, R.I., and the Oriental Chow Mein Company (pictured) in Fall River, Mass.

27 June 1943, New York (NY) Times, “Coney Has a War Room” by Burton Lindheim, pg. X11:
But none need go hungry, for food stands, in addition to the standard franks, hot corn, pop, ice cream and taffy, purvey such exotic items as knisches, pizzeria and chop suey sandwiches.

28 March 1952, Berkshire Evening Eagle (Pittsfield, Mass.), pg. 8, col. 1:
CHINA CLIPPER RESTAURANT
342 North St., Pittsfield
For a Treat After the Theatre or Afternoon Snack
Try Our
Hot Chow Mein or Chop Suey Sandwich...35c

Google Books
The City
by Julius Horwitz
New York, NY: World Publishing Company
1953
Pg. 102:
... watermelon, hot knishes, pizza pies, French fried potatoes, chow mein sandwiches,
the roller coaster roaring, the ferris wheel safely rocking, down the still side streets to their four-room Brooklyn flats, the IRT, BMT subways, the surf fishermen come out,...

12 September 1958, Logansport (IN) Pharos-Tribune, “Broadway and Elsewhere” by Walter Winchell, pg. 4, col. 7:
The chicken chow mein sandwich at Nathan’s Coney Island.

13 September 1962, Newport (RI) Daily News, pg. 6, col. 3 ad:
Try one of Bill Yee’s delicious
CHOW MEIN SANDWICHES
25c

24 July 1969, New York (NY) Times, “Planners Ask: Will Success Spoil Times Sq.?” by McCandlish Phillips, pg. 39:
He can eat a chow mein sandwich at Nathan’s,...

6 July 1976, Nashua (NH) Telegraph, pg. 14, col. 5:
You can get burgers, corn-on-the-cob, franks, tacos and even chop suey sandwiches.
(Salisbury, Massachusetts—ed.)

25 October 1988, Christian Science Monitor, “Salem” (MA) by John Edward Young, pg. 19, col. 3: 
...to Salem Willows.  The Willows is a small, quaint old amusement park, where you may treat yourself to a chop suey sandwich. That’s right, sandwich. Neophytes ask for a fork to help get it down. Locals manage without such equipment. 

Flavor & Fortune
Chow Mein Sandwiches
by Imogene Lim
Food: Meat, Poultry, and Fish
Summer Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(2)

On occasion, you come across a food that seems a total curiosity. The Chow Mein Sandwich is such an item. What is it, you ask and where do you find this Chinese American sandwich? Try New England. Specifically go to Fall River Massachusetts for this food specialty. Local neighborhood Chinese restaurants where both Chinese and American foods are served will, no doubt, still have it on their menus.

Although the popularity of the Chow Mein Sandwich peaked some 40 to 50 years ago, it is still a favorite menu item in Fall River Chinese restaurants and as far southwest as Providence Rhode Island. One restaurant in East Providence reputedly sells between nine to ten dozen a day, perhaps a mere trifle compared to the largest Chinese restaurant in Fall River that sold more than two million during its 40 year existence.

To many Fall River natives, the Chow Mein Sandwich is associated with their youth. Rather than stopping at a fast food drive in during the 1930’s and thereafter, when hungry they would drop by the local Chinese restaurant for a sit down meal of a Chow Mein Sandwich, French Fries, and an Orange Soda. In the early 1990’s in Fall River, the Chow Mein Sandwich was still popular. So much so that it remained a part of the school lunch menu.

The question then is “What is a Chow Mein Sandwich?” The chow mein part is easy enough to describe. It is a mixture of minced meat (pork), celery, onions, and bean sprouts in gravy over deep fried noodles. This combination or blend of ingredients is more like a thick sauce or a stew. It is placed between a hamburger bun or between two slices of white bread. For the latter, brown gravy is ladled over the works. As with any category of chow mein, there are variations. In addition to pork (the standard), there are other choices such as chicken, beef, or shrimp. For those who do not like noodles, the Chop Suey Sandwich (with the same variations) is available, and even a Chow Mein/Chop Suey Sandwich can be had by an indecisive diner.

Portability and inexpensive price were factors in its popularity. This was during a time before there were McDonald’s, Burger King, and every other kind of fast food establishment. For a mere five cents (the original cost), you would be waited on and served in a booth! Many an older person has recalled that for a dime a Chow Mein Sandwich and a soda were preferred over an ice cream and soda that would have to be consumed standing up. Dining out made the individual, if young, feel grown up. Back then, and even today, the Chow Mein Sandwich provided an economical and filling meal.

Although this sandwich is no longer as popular, it still has an avid following in southeastern New England. For many individuals, this sandwich is like the Madeleine of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past evoking specific memories of life in America. If you discover the Chow Mein Sandwich at your local eatery, please let the editor know because we are keeping tabs on where else one finds it. We know that Nathan’s in Coney Island once served it; where else was or is it found? In the meantime, Happy Eating!

If you want to try the Chow Mein Sandwich (a la Fall River), purchase one package (8 ounces) of “Original Hoo Mee Chow Mein Mix.” Then prepare your chow mein according to directions. Place a hearty scoop of the chow mein mixture between a hamburger bun or between slices of white bread (square loaf required, to be authentic). When using white bread, also prepare the Chow Mein (brown gravy) Mix and ladle the resulting gravy over the sandwich as one would for a hot turkey sandwich.

“Original Hoo Mee Chow Mein Mix” is available in southeastern New England supermarkets, or it can be ordered directly from: Oriental Chow Mein Company, 42 Eighth Street, Fall River MA 02720.

When you prepare your own chow mein mix, or use the proper local product, another key to authenticity is in the noodles. They should be flat deep fried noodles. The sauce (which can be equal parts chopped onion and sliced celery cooked in stock, with if desired the addition of pork, beef, or chicken) is poured over the noodles immediately before serving. There should be some crunch to the textural mix.

Imogene Lim, an anthropologist teaching at Malaspina University College in Canada, researches food culture and ethnicity. Research on the chow mein sandwich was done while a Rockefeller Humanities Post Doctoral Fellow.

Herald-News (Fall River, MA)
China Royal: A Fall River favorite
DEBORAH ALLARD-BERNARDI, Herald News Staff Reporter
07/14/2001
FALL RIVER—After 52 years of serving up what many say is the best Oriental fare around, China Royal is closing its doors, leaving locals with just a tasty memory of the past.

In honor of their last weekend in business, we asked a few China Royal patrons having their final meal to share their favorite menu items and a few memories of the city institution.

“It’s the best in the area,” said Ray Sebastiao of Fall River, who has been dining at China Royal for the last 50 years. His favorite dish is the chow mein sandwich.

The New England Clam Shack Cookbook:
Favorite recipes from clam shacks, lobster pounds & chowder houses

by Brooke Dojny
North Adams, MA: Storey Books
2003
Pg. 165:
Chow Mein sandwiches. For the non-Rhode Islander, a truly weird concoction made by piling Chinese chow mein in a thick brown gravy on a hamburger bun and topping it with crisp chow mein noodles. Since the bun instantly starts to dissolve, knife and fork are usually a necessity.

Massachusettes with Arthur Levine
May 3, 2006
Chop suey...sandwich?
Chopped beef? Sure. But chop suey? In a sandwich? It may sound kinda nuts, but Salem Willows, the small seaside amusement area in Salem, has been serving chop suey sandwiches for years. To make an odd gustatory delight even odder, there are only a handful of food joints at Salem Willows, yet two of them feature Chinese food--and they both serve chop suey sandwiches. A Salem Willows chicken chop suey sandwich includes chop suey (of course) on a hamburger bun. It’s served in a paper cone and includes a fork, but diehards eat it sandwich-style. Seagulls are more than happy to pick up any spills. Relatively healthy for fast-food fare, chop suey sandwiches only cost $1.57. (The soy sauce is free, but noodles cost extra.)
(...)
Chop suey sandwiches are available at Genghis and Salem Lowe (the original)

Providence (RI) Journal (February 2, 2007)
Chow mein sandwiches getting harder to find
FALL RIVER—The chow mein sandwich is quickly becoming a rarity in New England.

Mark You Restaurant, which has served thousands of the sloppy Asian sandwiches to generations of Fall River residents over the past 70 years, is closing for good.

The restaurant, located at 1237 Pleasant St. in the city’s Flint section, will close this weekend because of the high cost required to bring the building up to the fire code, according to a sign on the longtime business’s wall noted today by two Journal staff members.

What is a chow mein sandwich?

The chow mein—a mixture of minced meat, celery, onions, and bean sprouts in gravy over deep fried noodles—is placed between a hamburger bun and covered with brown gravy.

Sound appetizing?

Although Mark You closes Sunday night, the chow mein sandwich is on the menu at a few Rhode Island restaurants, including the Woonsocket’s Chinese Chan’s.

11 April 2007, Beaufort (SC) Gazette, “Chow mein on a bun?” by Justin Paprocki, pg. 2C, cols. 1-2:
Sharon Burstein didn’t realize how much she missed chow mein sandwiches until after she left Fall River, Mass.
The messy concoctions consisting of crispy noodles and a soupy mix of vegetables poured over a hamburger bun were a staple of her childhood growing up in the industrial southern Massachusetts city.
Saturday afternoons after temple, Sharon and her friends would head down the street to the China Royal restaurant. They were served the sloppy sandwiches with French fries, an orange soda and red Jell-O—all for about 50 cents.

Providence (RI) Journal
Hometown sandwich
12:51 AM EDT on Wednesday, May 16, 2007
By Gail Ciampa
Journal Food Editor

In our corner of the United States, visitors might be surprised to see chow mein sandwiches. Crunchy Asian-style noodles mixed with a saucy blend of celery, onions and bean sprouts and served on a hamburger bun is not a common sandwich. But it offers a taste of home for those who live in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, including its birthplace of Fall River.
(...)
The Sterns give due credit to Fall River’s Oriental Chow Mein Co. and its proprietor Frederick Wong, who started making crunchy noodles when he opened his business back in 1936. A gravy mix followed, and chow mein took off as an inexpensive and tasty meal and perfect for take-out. As the factory flourished, the sandwich was served everywhere from home to schools to restaurants. The versions might differ with some having meat mixed in, but the crunchy noodle in a sauce was the defining characteristic.

More than 70 years later, Oriental Chow Mein Co. still sells those crunchy chow mein noodles, in markets under the brand name Hoo-Mee. Both the noodles and the gravy mix are available at the factory store at 42 8th St. in Fall River (508) 675-7711. You can even buy both on the Internet at http://www.famousfoods.com , a New Bedford-based company.

The Sterns wrote this about the sandwich: “It is certainly not a sandwich you can pick up and eat, and while a bun floating in chow mein at first seems anomalous, the eater soon discovers that it is a mighty handy tool for mopping up the last of the gravy from the plate.”

Providence (RI) Journal
Chop suey & chow mein memories
12:20 PM EDT on Wednesday, April 2, 2008
By Gail Ciampa
Journal Food Editor
(...)
Chan’s: A century of Chinese in Rhode Island
A new book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee, notes that today there are some 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S., more than the combined number of McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC stores.

She calls eating Chinese food a ritual for Americans because it is predictable, familiar and readily available.

In researching her book, which takes readers through the culinary, social and cultural history of American Chinese food, she visited Chan’s Fine Oriental Dining in Woonsocket where she learned about the chow mein sandwich. Crunchy Asian-style noodles mixed with a saucy blend of celery, onions and bean sprouts and served on a hamburger bun is not a common sandwich, but it offered a taste of home for those who live in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, including its birthplace of Fall River. The Oriental Chow Mein Co., and its proprietor Frederick Wong, started making crunchy noodles when he opened his business back in 1936. A gravy mix followed, and chow mein took off as an inexpensive and tasty meal perfect for take-out.

As for Chan’s, it opened as the New Shanghai in 1905. In 1965, Ben and Ethel Chan purchased the restaurant and nine years later renamed it. Their son John, who was a recent Providence College grad with a passion for jazz joined the family business at the same time. He continues the business today with both egg rolls and jazz as well as chow mein sandwiches. In business for 103 years, it is believed to be the oldest, continuously run Chinese restaurant in Rhode Island, said John Eng-Wong, the Brown researcher studying the globalization of Chinese food. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (4) Comments • Friday, April 11, 2008 • Permalink


Hi Barry,

Just another restaurant to add to the list: Happy House on 125 Canal Street, in Salem Mass. has also served (and I think still does) serve chop mein sandwiches.

Lai Ying

Posted by Lai Ying Yu  on  08/25  at  10:09 AM

I just had a Chop Suey sandwich in Salem Willow Park at the chinese place there, “Genghis”. I had never had chop suey before (I’m Taiwanese American), but my friend Duncan (who is also from Taiwan) said that he liked them when he was in the mood for “bad Chinese food”...there’s something very satisfying about them. It was served on a hamburger bun, and contained mostly vegetables like bean sprouts. The flavor, with the exception of the hamburger bun, was reminiscent of the filling from a Northern Chinese-style dim sum spring roll (I had one in Chicago a few years ago, this being my favorite kind of spring roll, having had them at the Taipei American School cafeteria in the 1980s).

Posted by Dave Seah  on  08/20  at  03:25 PM

My grandparents were raised in fall river, and with family still there, I grew up on China Royal and chow mein sandwiches. When my memere made them at home, there was one additional step. Wrap the assembled sandwich in wax paper to steam, just for 2 minutes or so. With China Royal now closed, the noodles have to be ordered online for those of us no longer in the area. But I don’t have the link. Sorry

Posted by N P  on  01/06  at  09:04 AM

Chow mein sandwiches still are available in most Fall River Chinese Restaurants. However, Harry’s Restaurant on South Main Street in Downtown Fall River features regularly a great chow mein sandwich. It’s a weekly “special” so. Call to be sure it’s available.

Posted by Steven Camara  on  05/20  at  05:04 PM

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