Controversial Chow Mein Sandwich

December 29th, 2016 § 1 comment § permalink

HG has mentioned in previous posts that a favorite guilty treat was the chow mein sandwich served at Nathan’s in Coney Island (or in the short lived branch near Times Square). It was simple. Traditional corn starch enhanced New York chow mein served in a small hamburger bun lined with crispy noodles. HG gave it a dash of soy sauce and managed to dispatch the messy sandwich without staining clothing. SJ recalled reading an article by the regional food mavens Jane & Michael Stern that this sandwich survives and prospers in the gritty mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts. So, the F & R clan set off to Fall River, once a great textile manufacturing center. Huge mills (now put to a variety of uses) still adorn the streets. First stop was Portugalia Market, a big, sparkling market that could be described as a Portuguese Zabar’s. Big selection of Portuguese wines (HG scored bottles of very good Pinho Verde Rose plus some Ruby Port). The group bought much Portuguese chourico, cheese, custard tarts, canned sardines, jarred tuna, figs, etc. All marveled at a semi-detatched bacala room with towering stacks of dried codfish. While the group lunched on toasted cheese and sausage sandwiches (they later went off to tour a battleship and submarine docked on the Fall River waterfront), HG and SJ were off to Mee Sum Chinese Restaurant to sample the chow mein sandwich served the same way since the 1920s. The duo sipped Pina Coladas in Tiki cups as they ate the very unusual and surprising sandwiches. The hamburger bun sandwich sat atop a generous bowl of crispy noodles (best ever) floating in a dark brown, Chinese oyster sauce based sauce laced with onions and celery. This was a knife and fork dish. Not a sandwich. HG loved it. Devoured it with gusto. SJ’s enthusiasm was more restrained. SJ posted a photo of the dish on Facebook. Comments were derogatory. Okay, HG admits that it’s a very special taste but a real regional specialty that deserves attention. In any case, Fall River is a great food town. Lesley R. picked up great little meat and vegetable pies at Sam’s bakery. There are lots of Portuguese restaurants featuring savory clam dishes and garlic laden Portuguese steak. For snacking, lots of hole in the wall Mom-and-Pop eateries feature Coneys (hot dogs) smothered in chili sauce and chopped onions. And, one can also snare slices of feta cheese pizzas. It’s a happy heartburn town.


It Lives!

February 25th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

It seems that the very odd treat — the chow mein sandwich — is alive and well. As HG has previously posted, the Chow Mein sandwich is a guilty pleasure, a low-end treat relished by HG and only available at Nathan’s Famous hot dog emporium on Coney Island and its branch (long closed) in the mid-Manhattan movie and theater district. A very messy sandwich. Care and numerous napkins ae required. A year ago, this sandwich appeared at Lee’s Chinese in Rhode Island. And now, HG has just read, with pleasure, that the chow mein sandwich has been thriving at Mee Sum Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in Fall River, Mass. Jane and Michael Stern, those intrepid discoverers of funky food on America’s highways (and creators of the seminal Road Food Good Food books and website), reported on the cuisine of Fall River in this month’s (March 2013) issue of Saveur Magazine. They describe the excellence of the noodles on the Mee Sum sandwich: “Thin and elegant, fried until wicked crisp, the noodles are an ideal foil for brown gravy laced with celery and onion. The sandwich is a fascinating textural swirl: soft and crunchy, wet and brittle.” The Sterns, noting the treat is “mischievously delicious,” observe the chow mein sandwich is little known except as an “oddity” at Nathan’s. It all sounds good but the mention of “brown gravy” is enticing. Nathan’s sandwich binds the celery and onions with a traditional, light beige, corn starch thickened, gravy. Does this difference of gravy darkness represent a genuine, regional split?

Disappointment. Obsession Obliterated.

June 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Went to Lees Chinese Restaurant in Riverside, R.I. with high hopes but was met with grim disappointment. HG was hoping to revisit an old obsession. HG had been informed that Lees featured a Chow Mein sandwich, the oft posted about treat HG had relished for so many years at Nathan’s Famous in New York. This is what HG got at Lees: A large bowl of celery and onion in a gloppy, dark tan sauce thickened beyond recognition by corn starch. A large plate of crispy chow mein noodles and — surprise!! — a heap of French fries. On top of the noodles was a stale hamburger bun. In other words, a do-it -yourself Chow Mein sandwich. Tasted awful.

The pomme frites, however, even though they were an odd ingredient in a purportedly Chinese restaurant, were splendid. Best HG has had in years. Go figure. HG is now officially cured of his Chow Mein sandwich obsession.

You can’t go home again, said Thomas Wolfe. For HG, eating Lee’s Chow Mein sandwich was like encountering an old girl friend much assaulted by time. Not wise to stir up some old memories.

So Bad It’s Good.

May 9th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Gifted daughter LR has informed HG that his number one food perversion is alive and well in Rhode Island. Yes, the oft posted about Chow Mein sandwich, for decades obtainable only at Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island, has re-surfaced in Riverside, RI. LR reports that Lee’s, a rather plain spoken, Chinese restaurant now serves a Chow Mein sandwich. HG, with a firm grasp of irony, questions their authenticity. HG will submit it to a taste test during an upcoming visit to the Minuscule but Mighty state.

While in Riverside, HG will indulge in a one other perversion: a grip of New York System Hot Wieners topped with its unique (think Greeek Moussaka meets Texas Chile) meat sauce and washed down with the very odd RI beverage known as coffee milk.

HG will not indulge, however, in the top Rhode Island food perversion – Dunkin’ Donuts. It is a perversion cum obsession that has made Rhode Island lead the USA in per capita doughnut consumption. A perversion that has named the major arena, home to those excellent Rhode Island University and Providence College basketball teams, the Dunkin’ Donuts Arena a.k.a. “The Dunk.”

Perversion Cured By Absence

April 12th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

For many years HG was obsessed by the Chow Mein Sandwich. Permit HG to clarify: A Chow Mein Sandwich is a layer of crisp chow mein noodles, a large glop (heavy on the corn starch) of vegetable chow mein, a squirt of soy sauce. Served on a standard, soft hamburger roll, it is very difficult to eat. The filling has the regrettable habit of rolling down the eater’s sleeve. The only places that served this delicacy were Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island and Nathan’s Famous near Times Square (it had a run of about 10 years). Despite the consumption difficulty HG was mad about the sandwich and made many detours to Nathan’s to indulge his passion (ruining many suit sleeves in the process). Nathan’s is now franchised beyond recognition and despite existing in every major airport, ONLY the original Coney Island branch still serves the Chow Mein Sandwich. HG has moved to New Mexico.

Distance and time has cured the obsession.

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