Chow Mein Sandwiches Were Once A Lunchbox Staple

Chow mein is a staple on the majority of Chinese restaurant menus. A simple dish, chow mein usually includes stir-fried noodles with a variety of toppings, from shredded vegetables like cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, onions and bean sprouts, to finely cut pieces of pork, chicken, or shrimp (via Takeaway). Usually, egg noodles were used and the style in which chow mein is cooked — like if the noodles are extra crispy or softer — depends on which region in China the chef is from.

When Chinese chefs arrived in America, they brought fried noodles with them. As with most imported foods, chow mein has evolved further to reflect the local flavors and preferences. One shining example sprung up in Fall River, Massachusetts, where a very particular type of fusion food was created: the chow mein sandwich. So popular was this East-meets-West mash-up food that there is even a psychedelic rock song that bears its name – but what exactly is a chow mein sandwich?

The popularity of the chow mein sandwich

Long before the advent of the ramen burger, invented by a Japanese-American chef in 2013 (per CNN), there was the chow mein sandwich. This dish was a lunchtime staple in New England for textile mill workers in the 1920s, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Served on a bun sloppy-joe style or in between two slices of white bread, the chow mein stuffed sandwich also came with fries and a soda.

Around that time, Chinese chefs began to open their own restaurants in New England. In order to cater to the mix of immigrants from countries like Poland, Ireland, and French Canada, they decided to package their fried noodles in a form that was more recognizable to their Western counterparts: in a sandwich (via NPR). The result was a very popular, cheap, and filling lunch meal, and one company, the Oriental Chow Mein Company, still produces the noodle and gravy mix most familiar to New Englanders today. For those interested in trying this former factory worker staple, the Mee Sum Restaurant still serves up the chow mein sandwich, and has been for the past fifty years (per CBS News).