Chow Mein – Synonymous with Chinese cuisine to Americans?
Not Exactly! According to some resources, Chow Mein was invented IN the United States to feed AMERICANS. It is based on Cantonese cuisine.
As if you didn’t know, the translation of Chow Mein is:
- Chow is to fry.
- Mein are noodle.
Chow mein is fried noodles. Usually Cantonese style is boiled or soaked noodles fried crispy after they are wet cooked and then the stir fried meats, sauce and veggies are placed on top.
American style is the meat and veggies plated with cold crispy noodles set on top.
Either way they are a fast food style of dish usually intended for one person.
A regular meal for more people would see the dishes served separately. Noodle on one plate. Meats and veggies on other plates.
The American version of the noodles are much thicker and very dry instead of moist. More like unsalted pretzel actually.
The meat and veggies vary according to what is available in the local market.
Somewhere in America right now, noodles are frying. The chef is preparing chow mein, which simply means “fried noodles” in Chinese. But not all fried noodles are alike. In China, the varieties of chow mein are as numerous as the regional cuisines. Some are lightly heated in the wok, while others, particularly in Guangdong province and Hong Kong, are fried in bunches in oil until they’re browned and crispy on the outer edges but still soft in the middle. It was this southern style of chow mein that was carried to the United States by the Chinese immigrants.
Back in the 19th century, America was introduced to chow mein after it had already fallen for chop suey. The setting was Mott Street in New York’s Chinatown, in the 1880s. While New Yorkers were wolfing down bowls full of chop suey, they began to notice something on the menu called chow mein, described as “fried vermicelli with strips of pork, celery, onions, and spices.” Notice the celery and onion on the ingredient list; those are also two of the key components of chop suey, providing a base of flavor and sweetness for the dish. In fact, what New Yorkers came to like about chow mein was both its resemblance to chop suey and a special quality of those fried noodles. In Roy L. M’Cardell’s humorous column “Conversations With a Chorus Girl” (1903), his attractive but ditzy protagonist touts the wonders of chow mein: “Gee! I like it. You’d think the vermicelli was Saratoga chips cut into strings.” (Saratoga chips was the original name for potato chips.) The resemblance to potato chips would make chow mein a star.
Hmmm, then perhaps Chop Suey is synonymous, or what Americans think/thought of first when it came to Chinese food. Perhaps that will be a post for another day!