Thursday, October 22, 2015

Chop Suey Sandwiches ~ Unique New England Foods

Yours Truly enjoying a Chop Suey Sandwich
at Salem Willows, Salem, Massachusetts

From time to time I write about unique New England food for this blog.  When doing oral history, food comes up often, and sometimes the food mentioned has disappeared or almost disappeared from today’s menus.  The chop suey sandwich is one of those foods.  Your parents or your grandparents might have enjoyed them all over New England in the 1920 until about the 1960s. Now they are available in just a few spots.

This is such a unique food that many New Englanders have never had it.  If you lived near Salem or Fall River, Massachusetts you probably grew up with it and have fond memories.  My mother has such great memories of chop suey sandwiches that she can’t visit Salem without mentioning dropping by Salem Willows to get one.  Salem Willows used to an amusement park more than 100 years ago.  It is now a seaside public park, and there is still a merry-go-round and picnic grounds.  In the 1900s through the Great Depression, this was a very popular area, and it was even busy in the 1950s when my parents were dating. My grandmother, born in 1905, loved chop suey sandwiches from Salem Willows, so they have been around a long, long time.  
Salem Lowe, where you can still
buy a chop suey sandwich in Salem, Massachusetts
The most famous place to buy a chop suey sandwich is a Chinese restaurant called Salem Lowe, at 197 Fort Avenue, at the Salem Willows Park.  This area is known as “Restaurant Row” and is made up of small establishments selling takeout food such as burgers, ice cream, candy, popcorn and fried seafood. Salem Lowe is famous locally, and has been featured on food blogs, TV, in the novel The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry and the non-fiction book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee.  A second restaurant, Ghengis, located at 177 Fort Avenue, still sells chop suey sandwiches, too.

Apparently the chop suey sandwich was the first international “fusion” food to become popular in New England.  This was back in the early 20th century when chop suey was an adventurous new food for New England Yankees.  It is a mixture of Chinese chop suey on a burger bun.  It is served with the bread rolled into a cone, filled with the chop suey and wrapped in wax paper. This makes it easier to walk around Salem Willows while eating your sandwich with a fork.  Yes, it is both delicious and messy!  And only $2.10 last July, too, at Salem Lowe.  If you want it served more sandwich style, you can get it in a Styrofoam box with the chop suey inside the bun. 

A closeup view of the chop suey sandwich

Emerill Lagasse, the celebrity chef with roots in New Bedford, published a recipe for it on the Food Network website, except that on the South Shore they call this “Chow Mein Sandwich”.  It appears to be similar, but served with crispy fried noodles on top of the hamburger bun instead of rolled in a cone. You can see that recipe   http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/chow-mein-sandwich-recipe.html   I found a video of him making a fancy version of a chow mein sandwich on Martha Stewart’s website  http://www.marthastewart.com/934608/emerils-faul-river-chow-mein-sandwich-recipe    (fast forward to the second half of the video). 

The Hoo-Mee Chow Mein company, from Fall River that sells packaged kits of Chow Mein mix with crispy fried noodles.  Some New England grocery stores carry Hoo-Mee chow mein.  Don’t you love the name? People who move away from Salem or New Bedford have been known to beg their relatives to mail them kits from Hoo-Mee.  Moms send them to college kids as care packages. These kits are also available on Amazon.com or directly from the company:
Hoo-Mee Chow Mein Company
42 8th Street
Fall River, Massachusetts 02720
(508) 675-7711

I understand that at one time chow mein sandwiches were popular in New York, too, especially at Coney Island, which is a sea side park like Salem Willows.  I also understand that since Hurricane Sandy, these chow mein sandwiches are no longer served at Nathan’s at  Coney Island.  The end of an era!

For the truly curious:

Wikipedia “Chow Mein Sandwich” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chow_mein_sandwich  (Believe it or not, Wikipedia did not have an entry for Chop Suey Sandwiches!)

PDF “The Chow Mein Sandwich: American as Apple Pie” by Imogen L. Lin, https://web.viu.ca/limi/pdf_files/CMS1.pdf  , accessed October 13,  2015

Here is a school menu PDF from Dartmouth High School, November 2014 (near Fall River).  Check out what the kids ate on Thursday, November 6th!   Did they serve this at your school?

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Other unique New England Foods from my blog:
Indian Pudding: 

Fourth of July Peas and Salmon


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Published under a Creative Commons License
Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Chop Suey Sandwiches ~ Unique New England Foods", Nutfield Genealogy, posted October 22, 2015 (  http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2015/10/chop-suey-sandwiches-unique-new-england.html:  accessed [access date]). 

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