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Jun 21, 2009 11:21 AM

Does chow mein in NYC not have noodles in it? [moved from Manhattan board]

I stopped in a little Chinese take-away place on the UWS yesterday and picked up some pork chow mein. I couldn't figure out why they said it came with rice but thought well maybe everything does. Whatever. Got back to my friend's apartment and discovered it had no noodles in it. We eat Chinese alot when in NYC but mostly dim sum. The chow mein we get in SF always has noodles. Is this common or just an anomaly of that place? They did have a little bag of fried strips which I guess was the noodle equivalent. It was really good stir-fried vegetables and pork but not what I would have called chow mein. Can anyone enlighten me please?

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  1. Chow mein should always have noodles in it. I mean it's literal translation is stir fried noodles so to have chow mein with no noodles is just bizarre.

    63 Replies
    1. re: KTinNYC

      Well, good!!! I love all things New York and didn't want to make this one exception! Maybe he misunderstood me and thought I ordered pork and vegetables. We've gotten food from them before and always been pleased with it. Thanks, KT (did I ever tell you I have an 18 y.o. cat named KT?

      1. re: c oliver

        You never told me that, c, very cool.

        I bet you love all things New York with the exception of the weather lately, this rain has been brutal!

        1. re: c oliver

          I know a chinese place where there are no noodle in chow mein, and they serve rice along with it. This place not only has bad chinese food, it misinterprets most of the dishes.

          1. re: cpw

            Is it on 100th between CPW and Manhattan???

        2. re: KTinNYC

          Chow mein should always have noodles in it. I mean it's literal translation is stir fried noodles so to have chow mein with no noodles is just bizarre.
          I would have to disagree with this on two levels, one being NYC style and the other being whether chow mein should or should not have noodles int it.

          I have been in the Greater NY/NJ area all my life and I can tell you from my experiences(50 years), chow mein never has had noodles, other than the fried strips/noodles found on tables for soups or dipping into duck sauce and mustard. It was always, protein of choice(or not), beansprouts, onions, celery and bok choy. As I mentioned below, if it came with shallow pan fried egg noodles, it is known as Cantonese style chow mein.

          1. re: fourunder

            I don't think I've ever ordered chow mein from a typical Chinese take out joint in over a decade but I order it frequently in Chinatown and it is a dish that comes with noodles. I don't know what is being served in other restaurants but why is it being called mein if there is no mein in the dish?

            1. re: KTinNYC

              Do the noodles stop being mein if they're fried?

              1. re: danieljdwyer

                Chow means stir fried not deep fried. There are also pan fried noodles where you get the thin egg noodles fried, covered with vegetables and meat in a sauce. I guess this may be the closest analog to what the other posters are call chow mein but they are definitely not the fried strips of wonton skins that come with takeout Chinese.

                1. re: danieljdwyer

                  Stop being mein to the noodles....

                  1. re: ADDLED

                    Well, Chow Mein really MUST have noodles. It's the mein thing about it.

                2. re: KTinNYC


                  I would agree with you that chow mein in Chinatown is, and would be, served in the Cantonese style I mentioned with a bed of shallow pan fried egg noodles, topped with choice of proteins and/or vegetables in sauce. Afterall, most of Chinatown does cater to the Chinese Community's tastes and I would assume it is more traditional. FWIW, it's the way I order and expect it to arrive at the table.

                  I can only surmise that back in the 40's or 50's when immigration for the Chinese was eased, Chinese Food became more available to the number of immigrants already settled and the new immigrants arriving. As a result, more restaurants were opened and a dumbed down version of Chinese food prevailed for the adventurous American diners. It was during this period the *Chop Suey House* was coined. Chop Suey and Chow Mein are very similar....the difference being more types of vegetables included in the ingredients of Chop Suey and the way the vegetable are cut/ a sense, Chop Suey is a premium version of Chow Mein.

                  But, to answer your question why mein if there is no mein......some things just cannot be explained or reasoned with common that an answer? ;-)

                  1. re: fourunder

                    The NYC Chow Mein of my childhood in the 50's was precisely what the OP is describing: vegetables and some kind of protein (usually chicken) in a goopy soy & cornstarch sauce served with rice and deep-fried "noodles" (that's what we called them, no matter what they were or are).

                    You mixed it all together - generally vegetables on the rice with the "noodles" scattered on top followed by a generous sprinkling of soy sauce. It was a staple of Chinese-American restaurants and "Chop Suey" joints as well as being one of the better school lunch options (you can imagine what the worse ones were like;)).

                    There were other possibilities at some of the restaurants of that time, especially in Chinatown (not so much in the outer boros), including the "Cantonese Style" Chow Mein and - later in the decade - Lo Mein, Chow Fun, Mei Fun, and Pan-Fried noodles. But that old school NYC Chinese-American Chow Mein described above was what I (and many other NYCers) still think of when we see it on a menu.

                    1. re: Striver

                      I have to agree with fourunder and Striver. I've lived in NYC all of my 38 years, and growing up chow mein was the only chinese food my parents would eat, and there were definitely no noodles in it. It came with rice and fried noodles. I also hated it and haven't touched it in probably 20 years or more.

                      1. re: irishnyc

                        That sounds more like the "chop suey" I grew up with in MA.

                        Chow Mein had noodles. Chop Suey didn't, and was served over rice (or, in Salem, in a hamburger bun).

                        1. re: sablemerle

                          That's what I was thinking too. But then again, I haven't ordered chow mein or chop suey in about 10 years...

                    2. re: fourunder

                      Yeah that sounds about right, because Chop Suey doesn't usually have noodles in, and it's noted as being a dish that originated in the US, so maybe they both got mixed up crossing the continent. Much like "Chicken Tikka Masala" is a very popular British Indian dish that is unknown in India and UK ex-patriate Indian homes since it was developed to make Indian food palatable to English palates.
                      I can see how it happens. An example; in USA you have "Starters/Appetisers" for 1st course and "Entrees" for 2nd course. Whereas in France the term "Entrée" from the French verb "to enter" means the 1st course, the "Appetiser/Starter" literally, in the UK we use both for the first course and may use "Main Course for the course after the "Starter/Appetiser/Entrée".
                      And that's just the name for the ORDER in which the food is served... PHEW...!

                      1. re: ADDLED

                        Although I have no research to back this up, I suspect what happened in New York is that at some point in the city's Chinese food history, non-Chinese speaking Americans began mixing up the terms "chop suey" and "chow mein", and gradually one became the other.

                        Mr Taster

                      2. re: fourunder

                        >> I can only surmise that back in the 40's or 50's when immigration for the Chinese was eased, Chinese Food became more available to the number of immigrants already settled and the new immigrants arriving. As a result, more restaurants were opened and a dumbed down version of Chinese food prevailed for the adventurous American diners. It was during this period the *Chop Suey House* was coined.

                        You've got your facts mixed up. According to the book "Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States", the American version of chop suey (meaning chop suey made with ingredients available in America) was being consumed exclusively by Chinese in the 1800s. During that era, white people saw Chinese food (and Chinese people) as being filthy, and to be seen eating their food would lead to one being socially ostracized.

                        It wasn't until the 1920s and the Bohemians, obsessed with "counter culture" and not caring what the mainstream thought, ventured into Chinese restaurants, and it was there that non-Chinese got their first taste of chop suey, and for literally decades, it was common throughout America to believe that the American version of chop suey is what Chinese people actually ate in China.

                        By the 1950s, Chinese food had gained such momentum that chop suey became part of mainstream American culture.

                        >> But, to answer your question why mein if there is no mein......some things just cannot be explained or reasoned with common sense

                        I've already addressed the answer to this elsewhere in this thread, and it does logically follow from the American New York perspective. It just doesn't follow if you're coming from the Chinese perspective.

                        Mr Taster

                      3. re: KTinNYC

                        Chow mein should always have noodles in it.

                        but why is it being called mein if there is no mein in the dish?

                        Chow means stir fried not deep fried.

                        Eating mein without noodle is like ordering a steak and getting no meat.

                        Yes, the Chinese restaurants I go to serve Chinese food. Places that serve chow mein with no noodles serve Americanized Chinese food. There is nothing wrong with this but it's the equivalent of ordering fettuccine al fredo and not getting any noodles. The name implies there will be noodles.

                        KT and CO.

                        This topic has resonated with me quite a bit and I am actually surprised this topic is so controversial and passionate, but in an effort to reason and explain the nuances of chicken chow goes:

                        The gloppy dish mentioned, received and long on memory outside of Chinatown proper does actually have noodles in the form of the crunchy deep fried noodles or deep fried Wonton strips referred to from others....or in the version offered by (Striver) in the form of the Chun King/LaChoy thin and crispy Chow Mein Noodles in a can. These versions of crunch noodles are an accompaniment meant to be added and mixed to the Chow Mein mixture, and thus, noodles are part of the intended Chow Mein dish. They are just not the noodles you expect or realize in the version you have been accustomed to ordering and receiving. If you think about it, the deep fried crispy noodles do follow the same concept of offering a crunchy contrast the Cantonese Style I mentioned earlier in this thread.

                        I believe your opposition to the dumbed down version is due to the fact you are taking the translation of *chow mein* too literally in itself. It was a dish that was given a name a long time ago and before many of the posters on this site were born. I can only surmise that observation is true for you....I do not mean anything other than to say who can explain why the name was chosen, but regardless, it is arguably the most well known Chinese dish ever created for the American palate.

                        btw....if we were to take every dish and expect them to be true to the names they have been would you explain *Buffalo Wings*


                        1. re: fourunder

                          how would you explain *Buffalo Wings*

                          I know you know the answer but I'll play along. This actually makes sense because they are a style of chicken wings invented or popularized in Buffalo, hence, Buffalo Wings.

                          My issue with chow mein and this maybe because I've never heard or or eaten the CA version is that there is already a dish called chow mein that I am very familiar with.

                          1. re: KTinNYC

                            Okay.....a little tougher one.....hamburger...... ;0)

                            1. re: fourunder

                              the word hamburger came to the US from german immigrants who ate a pounded beef dish they believed originated in Hamburg. Of course the dish transitioned over time, as has NYC chow mein.

                              In the San Francisco/Northern California area chow mein was always a soft noodle dish, although usually the fried noodles were served over the top as a kind of garnish. Hawaii Chow Mein is also chowed noodle, but not usually served with the crisp noodle garnish (here it is very popular to order it with something like won ton or gau gee on top, crispy won ton min/mein)

                            2. re: KTinNYC


                              I can't tell you which came first, the chicken or the egg, and the same is true for Chinese American Chow Mein or Cantonese Style Chow Mein. What I can tell you is that I am sure both evolved through the past 50 years regionally in the States......also, when I was a small child, Cantonese Style Chow Mein did not have any vegetables other than a little Yu Choy only. It was simply pan fried noodles and protein in oyster flavored sauce. Nothing more. Today, even in Chinatown, my experiences are there is an inclusion of thin sliced Napa cabbage, carrots and Snow Pea pods......and less protein.......and the noodles have become much thinner in the Hong Kong or Shanghai style. In my youth, it was always the thicker lo mein noodles.

                        2. re: fourunder

                          in my 50 years of eating chinese in new york city there has always been a crispy noodle in NY chow mein (which makes it based on hong kong style chow mein)

                          yes those crunchy things ARE noodles

                          1. re: thew


                            think of it this way, the fried crunchy stuff are noodles. You will not find an argument there from me, but they are an option to add in.......they are not made into the dish or placed on top when it is delivered from the kitchen to your table. They would always be in a bowl on the table....I am describing the same noodle you add to soup or dip into duck sauce.

                            To further prove chow mein does not have noodles in it.....consider you order take out Chicken Chow Mein.... the hard fried crunchy noodles are not in the same container as the chicken and vegetables.....and if the restaurant forgets to put a bag of hard noodles into your have no noodles.

                            I have no idea what your idea of Hong Kong style chow mein is.

                            1. re: fourunder

                              hong kong style you would take the same noodles you use for lo mein but deep fry them into a nest of sorts and serve the food on top.

                              being served in 2 separate containers does not make them not the same dish. when i get it delivered the noodles need to be separate so the will still be crunchy and not soggy by the time it gets here. but it isn;t chow mein until i put the 2 parts together. If they forget to put it in my bag then i have chicken and vegetables, not chow mein - and they delivery guy is making a 2nd trip....

                              1. re: thew

                                I think what this exchange may say is: fourunder has never had real Hong Kong-style chow mein, with the crisp pan-fried noodle cake topped with the stir-fried meat-veggie mixture, and you have been lucky enough not to experience the old Chinese-takeout version people are describing in this thread, a cooked mess o' stuff that is topped with those fried noodle shreds the same places give you to dip in duck sauce. I never saw it when I lived in NY, myself, from (non-Chinatown) neighborhood places. I did see it in a (non-NY) college dining hall, and said, "That's not chow mein" - and it didn't resemble anything called chow mein that you'd find in a California Chinese restaurant.

                                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                  thew and CM,

                                  My best friend's family owned three Chinese restaurants from the 60's-mid 90's. Their extended families also owned restaurants throughout NJ, and NY, including Manhattan, Chinatown and Queens. I also worked for the family as a teenager and through college. Believe me when I tell you I have a very strong knowledge of what was on the menu and the way Cantonese style of cooking was done in the area.

                                  What I take from the different descriptions of the dishes are simply may the same dish or it may not, it all depends on where you are for what it is called.

                                  As for the Hong Kong style chow I noted in my first post on this thread, I know it as Cantonese Chow Mein........the two most popular versions are with mixed sea foods or Beef atop pan crisped thin egg noodles......never seen it ordered with chicken.

                                    1. re: fourunder

                                      Plus we would always get the crunchy noodles - if we ordered chow mein or not. they came with the soup or even before we ordered anything. We were certainly never given more noodles by ordering chow mein, and we ran out by the time we were served our main course.. No noodles in the NY Chow Mein we were ever served.

                                      Though I can't speak for others.

                                    2. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                      That's why I started this. The stuff I got from a takeout was called chow mein but bore no resemblance to what I'd eaten in SF for 30 years. I don't care who calls it what as long as I can get what I want. And I guess it's called lo mein in NYC.

                              2. re: fourunder

                                Chow mein, probably mostly in the NY/NJ area, can also be just meat and some basic veggies (often celery, onions, bok choy) in a white sauce, and comes with a big bag/pile of those fried wonton noodles (can eat separately, on the noodles, or just with the chow mein & rice). At least that's what was served in the NJ restaurants I've been to.

                                But yes, "mein" means noodles...Any noodles, I suppose. It's confusing, yes. Regional differences and such...

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  Your comment lacks logic, and common sense. Mein is the name for a type of noodle, "chow mein" is fried noodles, so how can this dish be prepared without noodles...? Its a noodle dish. As per your explanation you wouldn't find it at all odd to order egg-fried-rice and find neither egg nor rice, perhaps you order a Banana Split and aren't surprised if it has no banana, or a rib-eye steak with no beef, or Black Forest Gateau without chocolate cake, cream, kirsch yadda, yadda... I could go on but I would be wasting valuable time and its getting to the point of me being patronising, so I shall stop.
                                  So should you; STOP, THINK; question stuff and then tell me why the peanut butter jelly toast you ate for breakfast this morning tasted nothing like peanuts, jelly or bread.
                                  And I like you really... :)

                                  1. re: ADDLED

                                    Since I'm the one who started this thread all those years ago, I'll remind you that what i got had no noodles, except those fried crunchy things on top, and was served on rice. You can translate all you want but it doesn't take away the fact that this IS a dish that is served. I didn't like it but it's a fact.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Dude (or you may be female... I don't know, so no offence intended) I get your point, and I don't dispute it and you replied to me on a 7 year old thread super fast.
                                      I guess im preaching to the converted but, as an example; if a Chinese man who didn't understand the words for "Quarterpounder With Cheese" walked into McD's and asked for a Quarterpounder With Cheese and they sold him a peanut butter sandwich, would you not feel he is being ripped off? You're ordering (in Cantonese language) noodles, and you're served rice. If you ordered rice and were instead served noodles I'm sure you would complain.

                                      1. re: ADDLED

                                        I would not complain if rice was served to me in a Chinese restaurant..

                                    2. re: ADDLED

                                      As detailed in a thread on Shrimp and Lobster family, both immediate and extended, have owned many restaurants. For my immediate family, it put 5 boys through college and my parents always drove Cadillac, Lincoln, BMW and Mercedes Benz vehicles. They employed 50+ employees at any given time. They must have done something right....and nobody complained about the Chow Mein or Shrimp and Lobster Sauce my parents made exactly as I described.

                                      1. re: fourunder

                                        Cool, good for you, and I am totally happy and proud for you and I mean that honestly, without irony, sarcasm, or offence, especially since you do sound like a nice person. Im not disputing your explanation of events or your local interpretation of a Cantonese dish and I have been super polite but you're missing or avoiding the point; chow mein means "fried noodles". You can call whatever you served "Chow Mein" and colloquially I can understand that's what it was known as and you can serve it on top of rice if you want, but it doesn't make it right. If it doesn't have noodles it is not Chow Mein.

                                        1. re: ADDLED

                                          by your logic, does a hot dog contain dog.

                                          1. re: fourunder

                                            Dude, does your Hot Dog contain any Frankfurt? Does your Double Whopper With Cheese contain any Hamburg? (or REAL cheese for that matter?), or your Waldorf Salad have bits of Astoria in it? Nope. Dash it,... I like you, you're obviously smart, you've a bit of an attitude (we share) we're having a good chat...but c'mon... if you want to twist my logic then at least aim higher pal. 8-p

                                            1. re: ADDLED

                                              okay dude,,,I'll play

                                              but first, where does hot dog reference Frankfurt?

                                              since you are basing your argument on the literal translation or interpetationof specific words and challenging my post or opinion

                                              the post of mine you reference says this

                                              whether chow mein should or should not have noodles in it

                                              I clearly indicate...chow mein has never had noodles other than the fried noodles or strips found on tables. It's not *in* the dish, it's added. If it has noodles, in New York it's considered Cantonese Chow Mein, which is a completely different dish.

                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                Yay! the dragon awakes... ;) I knew we would have a good chat as soon as you realised Im not being personal to you.
                                                We are both splitting hairs, but my point is that in the USA you do tend to take/steal 'successful' dishes and re-market them for profit purposes, and strip them of their essence, apropos Chow Mein.
                                                Let me ask; if you went to China and ordered Chicken Soup and a cup of coffee and they brought you Mutton Curry and a Strawberry Milkshake would you not at least query your order with the waiter and ask for the correct dish? And if the waiter said "Oh yeah.... this is what we call "Chicken Soup", would you accept that?
                                                Naaa.... no way. You would be on him like a rash, demanding a refund, and you certainly wouldn't tip!
                                                And im English; I KNOW about not tipping! Its almost a vocation. ;)

                                                1. re: ADDLED

                                                  I like Mutton Curry and Strawberry Milkshakes.....and since I've admitted on this site I have early Alzheimer' it, the probability of me complaining is at best only 50/50.

                                                  I'm very tolerant of miscues.

                                                  1. re: ADDLED

                                                    and for the record...

                                                    And Im English....

                                                    If you're a female blond/e with blue eyes.....even with bad teeth......

                                                    1. re: ADDLED

                                                      >> if you went to China and ordered Chicken Soup and a cup of coffee and they brought you Mutton Curry and a Strawberry Milkshake would you not at least query your order with the waiter and ask for the correct dish? And if the waiter said "Oh yeah.... this is what we call "Chicken Soup", would you accept that?

                                                      This is an interesting point.

                                                      I've traveled pretty extensively in SE Asia, China and Taiwan, and I can tell you with certainty that after some time, you stop expecting things to be like home, and you anticipate things being delivered in the Chinese way. Unless you're in an American outpost, like a TGIFriday's for example, its best to keep whatever expectations you have at home.

                                                      So in answer to your question, if a waiter in a foreign land said what they call chicken soup is actually mutton curry, I wouldn't give it a second thought. (I can't use china as an example, because I know for a fact that chicken soup there is, in fact, chicken soup.)

                                                      Mr Taster

                                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                                        The first day in my first International Business Course at Wharton more than 40 years ago we were taught about the harmful effects of the Self Reference Criteria.

                                                        One may never judge a product/service, etc. in terms of what one is used to in one's own community. One has to make judgments in the local context.

                                                        So, in NYC and environs (where I live) Chopw Mein has no noodles in it, but in San Francisco it does, they are both right!

                                                1. re: ADDLED

                                                  Incidentally, there are millions of Americans that don't seem to mind that there is nary a whisper of chipotle in the food at Chipotle restaurants. The lunchtime lines queue out the door.

                                                  During my first of only two visits to Chipotle, I found the food so bland that I asked for some chipotle as a condiment, and they looked at me like I had two heads. "We don't have chipotle here," they told me.

                                                  Americans are a different breed.

                                                  Mr Taster

                                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                                    Boneless wings. Yeah, right.

                                                    No wonder chickens can't fly.

                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                      Yeah, but if I went into a Chinese restaurant named "Chow Mein" and saw they didn't have any noodles on the menu, I'd walk out.

                                                      I get this. I had the same struggle that ADDLED is facing now. I understand that some people accept that a dish that translates as "quick-fried noodles" doesn't necessarily have noodles in it, just as panna cotta isn't really cooked cream. The world is full of illogical stuff. Used to piss me off, but not so much now.

                                                      1. re: ricepad

                                                        When you start to apply Chinese linguistic logic to something that is thoroughly Americanized that you run into problems.

                                                        If you're in a NYC Chinese restaurant and want noodles more like typical chow mein, you order lo mein. That's just how it is. If you grew up in the area, as I did, you don't question it because it is your reality.

                                                        Mr Taster

                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                          Yep. That's why I asked the question originally and I got the "correct" answer...for the region.

                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                            I am actually glad this thread got bumped - It cleared a lot up for me - As a NY native who has moved around a bit I have always been sort of confused about what to expect from "Chow Mein" I am curious to see what I get at the "Chinese Store" here in Philly - as Chow Mein has always confounded me (noodles or not?) I never order the stuff an just get Lo Mein if I want cheap noodle dish.

                                                            1. re: JTPhilly

                                                              The problem comes in to play when (like me) you're reared and raised on NYC versions of chow mein, you then come to California and order chow mein and get the plate of stir fried noodles. I vividly remember my first encounter-- it was at a Panda Express in the Burbank mall, about 20 years ago. I asked the girl at the counter why they served me lo mein, and she had no idea what the hell I was talking about, since lo mein is not nearly as commonly found on menus here. (Even if it were, you can't expect it to be what you're used to.)

                                                              Mr Taster

                                                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                Panda Express? That ain't Chinese food!

                                                          2. re: Mr Taster

                                                            Yeah, I know. I don't get it, but I don't have to. Easier just to accept and move on, right?

                                                    2. re: fourunder

                                                      Yes, the noodles are integral to the dish.

                                                      1. re: ADDLED

                                                        Not for those on low carb diets...

                                                      2. re: fourunder

                                                        Would you be kind enough to provide a more detailed recipe with amounts, order of addition? I am a Jersey girl and the chicken choe mein dish you described awhile back, which easily morphs into lobster sauce is bull's eye on target.

                                                      3. re: ADDLED

                                                        An Egg Cream has no egg and no cream....................
                                                        another NY food item whose name defies logic.

                                                  2. I think the same dish that is referred to as "chow mein" on the West Coast, is known as "lo mein" on the East Coast. Stir fried soft noodles with vegetables and meat of your a brown sauce.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: boccalupo

                                                      I don't know how saucy I've had it but defiitely a brown color. Maybe that's the answer.

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        Not a thick sauce. Just a soy sauce base. I usually get the lo mein at generic Chinese take out places. Usually the safest bet if I don't know the place.

                                                        In my experience, the chow mein here is usually some kind of stir fried meat and vegetables. When my friends would get it they would pour the packet of fried noodles over the dish and eat it like that. Not my thing though. I'd go for the lo mein.

                                                    2. The fried strips (of won ton wrappers, usually) are the NYC Chinese-Am takeaway equivalent of the tortilla chips the Mexican takeaway gives you; you didn't get them specifically because of your noodle-less chow mein. People often dunk them in the duck sauce that comes along with the packets of soy sauce and hot mustard in your bag. When they came along with my deliveries, they usually went in the trash.

                                                      Incidentally, the "soy sauce" in those packets gets its umami from hydrolized vegetable proteins and is not actually made from fermented soy, according to Jennifer 8. Lee's book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.

                                                      1. I've never actually eaten takeout style Chinese in New York, but did grow up in the area. The Chinese restaurants in southwestern Connecticut are all staffed through various agencies in Chinatown, so I would assume the dishes are done in the same style as in the city. I've never seen soft noodles in chow mein. Chow mein around here should come with thin crispy noodles. These should be a thinner style noodle than the fried wonton wrappers or the crunchy noodles that come with wonton soup, but some places will substitute the ubiquitous crunchy noodles.
                                                        According to Wikipedia, this is the Hong Kong style of chow mein, and is the standard chow mein on the East Coast.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                          I've seen this phenomenon in various Canadian-Chinese places in Canada (the chow mein having no actual noodles, or only containing some of those deep fried strips of won ton wrapper). However, as a previous poster mentioned mein is the word for wheat noodle and it would be odd if such a dish didn't actually contain a large proportion of noodles; also a dish with chow main would normally have an identifier in front of it, such as Cantonese Chow Main or Bean Sprout Chow Mein (the noodles in bean sprout chow mein aren't crispy or crunchy). In fact, there are chow main dishes that have soft noodles.

                                                          1. re: Blueicus

                                                            I'm not addressing whether it should have soft noodles or not, just what is typical of chow mein in New York. I have never seen soft noodles in chow mein in the New York metropolitan area.
                                                            I do usually see it as a dish with a large proportion of noodles, but they are crispy noodles, not soft. And I don't mean those deep fried strips of wonton, I mean thin egg noodles noodles, the same kind in lo mein, that have been deep fried to the point of being crispy.
                                                            Odd or not, that style seems to be the standard for half the country.

                                                            1. re: danieljdwyer


                                                              the dish you are describing is known as *Cantonese Style Chow Mein*

                                                        2. Chow mein in New York has never had noodles, it's chicken, oil, broth, corn starch, salt, msg, bean sprouts. You can eat it without those fried noodles they give you no matter what you order.

                                                          Those places in SF serving chow mien with noodles are serving Chinese food, totally different. We are not talking about Chinese food, we are talking about Chinese-American food, which has its own nomenclature. Of course it doesn't make sense, because the customers don't know that 'mein' means noodles. So it doesn't matter what is actually in the dish. Just like Szechuan means julienned celery and carrots. Go into any Chinese-American restaurant, and the Szechuan beef will be beef in a brown gravy cooked with julienned celery and carrots. Want your vegetables cut up in chunks instead? That's Hunan style. General Tso's chicken, fortune cookies, egg foo yung (omelette in brown gravy) , yup, nothing to do with Chinese food. Crazy, huh?

                                                          31 Replies
                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                            I live in New York and I eat chow mein with noodles.

                                                            1. re: KTinNYC

                                                              Are you talking about Chinese food or Chinese-American food? Are the noodles integral to the dish? Chicken Chow Mein was one of only four dishes that my father ever, ever, ever ordered in a restaurant. The other three were steak (well done), breaded veal cutlet, and a flat (never folded over) omelette, well done. He ordered Chow Mein at every Chinese restaurant I went to in the first seventeen years of my life, and I never saw any noodles except for the crispy fried kind they served with all the food.

                                                              If they've added noodles, it must be a recent 'innovation.'

                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                I order the food in Chinatown as I stated above. Yes, the noodles are integral to the dish. Eating mein without noodle is like ordering a steak and getting no meat.

                                                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                  As the OP, I want YOUR version please :) As i mentioned, it was very tasty for take out but it was NOT what chow mein has always been to me. Obviously, there are at least two answers.

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    Yes, it appears there are 2 versions. The take out version and the Chinatown version. I don't eat much "neighborhood" Chinese as there is a very good "authentic" Chinese in my neighborhood and Chinatown is just a 20 minute walk away.

                                                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                      Our friend's place is at CPW and 101st but we make the trip to Chinatown regularlly. And we've gotten other things from this little takeaway that were fine. The little rib tips in black bean sauce are quite yummy --- even for breakfast :)

                                                                  2. re: KTinNYC

                                                                    Yes, the noodles are integral to the dish.

                                                                    There are also two different ways the noodles can be served to you depending on which place you go to, and how that particular house treats the dish. In some, and not my preferred method, they will pre-fry a number of *beds* of noodles and they will sit until a dish is ordered. Then the house will prepare the chow mein topping and simply cover the cold pre-fried noodles, which are cold and hard crispy.

                                                                    My preferred method is when the house cooks the noodles fresh or simultaneously alongside the chow mein topping. This way the noodles are hot and both sides are crispy, with the middle of the noodles soft, a much better contrast in texture and taste for me.

                                                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                      I agree. 炒麵 - Chao Mian in Mandarin or Chow Mein in Cantonese means "stir fried noodles." Now that can mean something else in Chinese-American joints. In the upper midwest, Chow Mein is composed of ground pork or turkey with celery and sauce (chicken stock, soy sauce, molasses and cornstarch) served over a bed of crispy hard noodles - the La Choy brand.

                                                                      1. re: scoopG


                                                                        Chow Mein is composed of ground pork or turkey with celery and sauce...

                                                                        That's pretty much how it was served in Northern New Jersey from my recollection during the periods of the 60's through the 80's.

                                                                        The vegetables were onions, celery, beansprouts(sometimes). The dish was topped with diced turkey or chicken, depending on where you went, or what was available to the Chinese Kitchen at the time.

                                                                        Scoop.....on another note. What was the name of the Shrimp dish in shell(?) that you mentioned a long while back and the name of the restaurant which you had it in(On East Broadway or area)? Next time I go to Chinatown, I think I'll give it a try. Thanks in advance if you can recall on a previous thread.

                                                                        1. re: fourunder

                                                                          Good memory fourrunder! Yes, in the upper midwest, Chicken Chow Mein is then served with a ground up processed chicken product on top. Do these places still exist in northern NJ?

                                                                          The place you are thinkong of in NYC is called American East Fuzhou at 54 East Broadway. Here's a photo and menu:

                                                                          That's an old photo and I'm pretty sure an old menu - the place has been remodeled and it is one of the the cleaner/nicer of the Fuzhou style places. Did not see my shrimp dish on that menu - but they were live shrimp netted from the fish tank in the window, taken in the back and quickly cooked.

                                                                          1. re: scoopG


                                                                            Thanks for the response and information so quickly. On another note, when you mentioned the ground pork in the chow mein, it also jogged my memory to recall that real *Lobster Sauce* was also made with ground pork, egg, scallions and chicken stock....and not with green peas. There was a recent thread that questioned whether all egg rolls and hot & sour soup were frozen or came from a mix from a supplier like Sysco or other. The old egg rolls I remember had ground red roast pork, shrimp, celery and cabbage....unlike today's versions in most places.

                                                                            If there is a place that still serves the items long in our memories, it's Chan's Dragon Inn in Ridgefield, NJ. This was the style of Chinese food that was prevalent throughout Northern New Jersey decades ago. Here's a link to <> that has some pictures of the Chinese Classics. Pay close attention to the Egg Rolls, Egg Foo Young, Dark Roast Pork Fried Rice and the Shrimp in Lobster Sauce with ground pork.

                                                                            Cantonese and Polynesian restaurants were the norm, I suppose because most Chinese immigrants were from the Canton/Kowloon/Hong Kong regions at the time. I suppose this held true until the sovereignty issues between British rule and transfer back to China became apparent and then the exodus began of many Chinese from all over China back in the early 80's(?). Maybe someone more knowledgeable in Chinese history can correct me if I am wrong....or fill in the blanks....but this is when I noticed the food changing in Chinese establishments and Chinatown drastically, to what was more common and considered Chinese American.


                                                                            1. re: fourunder

                                                                              Ah yes, Lobster Sauce! Thanks for the NJ info.

                                                                              Hongkong returned to China (as a "Special Autonomous Region") in July of 1997. In the run-up to that most Cantonese in Hongkong who wanted a second passport went to Canada or Australia, some to the USA. Here's some background info on the Chinese experience in the USA:


                                                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                                                The mystery of Lobster Sauce with no lobster in it is actually pretty straightforward. It is the same sauce used in Lobster Cantonese, and when it is served with shrimp, it is called Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.

                                                                                Much of the discussion on this thread can be explained with a little history and perspective. The outer boroughs of New York and close suburbs were offering the "Chop Suey" version of chow mein for many years. That is what my parents grew up eating. No noodles, just cornstarch and broth based sauce with soy sauce, protein of your choice (usually ground or shredded and sprinkled right on top in the container or on the serving dish), celery, onions, and bean sprouts. Once in a while, a slice mushroom or carrot sliver showed up. If you wanted noodles, you ordered Lo Mein. If you wanted your protein sliced rather than ground or shredded, you ordered Chop Suey. Is this authentic, and did they serve this in Chinatown? No. Only in the restaurants that catered primarily to Americans. This is the Chow Mein found in the prepared La Choy products. It is definitely not considered good Chinese food. It was tasty in many places, and awful in others. All depended upon the restaurant.

                                                                                When Hunan and Szechuan places started opening up, a whole new world of Chinese food was suddenly available to people who lived in the residential areas of New York and New Jersey. But chow mein still had no noodles. It is only served in places that serve more authentic dishes, and in other parts of the country, where the dish names were not altered.

                                                                                There is no right and wrong here. It is what you get, depending upon the restaurant you are ordering from. Yes, it should have noodles if you translate the names, but the only noodles offered in the neighborhood Chinese places that I recall were the crispy fried variety packaged in wax paper bags.

                                                                                1. re: RGC1982

                                                                                  Thanks so much for reviving this thread. As the OP, it was clear that there were things I was definitely NOT understanding. When we come to NYC I don't like wasting a single meal :)

                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                    This thread actually had me wishing for a good old fashioned order of New York City-type Chicken Chow Mein, but I am at a loss to find it here in Texas. Maybe I'll try making it, and then I can leave out the ton of MSG that is usually in it. It probably won't taste the same, though.

                                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                                      I started a similar thread a few days ago, and your thread linked to mine under the "General Chowhounding Topics Board discussions" links. So you can thank me :)


                                                                                      And thanks to RGC1982, your explanation is about the most direct and accurate explanation of the chop suey/chow mein dichotomy that I've found.

                                                                                      It still drives me crazy to think that Joe Average in New Jersey will go his entire life ordering A and getting B. For such a humble dish, chow mein shouldn't be this proprietary, exotic, complicated secret reserved only for Chinese people and lao wai "in the know". But such is life.

                                                                                      Mr Taster

                                                                              2. re: fourunder

                                                                                Shrimp cooked in the shell - that's "Salt and Pepper" shrimp. They're slit up the back (but shells left on) and then dredged in a savory amalgam which resembles a simple spice rub - intensive on black pepper and salt. They're wok-roasted and usually served with some sort of shredded vegetable salad underneath. Dee-lish!

                                                                                1. re: shaogo


                                                                                  That's originally one of the dishes what I thought of in the thread I referenced in my query to scoopG, the other dish was simple steamed shrimp, whole head on, served in a soy ginger scallion dressing/sauce......but the dish scoopG actually recommends from what I recall is the fresh shrimp from the tank quickly flashed fried without any coating......I seem to recall, from the moment she ordered, until it arrived at the table, it took approximately five minutes.

                                                                                  Here is the original thread...and another where scoop details the dish:



                                                                            2. re: KTinNYC

                                                                              "Eating mein without noodle is like ordering a steak and getting no meat."

                                                                              Not if you don't know that 'mein' means noodles. If they had a dish called Chicken Ish-ka-bibble, and every place you ate it served it the same way, without Ish-ka-bibble, you would just figure that is the way it's supposed to taste. That is what Chinese-American food is like. It's the way it was served in New York in the 60s and 70s, and from what I gather in the DC area, the same is true today. Imagine the "you no like" syndrome applied from the beginnings of consciousness.

                                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                                Yes, the Chinese restaurants I go to serve Chinese food. Places that serve chow mein with no noodles serve Americanized Chinese food. There is nothing wrong with this but it's the equivalent of ordering fettuccine al fredo and not getting any noodles. The name implies there will be noodles.

                                                                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                  And there are! You just refuse to call them that - but we always did - and so does the reknowned Chef La Choy! :)


                                                                                  1. re: Striver

                                                                                    I bet chef La Choy wears a lab coat not a chefs shirt ;)

                                                                                  2. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                    But there IS something wrong with Chicken Chow Mein as served in Chinese-American restaurants. It's awful tasteless stuff that I wouldn't touch even as a kid. My father liked it because he was afraid to taste food with any flavor in it.

                                                                                    I am not defending Chinese-American CCM, I am just pointing out there is a ubiquitous style of food out there for which there is little relationship between the name and its origins.

                                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                                      Oh, truth be told, I haven't eaten old school Chinese-American Chow Mein in more years than I can recall (but C-A barbecued spare ribs, good roast pork fried rice, and a few other dishes of that era are still welcome occasional foods). My point - and that of others - is that there is a northeast variant of Chow Mein, developed by and served in the Chinese American restaurants of a particular era (whose legacy can be found in NYC take-outs and a few outer borough survivors) and one of its characteristics was fried "noodles" (whatever they are).

                                                                                      For me, C-A restaurants were my introduction to Asian food in general, and while I've moved beyond those initial ventures into a world of rice, soy sauce, pork (the only place I encountered it as a child in a Jewish neighborhood was at Chinese restaurants - and it was GOOD), and stuffed fried tubes called "egg rolls", etc., I still have fond recollections of arguing over whether Chicken Chow Mein should or should not be one of our family's "Column B" choices.

                                                                                      This Americanized style of Chow Mein, inauthentic Chinese regional cuisine as it may be (unless you want to argue that "Chinese-American", like "Italian-American", constitutes an extra-territorial region appended to a national cuisine - an interesting argument in itself), has its own history and its own place in the story of how cuisines adapt to extra-national tastes. I no longer choose to eat it and you may find it disgusting (unlike your father, say), but I really don't know what you mean by calling it "wrong".

                                                                          2. re: Steve

                                                                            Steve I agree, "NYC chinese take out food" is unique and one of a kind, There are many threads here of folks who grew up on NYC chinese and moved to the west coast and are dearly missing the "real" stuff. And as you have noted, NYC-american chinese, a whole different animal. I am sure I am not alone in those who recall the Chow Mein (or was it chow suey Chung king?) that came canned; two separate cans, the crunchy strips in their own can?
                                                                            Heck i drove 5 miles back to a chinese take out the first time I got it up in MA, They gave me the wrong thing! I ordered Shrimp in Lobster Sauce (Yeah I know that idea..has no Lobster et all is a whole other thread), that fave, white, almost mucus like pea floating sauce and opened up the container to see dark Brown!!!1
                                                                            Same sauce, same taste, food coloring. Regionally HUGELY different. The yanks I asked were aghast at the idea it should be that white!

                                                                            And just to throw a whole other twist to this thread :

                                                                            1. re: Quine

                                                                              Sorry to say, they still make that two-canned stuff. They put the 'vegetables' (well, bean sprouts) in one can to keep them crispy (hah!), and the gravy and chicken in the other can. Kinda like how you have keep certain epoxy separate before mixing.

                                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                                That two canned stuff is exactly why I have never ordered chow mein in a restaurant. My mom thought that stuff was great - I did not agree. So I don't know anything else about it. She ruined it for me!

                                                                              2. re: Quine

                                                                                As somone who grew up in the tristate area, I grew up with NY Chinese-American food. Chow Mein never had noodles in the dish.
                                                                                I still live in CT, but am in Mass. three days a week. I have never found decent Chinese-American food. Some decent Chinese food in Boston Chinatown, but that's a different cuisine.

                                                                                I too was taken aback by brown shrimp in lobster sauce.

                                                                                Even more of a question? 1>when did they start adding the vile green peas? They were never in the dish in the 50s, 60s or 70s. 2> Also, why do most of the restaurants leave out the minced pork? Subbing peas for pork doesn't make it!

                                                                                Lastly, why did the seaweed disappear from Wonton soup, only to be replaced by a few scallion rings? I sorely miss the green veg.

                                                                                5 years ago, I had to take a cruise out of NY on the Norwegian Dawn. The 25 coffee shop had some 'Chinese' items on the menu. We ordered the Wonton Soup and it came with the long missing seaweed. What a great and delicious surprise!

                                                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                  astly, why did the seaweed disappear from Wonton soup, only to be replaced by a few scallion rings? I sorely miss the green veg.

                                                                                  5 years ago, I had to take a cruise out of NY on the Norwegian Dawn. The 25 coffee shop had some 'Chinese' items on the menu. We ordered the Wonton Soup and it came with the long missing seaweed. What a great and delicious surprise!
                                                                                  The green vegetable you recall was actually the green leafy tops from Bok Choy blanched and shocked to retain it bright green color, and not seaweed. Going back decades, seaweed was not readily available fresh and mostly dry/dehydrated. Unlike Japanese Wakame, which is dark green or brownish in color, Chinese seaweed is almost exclusively black in color.

                                                                                  I cannot comment on what vegetable you had on the cruise...

                                                                                2. re: Quine

                                                                                  The reason your Shrimp in Lobster Sauce in Boston was dark brown is because in Boston, they *love* soy sauce (any old soy sauce). Our Chinese restaurant in Connecticut gets requests for Shrimp/Lobster Sauce and Chow Mein "Boston Style;" -- dark brown color imbued by the addition of soy sauce.

                                                                                  One of the funniest things I ever saw (for the first time, years ago) was a lady pouring soy sauce all over the fried noodles in the bowl on the table. They were from Boston.

                                                                                  Chicken (or beef or shrimp or roast pork) Chow Mein should consist of shreds of onion, celery, carrot plus bean sprouts in a white sauce. The crispy noodles go on top. It ain't Chinese but it's good if done right with fresh veggies. I'll eat half and then, the next day, mix the leftovers with beaten egg and make an ersatz Egg Foo Young.

                                                                                3. re: Steve

                                                                                  Ive never been the same since I learned Donuts aren't made of cash and don't have nuts in.
                                                                                  But is Chow Mein meinly chow?