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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.

    62 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/sliced.....in 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 sense......is 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 mein.....here 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 given.......how 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 bag.......you 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 this.....it 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 mein.....as 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 Sauce....my 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's....google 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 choice.in 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 <offthebroiler.com> 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 : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chow_mei...

                                                                            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?

                                                                                4. I live in Toronto, and when you order chow mein, it is usually Cantonese style, with thin crispy egg noodles:


                                                                                  There was a time, some 20+ years ago, where ordering chow mein might get you a plate of bean sprouts with stuff, but I haven't been surprised in a long time.

                                                                                  1. My wife is Cantonese, and this is how I understand it. Chow Mein is fried noodles. In Cantonese cooking, evidently (which is what the majority of SF restaurants are), Chow Mein is almost what Lo Mein is, but a bit more fried. On the east coast, however, Chow Mein noodles are those deep fried noodles that La Choy and others package, that are great to eat by themselves and are mixed into the glop to make what's called Chow Mein back east, which is served over rice.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: ganeden

                                                                                      The La Choy style you describe is also served up in parts of the Upper Midwest. The main "glop" (celery, ground pork or turkey, stock, molasses, soy sauce, etc) is poured over the crispy La Choy Chow Mein Noodles with a scoop of white rice to the side of the plate. As I recall ears ago one option was "Subgum Chow Mein" which meant cashews were added on top! Years later I heard "subgum" in Hongkong and forget now what it means but I was startled. As I understand it, this type Chow Mein is not really found in the East anymore save a place in NJ fourunder mentions. Odd cause you can buy the La Coy Chow Mein Noodles in every grocery store in the east!

                                                                                    2. c,

                                                                                      the following links show Chicken Chow Mein and Chop Suey, the way it was served in most restaurants during the 50's - 80's in Cantonese and Polynesian restaurants and take-outs.....in the Greater New York/New Jersey area

                                                                                      Chicken Chow Mein:


                                                                                      Chicken Chop Suey :


                                                                                      Cantonese Style:


                                                                                      Lo Mein:


                                                                                      46 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                                                        the 3rd one resembles most of the chow mein i recall from the 60's - 70's and beyond.

                                                                                        the 1st one looks like the way it got delivered, with the noodles served separately to keep them crisp

                                                                                        1. re: thew


                                                                                          So the 3rd reference, which I would call Cantonese style, is what you would call Hong Kong style, correct?

                                                                                          The 1st reference would have the hard fried noodles served in a glassine bag and also white rice in a separate container.....but in most older places, the chicken would not be in the chow mein/vegetables, but rather a layer of diced chicken, red roast pork or shrimp would be on top, depending on your choice of protein

                                                                                          1. re: thew

                                                                                            Absolutely 100% confirmation that pic #1 is exactly the gloppy stuff of my central suburban New Jersey childhood. For the first couple of decades of my life, if you said "chicken chow mein", that's what I would think about. The deep fried wonton skins strips would have served as a mere afterthought. I guarantee you that there are tens of thousands of non-Chinese people still living in New Jersey, from children to seniors, who associate pic #1 with "chicken chow mein".

                                                                                            The crispy fried wonton skin strips were always considered a *garnish*, not the point of the dish, and we saw no logical dichotomy because we did not understand Mandarin or Cantonese and had no idea that "chow mien" meant "stir fried noodles". All we knew was that if we wanted pic #1, we ordered "chow mein." It could have been called "ticky wicky patong zoop boing" for all we knew (or cared.)

                                                                                            At that point in my life, Chinese culture, Chinese food, Chinese language was irrelevant-- an exotic curiosity, a diversion from the standard "normal" American, non-religious Jewish suburban way of life. Most people don't dig too deeply. They go with what they know. (And what I knew was chicken chow mein, spare ribs, egg rolls and wonton soup.)

                                                                                            Calling pic #1 "chow mien", with or without the fried noodle garnish, is tantamount to calling a full steak dinner "salad". It's a completely inaccurate description. The "fried noodles" should be in fine print, as a salad would be, listed as an accompaniment to the main dish-- not as the name of the entree. The *only* reason it flies is because of widespread American linguistic and culinary ignorance. But to be fair, it is also the blame of the Chinese for allowing non-Chinese to call it that for so long that the widespread meaning was redefined. Granted, reeducating a population that doesn't particularly care or want to be informed is an uphill battle, so it's hard to lay the bulk of the burden on the early Chinese immigrants, who were just trying to make a living selling things that Americans would eat, with the produce that was available to them.

                                                                                            Mr Taster

                                                                                          2. re: fourunder

                                                                                            The last one, lo mein, is what I call chow mein in SF. #1 makes me want to puke :) And it was what we got once in NYC except it was pork and brown. Blech.

                                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                                              The last one is what I would call lo mein except that the noodles are what I would expect in an Americanized Chinese restaurant.

                                                                                              The wikipedia article shows what I expect from lo mein in terms of noodles.

                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                Yes, that's pretty much the point of this entire thread.... that "chow mein" ordered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis or Beijing is what those in the New York metro area would call "lo mein"... and what New Yorkers call "chow mein" is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum, wrapped in a corn starch-thickened mystery.

                                                                                                Mr Taster

                                                                                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                  "and what New Yorkers call "chow mein" is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum, wrapped in a corn starch-thickened mystery."

                                                                                                  This is still in dispute. Chow mein in New York is two things. One that is Americanized Chinese food and another that is pan or deep fried noodles with toppings.

                                                                                                  1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                    KT, I grew up in the area, and for 18 years ate chicken "chow mein" all over the greater NYC metro area, from South Jersey to Philly and all the way up to Boston, and not once was I offered something different than what you see in picture #1. I know what I'm talking about. It's my childhood. I lived it.

                                                                                                    So unless Canto-metro New York-Americanized Chinese food has radically changed in the 17 years I've been absent from the area (which is certainly not outside the realm of possibility), there ain't no dispute from where I'm standing.

                                                                                                    Mr Taster

                                                                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                      I've been eating chow mein in NYC's Chinatown since the late 70's and chow mein has always been pan fried noodles with toppings.

                                                                                                      1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                        "chow mein has always been pan fried noodles with toppings."

                                                                                                        So by this, in all the decades that you've been eating Chinese food in the NYC metro area, you have *never* seen the gloppy chicken chow mein mess in Pic #1?

                                                                                                        What restaurants in Chinatown do you go to that serve "lo mein" when you order "chow mein"? I want to know for the next time I go home to visit my family. What you're saying just doesn't ring true & I need to see it with my own eyes.

                                                                                                        Mr Taster

                                                                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                          As this thread has show there are two versions of chow mein. The Americanized version and the more traditional version.

                                                                                                          1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                            But where oh where do you go for this mythical non-gloppy version of chow mein? My experience is universal in that chicken chow mein is the glop, not the noodles, and if you're saying that you've never seen the gloppy version (as you said "chow mein has always been pan fried noodles with toppings."), then you're suggesting a logical paradox that would make a 1960's villainous supercomputer smoke and explode.

                                                                                                            Seriously, I really want to know where you go for the non-gloppy chow mein. I'll absolutely check it out the next time I visit my family back east.

                                                                                                            Last thing-- are you Chinese, or do you speak Mandarin or Cantonese?

                                                                                                            Mr Taster

                                                                                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                              "But where oh where do you go for this mythical non-gloppy version of chow mein?"

                                                                                                              Back to your question. From my LA experience, any place that has chow mein ask for it "dry" and you won't get that gloppy sauce. When ordering and they ask if you want "pan fried" noodles they'll then ask you want that with "gravy", then that's where the gloppy sauce comes in. Next time ask for it "dry" and maybe specify you don't want that gloopy sauce in addition.

                                                                                                              1. re: monku

                                                                                                                I was referring to KT's post as to where he/she gets non gloppy chow mien in NYC Chinatown. This question has been demystified below.

                                                                                                                Mr Taster

                                                                                                              2. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                Any of the good restaurants in Chinatown serves the pan/deep fried version of chow mein, Amazing 66, Cantoon Garden, Oriental Garden etc.

                                                                                                                Yes and yes.

                                                                                                                1. re: KTinNYC


                                                                                                                  Well you've just demystified the whole shebang, KT.

                                                                                                                  In NYC there has *always* been one menu for us laowai, and another for zhongguoren. Your experience is that of a Chinese person ordering from Chinese people, and that explains why your reality is different from mine.

                                                                                                                  There are countless stories of adventurous laowai trying to "crack the code" of the "secret" (i.e. authentic) Chinatown menus, and restauranteurs outright refusing to serve anything to "foreigners" that they assume they will not enjoy. This goes even for laowai who speak Chinese-- you have to fight tooth and nail to convince them otherwise, and even then you might well be unsuccessful unless you've got a Chinese person in your party.

                                                                                                                  With the rising popularity of more authentic, regional styles of Chinese food in communities like Flushing, this may well be affecting some change in Chinatown, though I don't have any direct evidence of this.

                                                                                                                  I promise you, if I were to order chow mien from your Chinatown restaurant, I'd give it 90% odds that I will be given the glop, sans soft noodles.

                                                                                                                  Mr Taster

                                                                                                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                    "I promise you, if I order chow mien from your Chinatown restaurant, I will automatically be given the glop, sans soft noodles. Guaranteed."

                                                                                                                    I bet you you're wrong.

                                                                                                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                      OK, I've softened it. 10 years ago it would be a guarantee. Today, I'm only 90% sure.

                                                                                                                      Are you entirely unfamiliar with the "secret menu" concept that laowai experience in NYC Chinatown?


                                                                                                                      Why don't you put one of your waiguoren friends up to it? Send them in and have them order chow mien alone as you stand in the shadows and observe. I'd be dying to hear your findings. Betcha betcha betcha they'll get the glop.

                                                                                                                      By the way, what restaurant(s) are you thinking of?

                                                                                                                      Mr Taster

                                                                                                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                        Order pan fried noodles, you'll be fine.

                                                                                                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                          Or one could just continue to order lo mien, which is how several generations of east coast laowai have come to order chow mien.

                                                                                                                          What does 'lo' mean, anyway? My Taiwanese wife has no idea, so I assume it's a Cantonese word.

                                                                                                                          Mr Taster

                                                                                                                          1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                            My understanding of "lo" is to put it on top... Well, more like spread it around.

                                                                                                                            So "lo mein" to me (orig from San Francisco) is a noodle that is not pan fried, but boiled and drained, then flavored and maybe with stuff put on top.

                                                                                                                            And "chow mein" to me is a pan-fried noodle which is then mixed into a stir-fry.

                                                                                                                            And "Hong Kong" style is pan-fried noodles cooked with some crispness and the stir-fried stuff put on top.

                                                                                                                            In San Francisco Bay Area, you can also ask for different noodles (thin or thick) if you know what they are called. I don't, but I've been with others who do.

                                                                                                                            I never had those crunchy noodles (like the Chun King canned ones) until I ordered outside the Bay Area.

                                                                                                                            Now that I'm thinking about crunchy noodles, I'm thinking of "yee mein" which is another subject altogether.

                                                                                                                    2. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                      Try saying *den men* next time when you order chow mein, It's how I was taught to order pan fried noodles.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                        not chinese. dont speak or read any chinese language. have had chow mein with crispy noodles. try chao chow on mott street

                                                                                                              3. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                Chow mein in the 50's when I went to grade school on Long Island was picture #1
                                                                                                                Chicken Chow Mein in school and by La Choy (canned Chinese) was that.

                                                                                                                Picture #3 is what's considered "Hong Kong" style chow mein in Los Angeles.

                                                                                                                Not HK style chow mein but with soft noodles mixed with meat & vegetables:
                                                                                                                NYC Chinatown "lo mein" = West Coast Chinese is "chow mein"

                                                                                                                West Coast Chinese "lo mein"= pile of plain soft noodles topped with meat only, no sauce, no vegetables and served with a side of broth.

                                                                                                                East coast never met West coast and there was a loss in translation.
                                                                                                                This will be an ongoing mis-understanding forever.

                                                                                                                1. re: monku

                                                                                                                  Point of clarification-- while lo mein is not a saucy dish (the noodles are served dry, with the occasional piece of cabbage or meat), it is definitely cooked in some kind of flavorful liquid as it pick up a darker brown color and flavor.

                                                                                                                  Mr Taster

                                                                                                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                    "definitely cooked in some kind of flavorful liquid as it pick up a darker brown color and flavor."

                                                                                                                    West coast lo mein =no sauce of any kind and no cabbage or bean sprouts, just meat on a top of a pile of soft noodles. Maybe the side of broth they serve is for putting over the top of the plain noodles?

                                                                                                                    I think you live in the LA area?...go to a place like Won Kok in Chinatown and order lo mein there's a separate section of the menu for "lo mein".

                                                                                                                    West coast "chow mein" is stir fried with meat, vegetables and gloppy corn starch sauce. Unless it's Hong Kong style chow mein then meat, vegetables, gloppy corn starch sauce on a bed of thin pan fried chow mein noodles.

                                                                                                                    NYC Chinatown lo mein is stir fried noodles with meat and cabbage (can be bok choy), bean sprouts and no gloppy corn starch sauce (except for soy sauce for flavoring).

                                                                                                                    Another thing besides the "lo mein" confusion when I moved to LA 30+ years ago that bugged me was the freeway system. They don't use numbers or call it a certain expressway, but in one direction it's called one thing and the other direction it's called another (Pasadena Freeway-Harbor Freeway, Hollywood Freeway-Ventura Freeway, Golden State Freeway-Santa Ana Freeway). Plus on the West coast they don't speak in mileage but how long in time it takes you to get somewhere.

                                                                                                                    1. re: monku

                                                                                                                      I was talking about NYC area lo mein, as I've never seen lo mein on any menus in Los Angeles, (but then I don't eat a lot in Chinatown) We were just at Won Kok this weekend for some takeaway dim sum-- I'll check out the menu next time. Might have to experience west coast lo mein and grill the owner about what exactly it is and how they got the recipe. The concept of broth on the side is totally new to me.

                                                                                                                      As for the freeway thing, I hear you...it's not all of LA but all of California. Try to navigate the freeways in a strange CA city when they don't tell you what direction the freeway goes-- they only give the name of the major city in that direction, like they do in Europe. If you're a local, it's easy to navigate that way, but it's extremely user unfriendly to visitors. Compound that with signage on freeways, for example LA's 101 North and West are the same direction... that drove me mental when I first arrived here. Why not just put both on the sign, rather than randomly distribute them?

                                                                                                                      Mr Taster

                                                                                                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                        Sorry for the misunderstanding...it brings back the bad memory of dying for some lo mein when I first moved to LA and was served a pile of plain noodles with some char sui on top and a bowl of plain broth.

                                                                                                                        Growing up on NYC Chinatown char sui lo mein (75 cents/order) I never remember any kind of darker brown liquid or sauce, just stir fried with some soy sauce added.

                                                                                                                        On your next visit to Won Kok ordering the lo mein, check out this other kitchy concoction called "yee fu wonton".....a bowl of deep fried wontons in a brown sauce of vegetables. It's pretty interesting. There's also "yee fu mein" which is with fat wheat noodles in that same sauce. I thought it was an American cocoction, but the lady owner told me it's a dish from China? Only place I've found it in Los Angeles at Won Kok.

                                                                                                                        1. re: monku

                                                                                                                          Wasn't indicating there was a sauce on east coast lo mein... I meant that since the noodles are not a neutral wheat/pasta color when served (they are s light brown), they must have been cooked in some kind of dark, flavorful liquid (soy sauce and...?) I'll try some of your suggestions next time.

                                                                                                                          Mr Taster

                                                                                                                          1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                            Places I went it was just plain noodles that were stir fried and not even light brown. Maybe it was just the soy sauce.
                                                                                                                            Although a friend of mine who cooks Asian food at the Commerce Casino says everything tastes better with a little oyster sauce added..that might be it.

                                                                                                                            Few weeks ago I went to Paul's Kitchen downtown and the chowmein was just bland. I talked to the owner and he said they must have forgot to put in the soy sauce and to my amazement he said the secret ingredient sugar. He took the half order I hadn't eaten back to the kitchen and the they stirred in the soy sauce and sugar and that was difference.

                                                                                                              4. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                mr taster - i'll say it one more time. i'm 49 years old. i've lived in NYC my whole life. While what you describe does exist, there was also chow mein, my whole life, served on top of crisp noodles. i'm sorry you never had it. and while i understand the belief that because you did not experience it it didn't exist, i know that i did experience it, so it must have existed.

                                                                                                                ANd often what was shown in #1 - which is in a take container, would have a separate container of crisp noodles to go with it.

                                                                                                                showing me that picture would be analogous to showing me a take container of mashed potatoes and claiming in NYC they don't have gravy on the mashed potatoes, while the gravy might well be sitting in another cup in the bag.

                                                                                                                again - i'm sorry for your experience. but don;t deny mine just because you didn't have it

                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                  hey thew, my apprehension didn't come from your story but rather KTinNYC's assertion that in 30+ years of eating in Chinatown, s/he *always* had been served actual chow mien (which is to say the NY lo mein-ish style of stir fried soft noodles with meat & veg).


                                                                                                                  It was the *always* part that boggled my mind. After 2 decades of ordering and eating gloppy chicken chow mein up and down the northeast corridor, (finally getting my first puzzling experience of getting soft noodle chow mein when I ordered it at a Panda Express after moving to Los Angeles in 1997), how in the world could KT be living in this alternate NYC Chinatown Chinese food reality where an order of chow mein ALWAYS delivers soft noodles? When s/he told me s/he was Chinese and spoke Chinese, all the parts fit into place... s/he was ordering off the legendary Chinese-only "secret menu" (without necessarily realizing it.)

                                                                                                                  I never meant to discount your experience-- you never made any absolute assertions about "always" being served the nest of deep fried noodles. In reading your posts, it didn't appear to me that the gloppy chow mein (with a greasy wax paper bag of deep fried wonton skins on the side) was outside your scope of reality. That's the part of KT's story that stuck in my craw.

                                                                                                                  Edit: thew, when you go to chow chow and order chicken chow mein, do you automatically get the fried nest with toppings? Is it as easy as that, or do you have to order it a different way... i.e. "one order of Cantonese style chicken chow mein, please" versus "one order of chicken chow mein, please"


                                                                                                                  Mr Taster

                                                                                                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                    I'll agree with KT. I must be living in the same alternate universe. I'm only 30 but I've never been served the stuff you are describing in NYC's Ctown either. The lil bags of fried strips of wonton skins is something I've only had in Americanized Chinese takeout places.

                                                                                                                    1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

                                                                                                                      You must know the secret handshake ;)

                                                                                                                      1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                        or the phrase....I'm not Mr Taster.

                                                                                                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                          Hey, I didn't invent the whole ridiculous Chinatown "secret menu" concept... I'm just reporting the facts on a long standing tradition that NYC Chinese have imposed on the lao wai.

                                                                                                                          Thankfully those same barriers and prejudices don't exist in communities like Flushing and in Los Angeles' San Gabriel Valley (where I do the bulk of my Chinese chowing).

                                                                                                                          Mr Taster

                                                                                                                          1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                            The numerous reviews made by (Brian S) on this site debunks your conspiracy theories on NYC Chinatown. The Secret menu really isn't a secret.....all you have to do is ask for it. I'll concede some waiters will try to convince you that you may not like a particular item selected, i.e., the way the item is prepared or it's ingredients used....but if you tell them to bring the dish, they will.

                                                                                                                            1. re: fourunder

                                                                                                                              And you have provided the exception proving the rule :) Look, I'm not saying laowai are refused the Chinese menu every single time, in every single Chinatown restaurant. What I am saying is that it has happened with enough documented frequency to qualify it as a genuine phenomenon.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                                Mr Taster,

                                                                                                                                I just think your beliefs are in the past and will continue if you still perpetuate them ......rumors die hard......Ask for what you want and you will receive. In a take-out place and some restaurants in both NY and NJ you can have:

                                                                                                                                * Chow Mein (Glop) served with rice and hard Chow Mein Noodles on the side

                                                                                                                                * Cantonese/Hong Kong Style (Pan Fried Noodles) Chow Mein...look at the link in (Scoop G)'s post above <scoopG Jun 23, 2009 10:57AM >....the menu references under the NOODLES section pan fried items, which is chow mein

                                                                                                                                * And Lo Mein......which is what chow mein is to Western folk determined by this thread.


                                                                                                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                                                                                                  That my beliefs are set in the past is a fair criticism, as I have not lived full time in NJ regularly since 1992, though I visit NYC regularly, 2X a year to visit family. These days I am much more likely to go to Queens for my Chinese food unless I am in the mood for those good ol' eggrolls, which are virtually impossible to find a good incarnation of outside the NE corridor). I have no nostalgia at all for the gloppy chow mein-less chow mein. But there are many recent reports re: the secret menu phenomenon and it's only a rumor if it is unjustified. Otherwise, your criticism should read "truth dies hard", which is as things should be.

                                                                                                                          2. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                            KT--->Lil bagelman #2 is from Guanzhou. When eating as a family in Chinatown (NYC, Phila, or Boston), we have experienced
                                                                                                                            #1 being given different menus
                                                                                                                            #2 Thes rest of us being given menus fro Anglos and daughter talked to in Chinese
                                                                                                                            #3 No menus tendered and daughter asked to order for all of us.

                                                                                                                            Daughter is only 13 and has been here since she was 5 months old.. She fought going to Saturday Chinese school, but is has a culinary benefit.

                                                                                                                            As a side note in Montreal about 35 years ago I order Chow Mein in a small Chinatown restaurant. It was fried noodles covered with bean sprouts and bok chow in a starchy slurry with ground meat on top.

                                                                                                                            1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                                                              I never disputed the fact there are Chinese menus.

                                                                                                                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                                I was amazed that the menu daughter receives has different dishes on it, and the Chinese characters are not the same on the menus we receive.

                                                                                                                                Best is when they speak to daughter and she tells them to bring whatever they are serving hoinored grandfather in the back corner table. That always guarantees an excellent and extremely interesting meal.

                                                                                                                      2. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                        I grew up north of philly.....and i agree.....even in nyc , no noodles. when moved to SF mid 70's noodles appeared.

                                                                                                                      3. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                                        The only kind of chow mein I've seen in Chinatown, is, as you describe, the authentic kind. So It definitely does mean two different things in New York.
                                                                                                                        But if you were to poll New Yorkers on what they think chow mein is, the vast majority are not going to describe the authentic dish. Most New Yorkers eat mostly inauthentic takeout, not authentic Chinatown.
                                                                                                                        Also, this keeps getting limited to New York City. This isn't a New York City phenomenon. I don't know quite how far south this stretches, but chow mein is primarily not a soft noodle dish all up and down the Northeast Corridor at the least. It might mean a different thing from metro area to metro area, but most lo mein doesn't involve soft noodles for at least 50 million Americans.

                                                                                                                2. Just to confuse matters further, the following comment by Frank D on another thread reminded me that there was another style *Cantonese Chow Mein* available on many Cantonese restaurant menus in the 60-80's that was served like picture number 1.......


                                                                                                                  Chicken, Shrimp and Red Roast Pork

                                                                                                                  1. Did it look something like this?


                                                                                                                    As was mentioned by someone else, this is an American Chinese dish. I've only found it at one place here in Seattle and it's a restaurant that gets terrible reviews because it's so 'inauthentic'. I think American Chinese can taste glorious and has it's own time and place. When I first had this version, I couldn't stop eating until I got to the bottom of the takeout box.

                                                                                                                    1. Old La Chow commercial that clearly shows can of Chow Mein without noodles. Pity the 'Sad Bride.'


                                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                        Quick cooked in Dragon Fire to boot! Noodles served on the side, as they should be. Otherwise the five different kinds of Chow Mein could not be called "always crispy." Gives me an idea for my next romantic candlelight dinner.

                                                                                                                        1. re: scoopG

                                                                                                                          The dragon was early Jim Henson, BTW.

                                                                                                                          The separate cans on top (shown in the last image) was for the bean sprouts to keep them crunchy. If you wanted noodles, that was a separate purchase from the chow mein.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                            Yes I saw that - he even as an 8 minute infomercial on youtube with more! "C" then is clearly for Chowmein!


                                                                                                                            1. re: scoopG

                                                                                                                              Wow, what great videos.

                                                                                                                              I find it quite curious that La Choy, a Midwestern company, sells a "chow mein" which is more or less the "chop suey" style of my New Jersey youth.

                                                                                                                              I find it particularly amusing that the cans actually say "Chow Mein (without noodles)" which is basically like saying "Ice Cream Sundae (without Ice Cream)". It just goes to show you that the words "chow mein" had been scrubbed completely clean of their original meaning and and been entirely re-purposed to describe an entirely different product.

                                                                                                                              Mr Taster

                                                                                                                        1. re: soypower

                                                                                                                          Growing up on Long Island in the 50's my favorite school lunch was chicken chow mein (La Choy style)...think it was always served on a Monday and lunch at school was 35 cents.

                                                                                                                          Explains why my Jewish girlfriend's mother would every now and then make that La Choy chow mein from a can for dinnner. That La Choy canned stuff has stood the test of time along with canned stuff like Spaghettios. Few years back I noticed a can of that La Choy Chow Mein at Walmart and made it for my daughter...she thought it was horrible.

                                                                                                                          1. re: monku

                                                                                                                            I'm sure that when I lose all my teeth, those products will have a certain allure. Until then, it's real food for me.

                                                                                                                          2. I've been lurking on this thread for some time. I must say it is amusing to read the many reminiscences and arguments over "chow mein" thegloop and "lo mein" thesamething and "Chow mein" therealthing. :-) :-)

                                                                                                                            I don't recall eating "chow mein" thegloop more than 1 or 2 times and being taken aback by what I had in front of me, IIRC. I associate "chow mein" with dishes along the lines of what KTinNYC always had in NY's CT and in fact don't remember being aware that there was such a dish as what "chow mein" thegloop is described as until well into adulthood. BTW the "Cantonese pan-fried noodles" on which is ladled meats and veggies in a sauce I always knew as a dish where the noodles are said to have a "cheen heong tai" (simply transliterated Cantonese)(sort of 'fried fragrant underlayer') or just simply "heong tai".

                                                                                                                            1. my take on this -
                                                                                                                              on the east coast chow mein is the stir fried veggies and protein served with fried noodles and white rice on the side. and lo mein is the west coast's version of chow mein - stir fried noodles.

                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                              1. re: pie22

                                                                                                                                lo mein exists as stir fried noodles on the east coast

                                                                                                                              2. had to bump this thread. jeopardy made me do it

                                                                                                                                12 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                  That's just too funny. I had no idea this thread would last so long when I asked the original question. Oh, wait, is that OQ?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                    thew, let's make it a true Triple Delight.

                                                                                                                                    What is Lo Mein?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: scoopG

                                                                                                                                        The answer is wrong! Lo mein translates to mixed or tossed noodles, not soft noodles.

                                                                                                                                        If you order lo mein around San Francisco, you'll get a very different dish. It's basically a deconstructed soup noodle dish of a plate of plain boiled thin egg noodles with the other items on the side. A bit of oyster sauce is provided to toss into the noodles. A small bowl of broth is there for sipping.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: PorkButt

                                                                                                                                          Absolutely right all we lifetime nyc'rs and Jeopardy. Chow mein is made with onion scallion broccoli, bean sprouts in a white sauce. Then chicken or shrimp or beef or just veggies are mixed in. It is served with complimentary white rice and a bag of crunchy noodles.
                                                                                                                                          Lo mein has a base of soft noodles and vegetables pan fried together; it is served by itself with no extra rice. I always have to clarify to the lady at the take out counter that yes I kow chow mein is not noodles. Can;t say what goes on the west coast but for 30 years this has been the way.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: ladynyc1914

                                                                                                                                            lifetime NYer here, and i disagree. in chinatown, one often gets crunchy noodles - pan fried- as a base, not to toss on top.....

                                                                                                                                            1. re: ladynyc1914

                                                                                                                                              Sorry, eating NY chow mein for over 50 years, never saw it with broccoli, but onions, CELERY, bean sprouts, bok choy (in some places) in the white sauce served with steamed rice and fried wonton noodles.

                                                                                                                                              In Chinatown, I've seen 'San Francisco style' chow mein (similar to NY Lo Mein in the past 25 years, but not before that.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                                                                                and on the west coast it is always served with noodles, and we never heard of General Tsao's chicken (really). Then all these new immigrants showed up and messed everything up. They need to learn the rules of our interpretation of their culture. (All the above is tongue in cheek) Chinese is regional around the world. Even in China. Vive la différence.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                                                                                  On this thread it is sometimes difficult to separate out responses relating to "chow mein" as it is known in Chinese-American gloop, and "chow mein" as known in actual Chinese food... and thus also when someone is speaking with tongue in cheek... ;-)

                                                                                                                                                2. re: ladynyc1914

                                                                                                                                                  "Absolutely right all we lifetime nyc'rs and Jeopardy"

                                                                                                                                                  Could someone translate this for me?

                                                                                                                                                  Point is that the Jeopardy writers got the translation wrong and furthermore lo mein as it's made in the Northeast is completely different than what is found in places like San Francisco (and Hong Kong etc)

                                                                                                                                                  As a former Manhattan resident from twenty years ago, by avoiding crap Chinese restaurants I never tried the crispy noodle white gravy chow mein and went to Chinatown to get proper Cantonese chow mein. The local Upper West Side restaurants that I went to had lo mein but never chow mein.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: PorkButt

                                                                                                                                                    In Cantonese, "chow" means stir fry and "mein" means noodle then you use other descriptions to say what meat and veggie you want. In Cantonese, "chow faan" means stir-fried rice. I am from San Francisco, so you can imagine the surprise when I got chun king type noodles on top of a chicken, celery, onion type stir fry in the middle of Washington state. It's not just the Northeast that has that type of "chow mein". I, also, got this type of chow mein in southern Washington. I just have to be careful when I order and when I am at one of these places, I go with the flow and try to order something I would like (not always possible) or I cook my own.

                                                                                                                                                    Thank you everyone for posting. I never had any idea that chow mein didn't have noodles at all.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: whinendine

                                                                                                                                                      Same here - but I'm more familiar with Chinese-American food on the West Coast where "chow mein" is really "chow mein". Now I know in New York, you can get noodle-less Chinese "fried noodles".

                                                                                                                                          2. this happened to me living in the midwest. there, chow mein is the meat/veg/sauce served with fried noodles to add yourself. *lo* mein is what i here on the west coast would call *chow* mein. they told me chow mein meant fried noodles which i guess meant crispy, and lo mein meant soft.

                                                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                                                            1. re: chartreauxx

                                                                                                                                              "Chow" is stir-fried (as a noun) or to stir fry (as a verb), as opposed to deep fried or boiled (soft).

                                                                                                                                              1. re: chartreauxx

                                                                                                                                                Zhá means Deep fried
                                                                                                                                                "Lo" in this use means Stirred or Mixed

                                                                                                                                              2. Just happened on this thread, wanted to add the explanation my grandmother (b. 1896 in NYC) told me for the origin of chow mein. She said it started as cheap food for Chinese laborers on the transcontinental railroad. Rice was much more easily available and transported than noodles (it used less water to cook it, too) so that's what they used. Somehow that migrated to lower Manhattan by the 1910's and was the style she grew up with there. When she was in her teens and working in the garment district, she and her friends went to "the Chinese" because it was all they could afford. There was evidently some skepticism about where the protein came from, but they didn't care. To her, chow mein had to be gloopy sauce with celery, onions and maybe something cabbagey over rice, with crispy noodles on the top. And that's what we had to order when we took her to "the Chinese" on Long Island's South Shore, right up until she was in her 90's!

                                                                                                                                                6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: chezmom

                                                                                                                                                  That's the best explanation I've read...and I'm the OP who started this five years ago :)

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                                                                                                                      Now, now, four, don't be like that. You know how old I am and remember what anyone post five years ago is just beyond me. Besides, you'll always be my favorite :)

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chezmom

                                                                                                                                                    That still doesn't explain why the Chinese would call something that doesn't have noodles in it by a name that means "stir-fried noodles", though.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                                                                      How do you know the Chinese -- and not some other ethnicity years ago in New York City -- named it chow mein for some reason lost to history? So many possibilities that we can only imagine more than 100 years later... Whatever it was, that was the name that stuck in that region.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chezmom

                                                                                                                                                        Sorry, your explanation has too many gaps in logic to make any sense. You're actually suggesting that Caucasians would have taken the name "chow mein" and applied it generically to the foods that Chinese railroad workers were eating, and then the Chinese in New York would have adopted THAT misnomer when they started Chinese restaurants?