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La Choy: WTF?

[rant ON]

For years, Mrs. ricepad and I have been teasing our kids that they don't know what truly bad Chinese food is, and have mock-threatened them with a dinner of La Choy or Chung King canned Chinese food so they'll know that even the worst takeout is far from the bottom of the spectrum. To be honest, I had never had canned Chinese food, either - Mom was born in China, spoke only Chinese (Toishanese) until she was 6, and learned to cook at her mother's knee - but Mrs. ricepad had pretty much ONLY had the canned variety until she moved away to college.

So the other day I'm doing the grocery shopping and what should my wandering eye fall upon but a La Choy Chicken Chow Mein 'kit' with the two cans taped together. I decide that it's now or never, so I grab a 'kit', assuming it's noodles in the big can and veggies/meat in the other. Only after I get home do I read the label: "Serving Suggestion: Serve over rice or with La Choy Chow Mein Noodles".

WHAT?? This 'chow mein' doesn't have any noodles in it? WTF does La Choy Foods, Inc, think "mein" means? I'm surprised the instructions don't advise you to add chicken to it, too!

[rant OFF]

Thank you. I feel so much better. Back to your lives, citizens.

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  1. I'll have you know that when I was twelve years old La Choy Chicken Chow Mein was a VERY big deal. And we always had to have it with the accompanying can of La Choy crispy noodles. I bought some for my brother last Christmas, just for the memories...(and yes, I was at least ten before I had any kind of cheese that wasn't individually-wrapped slices of Kraft American Cheese. Those were the days.)

    8 Replies
    1. re: tonifi

      OMG....those crispy "noodles". Memories....

      Yeah, I get that it's not "Chinese" but darn those things were addictive.

      1. re: pedalfaster

        Especially when used as the crunch in no-bake 'haystack cookies'

        1. re: pedalfaster

          Sorry to post this but the last bag of La Choy Chow Mein Noodles I purchased weren't very good. Must have gotten a bad batch fried in almost rancid oil.

            1. re: Kholvaitar

              They might have been on the shelf of the store too long.

              1. re: Kholvaitar

                I think that even in closed packaging, the turnover is so low that they go rancid anyway.

                1. re: Kholvaitar

                  I haven't seen them sold in a plastic bag since the early 80's. Did you check the sell by date?

                  The ones I have seen since the early 80's come in a can.

                  1. re: JMF

                    Hubby just bought some in a bag in November -- he wanted me to make the Christmas candy with them (they were fresh, with an expiry date far enough out that they weren't very old when he bought them)

            2. They used to have an egg foo yung kit and my my made it often. I remember loving that stuff. I generally don't love eggs, so that explains why I still order it on occasion.


                1. You mean like how "Hamburger Helper" has no, um, hamburger in it?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    No, not at all. It's not "Chicken Chow Mein Helper."

                    More like if I had purchased a package of frozen enchiladas and the package said: "Serving Suggestion: Top with red or green chile sauce." Or a package of cheeseburgers that said, "Add your favorite cheese!"

                  2. Haha, I didn't even realize La Choy was still in business! I guess I'm too busy staring suspiciously at the "pad thai" kits in the Asian aisle.
                    Edit--curiosity got me. They're not only in business, but they've got variety!

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: alliegator

                      I actually loved those La Choy (and Chung King) mini egg rolls. Alas, they've gone away like so much that was great.

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        There's a brand called Ling Ling that has pretty decent mini chicken eggrolls. Maybe they'd be acceptable?

                        1. re: alliegator

                          Maybe. But I've just discovered that Michelina's (of all companies!) makes mini egg rolls that look identical to the old La Choy/Chun King. Perhaps "she" purchased the recipe and production methods when Chun King went under? At any rate, if I can find them I will buy them.

                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                            Makes sense since Michelina's, Chun King, Jeno's, and the birth of the pizza roll were all the brainchild of Jeno Paulucci

                        2. re: Perilagu Khan

                          These (La Choy mini egg rolls, not Ling Ling, which I shall furtively seek) were the staple for my mom and me on New Years Eve when my dad had to work. GREAT memories.

                          As for the La Choy (sing it with me...La Choy makes Chinese food that swings American!)
                          my mom would "doctor up" the canned Beef Chow Mein with stir-fried beef and a can of water chestnuts, and a couple of shakes of wine vinegar and hot sauce. So sophisticated back in 1979!

                          1. re: pinehurst

                            Haha :) I think I don't have and c. 1980 La Choy memories because I was lucky enough to have the China Queen on my dad's work-home route.
                            I get my Ling Ling at Super Target, btw.

                        3. Wow. (Fond) blast from the past. I didn't realize either that this was still sold. My mom's idea of something exotic. :) Searching for the proper cultural term but all I've got is "gringo" and "gaijin" lol.

                          Three serving per container, 1500 mg sodium in each.
                          20 mg tab of Lasix taped to bottom of can. :)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: DuchessNukem

                            If you wash it down with a six pack of Tab, that'll clear ya out some. :-)

                          2. Remember La Choy or Chung King "chow mein" as a kid... when thought that was actually "Chinese food"?? Didn't actually have a Chinese restaurant anywhere in my area till into teens.

                            This post gave me an idea for a "retro" (joke) gift for sibs. One of those "kits" for Chinese food and one of those "kits" for Chef Boy-Ar-Dee pizza!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: kseiverd

                              I'll take that Chef B Pizza Kit if you please. And no joke! It makes a pretty dam' good pie.

                            2. If "chow mein noodles" is redundant (like "au jus sauce"), what is the correct term for those noodles?

                              1. When I was a kid, my grandparents would buy takeout chow mein on the way home from church (in Minneapolis). I recall paper boxes of rice, a sauce heavy in bean sprouts, and packets of crisp noodles. That sauce was the 'chow mein'. No one knew that 'mein' means noodles in Chinese, or that 'chow' meant fried.

                                I believe it is Hong Kong style that consists of a sauce served over crisp fried noodles. Since the two parts are kept separate till served, non-Chinese speakers can easily end up applying the name to the sauce. The same sort of thing has happened with 'bruschetta', which means 'toasted bread' in Italian, but many Americans think means the tomato and basil 'salsa'.

                                1. "WHAT?? This 'chow mein' doesn't have any noodles in it? WTF does La Choy Foods, Inc, think "mein" means? "

                                  There have been threads on CH dealing with NY style Chow Mein of the 1950s-1980s and on as opposed to Chow Mein served outside metro NY.
                                  In the NY area prior to relaxation of the immigration quotas, chow mein was a vefetable gloppy dish with added protein , white sauce served with rice and crispy noodles on the side.

                                  What you think of as chow mein, a vegetable and protein dish served over noodles, uses noodles referred to as Lo Mein in the greater NY area.

                                  Yes this is confusing, but way back in 1961 our family was in San Francisco Chinatown, ordered chow mein and wondered why we were served Lo Mein.

                                  It's not about the translation of the Chinese words in the name of the dish, BUT what the dish consists of in a particular locaility.

                                  4 Replies
                                    1. re: huiray

                                      I posted on both those threads back in 2009....

                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                        Yes, you did. :-) I posted the links to the threads you mentioned for the benefit of other posters.

                                        1. re: huiray

                                          I posted (11/24) from my phone and it's too difficult to split screens and serch for the old thread links.

                                  1. I could have sworn the top can contained the crap. And the lower can had the crispy noodles. Of course this was 45 years ago

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: miss_belle

                                      I'm guessing that BOTH cans contain the crap, but I'll post an update after we screw up the courage to try it!

                                      1. re: ricepad


                                        looks like one can (the smaller one?) is meat and sauce, the other the vegetables. La Choy also cans the noodles

                                        "Stovetop directions: separate cans. Empty contents Of small can,containing beef And sauce, into saucepan or skillet. Heat over mediumheat until hot, stirring occasionally. Drain And discard liquid fromlarge can And rinse vegetables. Add vegetables To beef And sauce, mixingwell. Heat, stirring often, until hot. ....Serving suggestions: serve over rice or with lachoy chow mein noodles."

                                      2. re: miss_belle

                                        I think they did package it that way back in the day. I vaguely remember that from when Mom would throw them together. At least I'm not the only one who remembers that!

                                        1. re: tracylee

                                          The noodles were always sold separate. As paulj says above, the two cans taped together, as they still are consisted of one can meat and sauce, one can veggies.

                                      3. Wow, don't think I've seen those cans since childhood.

                                        My mother didn't need any darn kit to make egg foo young. She could do that with eggs, and any leftovers found lurking in the fridge. Who needs a kit?!

                                        1. welcome to La Choy chow mein -- you have to have the crispy fried noodles -- no lo mein or anything that resembles something you'd find in a Chinese restaurant.

                                          About 10 years ago I bought the "kit" -- and much to my chagrin, actually enjoyed it -- it was like the "Chinese food" I ate growing up. No, it's not "authentic" -- but it's tasty and at least raised a curtain to give someone a glimpse into another culture...

                                          ...think of it as a gateway ethnic food....

                                          If it makes you feel any better, I live in France, and "Tex-Mex" is all the rage. What do they make? Old El Paso. It's no more real Tex-Mex than La Choy is real Chinese, but what do you do?

                                          1. Even the La Choy Dragon almost forgot the noodles in this 1967 commercial. Looks like they've changed the label since then too.


                                            1. So what was in the two cans? Funny how you haven't posted back. I'm thinking one of the cans DID contain the noodles & you're just too embarrassed to admit you jumped the gun.

                                              Just because the "Serving Suggestion" said "Serve over rice or with La Choy Chow Mein Noodles" doesn't mean the noodles weren't in one of the cans.

                                              But I've perused the La Choy website, & can't see where they say what the heck is in the cans. It may be the meat in Can 1 & veggies in Can 2 (which really seems stupid).

                                              But we won't know until you break the suspense & tell us what was in the cans - lol!

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: Bacardi1

                                                Meat's the small can; veg. in the lg.

                                                1. re: Bacardi1

                                                  Why is it stupid to can the vegetables separate from the sauce?

                                                  The vegetables are: Water, Bean Sprouts, Celery, Carrots, Red Bell Peppers, Water Chestnuts, Bamboo Shoots, Baby Corn,

                                                  While celery, carrots and bell peppers can be found in any market, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, bamboos shoots and baby corn are only found canned in many markets. Bean sprouts must be the trickiest to can well. The others are commonly canned.

                                                  'Drain And discard liquid from large can And rinse vegetables.' these are then added to the hot sauce. My guess is that this approach maximizes the crunch of the vegetables, at least best can be expected from canning.

                                                  To appreciate a product like this, you have to put yourself in the shoes of someone living in a small town in Kansas, not as someone living in LA or Seattle with a mega Asian grocery around the corner.

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    well, exactly -- in a small town anywhere (particularly 20-30 years ago) you didn't have an iceberg's chance in hell of finding any of those vegetables fresh...and some difficulty finding them canned! La Choy was exotic and different and interesting.

                                                    Before Chinese food became wide-spread, this was all we had...but an awful lot of us grew up eating it...and it gave us a comfort level with Chinese food to try "real" Chinese food when we came across it later.

                                                  2. re: Bacardi1

                                                    I *have* posted since my original posting, but you're right, I did not specify what was in the cans. The labels clearly say meat/sauce in one can, veggies in the other. No noodles in either can.

                                                    1. re: ricepad

                                                      Ah, thanks.

                                                      I do seem to remember way back when I was a sprout that the meat & veggies were in the bottom can; noodles in the top. Guess they changed that since 50 or so years ago - lol!

                                                      And yes - as others have stated, it was a sort of "comfort food" way back when.

                                                      I do guess I'm lucky though that my dear dear recently-departed mother was so interested in cooking, that she bought a wok from a little Asian grocer & started cooking fresh stir-fries long before that became a fad.

                                                  3. LA Choy is an American firm started in Michigan in 1922 by an American and a Korean. It was started as a way to capitalize on Americas interest in Asia and the Asian style of food, but has always been making Amerricanized Asian food for what was the mid-west market.

                                                    Chun King was started in the 1940's by an American, Jeno Paulucci who in his 93 years he started over 70 food companies including Jeno's frozen pizza and pizza rolls, (now called Totino's.) The pizza rolls were created by him and were a combination of pizza with Asian egg rolls. He started the company because Chinese restaurants and take out had become popular and he wanted to capitalize on it for the home market. So he started the company making canned chow mein, but it was his recipe which slightly Italian and Americanized it.

                                                    Here's a NY Times obituary about him. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/26/bus...

                                                    There are two styles of chow mein, steamed with soft noodles, and crispy or Hong Kong style.

                                                    In America the East coast calls the steamed style Lo Mein, and the crispy stype Chow Mein. The west coast calls the steamed style chow mein and the crispy is called Hong Kong style.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: JMF

                                                      For me, La Choy chicken chow mein is a comfort food going back to childhood, and I buy it about once every year or two. I first had it at school lunch in elementary school and then middle school. It still tastes the exact same, and is very simple, but satisfying, served over white rice, topped with the crunchy noodles, and splashes of soy sauce.

                                                      1. re: JMF

                                                        Oh, and Canada has three variation regionally, and the Caribbean has their versions.

                                                      2. Is La Choy not considered authentic Chinese food these days?

                                                        3 Replies
                                                          1. re: mamachef

                                                            Yes it's joke, I had to eat that **** a few times when I was growing up and it's not authentic anything.

                                                            1. re: redfish62

                                                              Whew. (though I suspect I'd still be okay w/ it, in a retro/comfort way....)

                                                        1. Alright, the curiosity is killing me. I tried a new grocery store on Wednesday, and I saw this stuff. I'm kicking myself for not buying it, but I think it's because I was in a hurry. I need to run back later today, so I'm going to buy it. And tomorrow, I'll make it! Bwuhahaha!
                                                          Pics of before (in cans) and after to come, along with an IMHO review.

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: alliegator

                                                            Get the chicken, don't forget white rice, soy sauce (not la choy brand!), and a can of the fried noodles.

                                                            1. re: JMF

                                                              Worry not, my friend. I'm going all the way with this meal. I may even use Minute Rice. A friend who is not a FoF (Friend of Food) is coming over tomorrow and I'm just going to put it in front of her. I'm actually excited!

                                                              1. re: alliegator

                                                                My Sunday plans got a little off track, and I didnt' complete my little project :/ But it's waiting in all it's shelf stable glory for the magic to be unleashed tomorrow or Wednesday!

                                                                1. re: alliegator

                                                                  Disturbed minds want to know...?

                                                                  1. re: JMF

                                                                    Omg, and I just got busy over the holidays and totally forgot!! My apologies. I've got to dig it out and ensure it's still good. But it seems like something a Y2Ker would have stashed.
                                                                    So I will make good on my promise soon :)

                                                              2. My mother made the typical American cooked-to-death chow mein when I was young. It was served on a bed of white rice and crispy noodles. At some point she learned to make stir fry that was not mushy.

                                                                  1. Well, I finally did it. I 'made' La Choy Chicken Chow Mein. The smaller can contained the gloppy sauce with a few chunks of chicken, which may have actually been bits of kitchen sponge. It looked and smelled like really soupy cat food. The larger can contained assorted veggies in what was probably some sort of preservative-laden water-based broth. The instructions said to dump the meatglop into a pan, drain the veggies and add them to the pan, then heat them both up and serve over (separately purchased) La Choy Crispy Noodles.

                                                                    Ugh. I tried a bite. Hell, I tried THREE bites. I could eat no more. The kids each tried some, too, but Mrs. ricepad refused ("I've eaten more than my share of that #$%#& when I was a kid!"). The dog got the rest, and he enjoyed it. Not much of an endorsement, tho, because he licks his butt.

                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                    1. re: ricepad

                                                                      I look at La Choy as a gateway food. It introduced me to flavors and textures that just didn't exist anywhere else in the Midwest in the 1970s -- but I liked it enough to try Chinese food when I grew up and went to the city....

                                                                      Not that I'd go back, mind....but it served its purpose of introducing me to a whole new array of flavors and textures

                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                        Definitely! Growing up, my mom used to serve La Choy (& their competitor, "Chun King") food all the time. I wasn't a big fan because as a little sprout, I preferred my vegetables raw to cooked, & of course canned vegetables can't possibly be MORE cooked - lol!

                                                                        But those products DID get my already-a-FABULOUS-cook mom to branch out just as soon as Asian produce & other products started hitting the markets. We had a huge State University & research hospital open in our town back in the '70's, which brought in a large populace of foreign - particularly Asian - students, faculty/staff, etc., etc., which in turn also quickly brought us several small Asian specialty markets long before they became mainstream. Mom was like a kid in a candy shop! There was nothing she wouldn't try. She not only bought me my first wok from one of those little shops (a great carbon-steel job that I still own & use weekly), but a set of bamboo steamer baskets as well. And over the years she gifted me with all sorts of different Asian canned & dry goods, cookbooks, etc., etc.

                                                                        So in a way, I sort of have to give some credit to La Choy & Chun King for getting me involved with Asian cuisine in a big way. :)

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          There really is nothing like the 'texture' of canned celery, true ...

                                                                          1. re: foiegras

                                                                            but even canned celery didn't exist in a small Midwest supermarket in the 1970s...other than in that can of La Choy

                                                                        2. re: ricepad

                                                                          I'm sure it is only good for dog food nowadays. But 45 years ago it wasn't *all* that bad..:-)

                                                                          1. re: ricepad

                                                                            Revolting or not, for some, the "chop suey sandwich" is still a beloved piece of Massachusetts nostalgia. Nathan's Famous in Coney Island still serves them.


                                                                          2. La Choy is Chinese food in the same way that Chef Boyardee is Italian food and Ortega is Mexican food!

                                                                            14 Replies
                                                                            1. re: PotatoHouse

                                                                              You are so correct about Ortega not being Mexican. Ortega was founded by an Hispanic man, Emilio Ortega, who brought what are now called Hatch chiles from New Mexico to California in the late 19th century. He established California's first commercial food operation by packaging the green Hatch chiles. And everyone knows there is no good Mexican food to be found in either New Mexico or California.

                                                                              1. re: Virginian

                                                                                Yeah every true Mexican diner and street vendor I've ever eaten at uses packaged preformed crispy corn taco shells and taco meat seasoning packets. It's a tradition going back hundreds of years...

                                                                                1. re: Virginian

                                                                                  Hey, if it wasn't for ortega i still wouldn't be able to buy canned green or jalapeño chilies in Honolulu, in most stores it's the only brand they sell.

                                                                                  As for LaChoy, it was always pretty nasty, and nope, it never came with noodles.

                                                                                  1. re: Virginian

                                                                                    Really? You've eaten at every Mexican restaurant in New Mexico and California? That's quite a feat.

                                                                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                      If you are replying to my post, you might consider looking up "sarcasm" in Websters.

                                                                                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                        We're talking about real Mexican food, not Taco Bell wannabe crap.

                                                                                        1. re: PotatoHouse

                                                                                          What makes you think I'm talking about Taco Bell?

                                                                                      2. re: Virginian

                                                                                        But you know what? All these cheap knockabouts STILL get people interested in the food.

                                                                                        I had my very first taco at the 1964 New York World's Fair, & after that my parents were badgered to distraction by me in the supermarket to buy me the "Patio Mexican TV Dinners" - the only mainstream "Mexican" food available at that time (although we were able to graduate to canned tamales after awhile - lol). If you think "Taco Bell" is a bad example of Mexican food, you should have gandered a look at these babies. BUT, I was 8 years old, & was mesmerized.

                                                                                        Thanks to that (& just like La Choy & Chun King), as soon as more fresh & authentics products became available, mom & I were cooking these cuisines as authentically as was possible at the time, & I'm still doing so to this day.

                                                                                        Thus, I bear no hard feelings to these products from the past, & can only hope that the folks who still buy them might just get their interests piqued.

                                                                                        1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                                          I live in a neighborhood where the median age is 206, so the local grocery store carries lots of obscure, old timey stuff the bigger chains refuse to carry. Stuff like La Choy and JIffy Pop Stovetop Popcorn and Kraft Roka Blue and "Old English" Cheese in a jar. So at least near me, the people still buying this stuff get it for nostalgia value.

                                                                                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                            I remember those cheeses! I bet my parents are still using the jars as juice glasses!

                                                                                            1. re: ricepad

                                                                                              Oh goodness - me too!!! "Old English" cheese, & also Pimiento Cheese in those "juice glass" jars. What a blast from the past. Thanks! :)

                                                                                            2. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                              Kraft Roka Blue has recently been discontinued. You can still find it on line but thats about it.

                                                                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                Kraft discontinued Roka Blue in the mid 2000s, but brought it back as a seasonal item. You can only buy it around Thanksgiving/Christmas. Kinda like Popeyes' deepfried turkeys.


                                                                                      3. Ugh...I remember that stuff. My mom used to serve it over Minute Rice, which all by itself, is a crime against nature. I had no idea that I actually liked rice until I was an adult and ate the real stuff.

                                                                                        1. Alright so this is dorm food at best. But is there a way to fix this stuff up so that its a bit better? Adding chicken is probably the obvious first step. Maybe add some oyster sauce?

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: Atochabsh

                                                                                            No. There is nothing that can be done to make it palatable. It'll only ruin whatever you add to it.

                                                                                            1. Hmm, you forgot to buy the chow mein noodle:


                                                                                              La Choy is probably a prime example of crappy food.

                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                In my update from last January, I did buy the noodles (separate shopping trip). Shoulda saved my money! La Choy is not a prime example of crappy food. La Choy is a prime example of crappy CRAP.

                                                                                                1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                  <La Choy is a prime example of crappy CRAP.>

                                                                                                  Ha ha ha.

                                                                                                  1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                    I know that this is an older conversation, but have you ever tried "Hoo Mee Chow Mein"? It's manufactured in Fall River, MA and not widely known outside of a 100 mile radius. It consists of a cornstarch based brown gravy packet (I buy the gravy mix in bulk as it makes a delicious add in to other soups, stews, gravies) that has a pronounced celery flavor, and a packet of tiny, flat, and extra brown crispy noodles. It's served strained (without veggies) or with onion, celery and maybe bean sprouts for those that are fancy (LOL!). I usually add a bit of seasoned ground pork or leftover roast chicken, onion, celery, sprouts and whatever else is lurking in the fridge. It's not authentic, but damn tasty. A few years ago the noodle factory burned down and Hoo Mee was out of commission for over a year. There was actually a chow mein black market in which the kits were selling for $30+ (a package is around $3.50 normally). Famous Foods sells the kits, and bulk noodles and gravy online. Try it if you get a chance!

                                                                                                    1. re: Idella

                                                                                                      No offense, but it sounds perfectly awful.

                                                                                                2. To me it's like the difference between hamburger and A hamburger: if you buy the ready-to-eat sandwich you get the bun etcetera thrown in, but if you buy the makings you need to buy buns too.

                                                                                                  I remember when La Choy WAS "Chinese food" for most of us in small towns. It was the purveyor of those vegetables, the bean sprouts, the bamboo shoots, the noodles, and the so-called soy sauce – the first time I tasted REAL soy sauce I realized La Choy's was for the most part just salty water. And you know what? I don't expect any company that sells such stuff to have anyone on staff who knows what "mein" means!