What is "chow mein" in your 'hood?

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BT
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2005/08/20 14:59:55 (permalink)

What is "chow mein" in your 'hood?

I'm curious.

Is it (A) stir-fried (chow) spaghetti-like noodles (mein) with bits of meat and/or veggies; or is it (B) a gloppy mass of veggies and corn starch to be served with rice and little crispy packaged noodles?

I don't recall encountering anything but (B) on the east coast. Same in Arizona. But here in SF, you ask for "chow mein" you get (A). If/when (B) is available (that's rare), it is called "chop suey" which, I believe, may have been invented hereabouts as food for the imported Chinese working on the railroads. "Chop suey" was also available back east but was somehow distinguished from "chow mein". I was never sure of the difference.
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    Michael Hoffman
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 15:36:01 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by BT

    I'm curious.

    Is it (A) stir-fried (chow) spaghetti-like noodles (mein) with bits of meat and/or veggies; or is it (B) a gloppy mass of veggies and corn starch to be served with rice and little crispy packaged noodles?

    I don't recall encountering anything but (B) on the east coast. Same in Arizona. But here in SF, you ask for "chow mein" you get (A). If/when (B) is available (that's rare), it is called "chop suey" which, I believe, may have been invented hereabouts as food for the imported Chinese working on the railroads. "Chop suey" was also available back east but was somehow distinguished from "chow mein". I was never sure of the difference.

    You left out American Chow Mein, which is made with ground beef, stewed tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper and elbow macaroni.
    #2
    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 15:40:45 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Michael Hoffman


    You left out American Chow Mein, which is made with ground beef, stewed tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper and elbow macaroni.


    I've never seen that in a Chinese restaurant. Never made it at home, either. I HAVE made "Chinese spaghetti" which is made with ground pork, black bean sauce, chili-garlic sauce, hoisin sauce, minced ginger, dark soy sauce, sugar, chicken broth and spaghetti. In fact, I've made that quite often.
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    Michael Hoffman
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 15:59:10 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by BT

    quote:
    Originally posted by Michael Hoffman


    You left out American Chow Mein, which is made with ground beef, stewed tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper and elbow macaroni.


    I've never seen that in a Chinese restaurant. Never made it at home, either. I HAVE made "Chinese spaghetti" which is made with ground pork, black bean sauce, chili-garlic sauce, hoisin sauce, minced ginger, dark soy sauce, sugar, chicken broth and spaghetti. In fact, I've made that quite often.

    You've most likely never seen it in a Chinese restaurant because it's a New England dish.
    #4
    mayor al
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 16:02:51 (permalink)
    Mike Hoffman
    When I was growing up That was a standard dish in our H S lunch menu..Called American Chop Suey Not chow mein. The recipe was what you described.

    BT
    In the Southern Hoosier version of the Chinese Restaurant your letter "B" pretty well describes it. No crunchy noodles unless you are buying the grocery store canned version. Everything dumped on white rice.
    #5
    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 16:08:20 (permalink)
    OK, but I'd still like to know what your local Chinese restaurant gives you if you order "chow mein".
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    improviser
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 16:26:14 (permalink)
    I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
    Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain
    He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook's
    Going to get himself a big dish of beef chow mein
    Werewolves of London

    Sorry, BT, couldn't resist.

    I don't think I've ever had Chow mein. Maybe I'll get some tomorrow.
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    jinjo76
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 16:39:59 (permalink)
    (B) a gloppy mass of veggies and corn starch to be served with rice and little crispy packaged noodles.
    Oakland Park, FL.
    Jonathan
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    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 16:46:26 (permalink)
    Thanks, Jonathan.
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    Michael Hoffman
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 16:55:02 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Al-The Mayor-Bowen

    Mike Hoffman
    When I was growing up That was a standard dish in our H S lunch menu..Called American Chop Suey Not chow mein. The recipe was what you described.


    I'd forgotten. Someone told me about American Chop Suey in Ohio. Amd ypu;re right. It was the same thing.
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    MaxZook
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 16:56:23 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by BT

    I'm curious.

    Is it (A) stir-fried (chow) spaghetti-like noodles (mein) with bits of meat and/or veggies; or is it (B) a gloppy mass of veggies and corn starch to be served with rice and little crispy packaged noodles?

    I don't recall encountering anything but (B) on the east coast. Same in Arizona. But here in SF, you ask for "chow mein" you get (A). If/when (B) is available (that's rare), it is called "chop suey" which, I believe, may have been invented hereabouts as food for the imported Chinese working on the railroads. "Chop suey" was also available back east but was somehow distinguished from "chow mein". I was never sure of the difference.


    I grew up eating Chinese in NYC but have lived in L.A. for over 25 years. IMHO, traditional "true" chow mein is what you describe as (B) -- i.e. the Chun King stuff you can buy in cans in the supermarket, next to the crispy "chow mein noodles".

    What you describe as (A) first appeared on both coasts in the 1970s as lo mein. In recent years, the ghastly and omnipresent Panda Express chain started serving a side dish they call "chow mein", which vaguely resembles lo mein but without any meat or flavor or texture whatsoever. I think this is where the confusion started, for now many cheap L.A. joints serve lo mein under the name of "chow mein".

    Chinese "chop suey", a name which dates to the 1800s, was never Chinese at all. And as a previous poster said, "American chop suey" is a New England school cafeteria mainstay and is no more Chinese than a grilled cheese sandwich.
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    Michael Hoffman
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 16:57:27 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by BT

    OK, but I'd still like to know what your local Chinese restaurant gives you if you order "chow mein".

    The last time I ever ordered chow mein in a Chinese restaurant was back in the late 1940s. As I recall it was a mix of goopy vegetables and chicken served over those fried noodles. Now, I did frequently order chow mein sandwiches at a place called Nickel Charlies in New Haven. It was the same sort of thing, fried noodles and all, served on a hamburger bun.
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    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 17:04:21 (permalink)
    So leaving Panda Express out of it, if I go into an independent Chinese place in LA and order "chow mein" I am likely to get (B)? Because in San Francisco, I most assuredly would get (A) and that goes for places in Chinatown where everybody else in the joint would be speaking some dialect of Chinese.

    Interestingly, I had this discussion with the owner of a Chinese restaurant in Arizona. He served (B) as chow mein. He also said (A) was lo mein. That's one reason I asked the question. Is it only here that "chow mein" is (A)? Seems odd because I believe in at least one Chinese dialect "chow" mean stir-fry and "mein" is a type of noodle so "chow mein" should be stir-fried noodles which is precisely what (A) is but certainly not (B).
    #13
    6star
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 17:48:36 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by BT

    I'm curious.

    Is it (A) stir-fried (chow) spaghetti-like noodles (mein) with bits of meat and/or veggies; or is it (B) a gloppy mass of veggies and corn starch to be served with rice and little crispy packaged noodles?

    I don't recall encountering anything but (B) on the east coast. Same in Arizona. But here in SF, you ask for "chow mein" you get (A). If/when (B) is available (that's rare), it is called "chop suey" which, I believe, may have been invented hereabouts as food for the imported Chinese working on the railroads. "Chop suey" was also available back east but was somehow distinguished from "chow mein". I was never sure of the difference.

    When I was young, the difference between chop suey and chow mein was that chop suey was the glop (usually with bits of meat in it) served over rice and chow mein was the identical glop served over chow mein crispy noodles. Now, I wouldn't think of ordering or making either one, since I prefer Szechuan dishes.
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    Lucky Bishop
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 23:10:47 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by BT

    OK, but I'd still like to know what your local Chinese restaurant gives you if you order "chow mein".


    A funny look, because it's not on the menu.

    http://www.quanskitchen-boston.com/menuonly1.html

    What you describe as A is called "lo mein" in any restaurant I've eaten at here. B is something I haven't seen since the last time my mom hotted up a can of that ghastly Chung King stuff back in the '80s. (Her innovation was that she served it on those little canned matchstick potatoes instead of the flavorless fried noodles that came with.)

    On the other hand, Charity mentions that she has sometimes heard employees refer to the dishes that are listed on the menu above under "Noodle Dishes (Hong Kong Style)" as "chow mein." But that doesn't help you either, because those dishes are neither A nor B but C: a mass of very thin, yellow, cappelli-like noodles dry-fried (not stir-fried) into a crispy pancake and topped with meat (almost always char siu when we're ordering it: it's not on the menu, but we're regulars) and maybe a little choy.

    Sidebar about American Chop Suey: bizarrely enough, my mother and Charity's mother both made this dish a lot when we were kids, but both of them called it "goulash." Obviously, it's not goulash, but we think it's funny that her mom (from Watertown, Massachusetts) and my mom (from San Angelo, Texas) both called it the same wrong name!
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    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/20 23:50:47 (permalink)
    Well, Lucky, here's the menu from my favorite noodle spot: http://www.222.to/dpd/menu01.asp

    Note:
    quote:
    Shanghai Chow Mein (Pork or Chicken or Beef) (Thick Noodles Cooked with Spinach and Cabbage) 4.25
    D.P.D. Chow Mein (Combination of Vegetables with Beef, Chicken, and Shrimp Over Pan Fried Crispy Noodles) 5.50


    Those are gonna be (A).
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    Lucky Bishop
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/21 00:41:04 (permalink)
    I'm confused, then. "Thick Noodles Cooked with Spinach and Cabbage" sounds like different noodles, a different preparation and a different service from "Combination of Vegetables with Beef, Chicken, and Shrimp Over Pan Fried Crispy Noodles." The first sounds like it's all mixed together and made with what I know as Shanghai noodles -- unless by thick noodles they mean something more like chow foon -- and possibly sauced. The second sounds like what I describe above as the pan-fried Hong Kong-style noodles: a pancake of very thin noodles, crispy on the outside and soft in the center, topped with char siu and choy and not sauced at all. (Charity points out that in the old-school Chinese places around here, this was often known as "two sides yellow.")

    Am I misinterpreting that menu? I don't see how those are both A. Regardless, they're definitely not B, which as I said I haven't seen in close to 20 years, and since, as you said, since "chow mein" simply means "fried noodle," it's up to the individual chef what that means.
    #17
    sizz
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/21 00:42:00 (permalink)
    BT have you no shame? ............... your setting these people up, ....... lol out of the 6 million people living in the Bay area 1.5 million are Asian. The predominant restaurants around the Bay are Chinese............... and your an expert on that kind of food.... Your just egg foo-ing them on.............. lol
    Now something about Chop Suey..as MaxZook said it is not Chinese but white American slang. it was the slop made up for the Chinese workers on the railroad....... a concoction made to what railroad cooks thought a Chinese dish should be. Now the name Chop Suey was also made up. Chop was a slang word used to call the Chinese workers as in "chop chop" for hurry up. Even to this day around SF Bay Asians are referred to as "Chops." The word "suey" was the same word the white man used to call hogs to feed you know as in "suey suey suey" Any Iowa farmer will know the word. Hence the word "Chop Suey" ........... really not a very nice word, sort of like when the white man vulgarly called a female native Indian a "squaw" ......... look that one up.
    #18
    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/21 03:16:12 (permalink)
    Frank,

    It may seem that I am not serious in asking this question, but in fact I am. I have often found myself wondering why this disparity in what this dish is called in different places--and whether it really exists. It really amazes me sometimes how much the American way of eating has changed. When I was growing up in the suburbs of Washington DC, there was no Mexican food available. I had my first Mexican meal in Tampa FL when I was 26 or 27. Now, I am told by my sister who only recently moved out of the old neighborhood, that it is largely hispanic and Mexican food, both in restaurants and grocery stores, is readily available. I truly believe that the type (A) chow mein is closer to something you might find in China, but I stand to be corrected and I'd kind of like to know if the type (B) chow mein that I remember eating in Washington, Baltimore, Durham NC and Orlando FL in my younger days is still what you get there or not. For one thing, like I said, not so long ago I ordered it in a restaurant in Arizona, kind of hoping for type (A) but got type (B) and since AZ is next door to CA I figured, but wasn't certain, that type (B), which I think is pretty much an American invention, still had a lock on the nation.

    As to the story of chop suey, didn't I say what you said (with much less knowledgeable detail) above? To quote myself:
    quote:
    "chop suey" which, I believe, may have been invented hereabouts (meaning in the Bay Area) as food for the imported Chinese working on the railroads


    So, one more time: anyplace else you get type (A) or is it only the Bay Area? And, by the way, what does the "lo" in "lo mein" mean?
    #19
    brookquarry
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/21 12:01:28 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Lucky Bishop

    quote:
    Originally posted by BT

    OK, but I'd still like to know what your local Chinese restaurant gives you if you order "chow mein".


    A funny look, because it's not on the menu.

    http://www.quanskitchen-boston.com/menuonly1.html

    What you describe as A is called "lo mein" in any restaurant I've eaten at here. B is something I haven't seen since the last time my mom hotted up a can of that ghastly Chung King stuff back in the '80s. (Her innovation was that she served it on those little canned matchstick potatoes instead of the flavorless fried noodles that came with.)

    On the other hand, Charity mentions that she has sometimes heard employees refer to the dishes that are listed on the menu above under "Noodle Dishes (Hong Kong Style)" as "chow mein." But that doesn't help you either, because those dishes are neither A nor B but C: a mass of very thin, yellow, cappelli-like noodles dry-fried (not stir-fried) into a crispy pancake and topped with meat (almost always char siu when we're ordering it: it's not on the menu, but we're regulars) and maybe a little choy.

    Sidebar about American Chop Suey: bizarrely enough, my mother and Charity's mother both made this dish a lot when we were kids, but both of them called it "goulash." Obviously, it's not goulash, but we think it's funny that her mom (from Watertown, Massachusetts) and my mom (from San Angelo, Texas) both called it the same wrong name!


    Strangly enough,when I was growing up in Lancaster County Pa in the '60's my Mom also made this dish, and also called it goulash.
    Never heard it called "American Chop Suey' until I bought my first Roadfood book.
    #20
    skylar0ne
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/21 13:19:02 (permalink)
    Here in central North Carolina, when we order chow mein, we get what you described as "B," while your "A" description would be served as lo mein. I haven't been to every chinese restaurant around here, but have never seen chop suey on the menu of any I've ever been to.
    #21
    mayor al
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/21 13:58:59 (permalink)

    The American Chop Suey and Goulash labels for basically the same dish has been around for a long time. In the 50's my Mother (Czech heritage) called it Goulash when she served it to us in SoCal. The School Lunch program called it American Chop Suey in SoCal,Mass.and Upstate New York into the 70's ( I stopped eating in the school cafeteria then). here in Hoosierland I see Goulash on the buffet at some of the Amish restaurants, and it tastes like the American Chop Suey of my youth.
    I can't think of another dish that uses terms referring to such a geographic spread to describe the dish. Hungary to China is about as far apart as one can get... well ok then there is San Francisco and Oakland so maybe there are two places
    #22
    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/21 14:16:20 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Al-The Mayor-Bowen


    Hungary to China is about as far apart as one can get... well ok then there is San Francisco and Oakland so maybe there are two places


    I have seen the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge called "the longest bridge in the world" for the reasons you suggest even though it's really only about 7 miles long (in 2 separate spans).

    Well, here's the "good" span :

    #23
    The Travelin Man
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/21 14:16:30 (permalink)
    Here in central Florida, the hotbed of Asian cuisine, the above referenced (a) is on the menu as lo mein. It is what I also recall being lo mein back in NY. I have never ordered chow mein, so I have no point of reference, but I do like lo mein. I have no idea what the lo translates to in English.
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    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/21 14:22:31 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by stevekoe

    I have never ordered chow mein


    Well, once again it seems we are demonstrating how very much US eating has changed. When I was a kid, eating "Chinese" pretty much meant eating type (B) chow mein or "chop suey" (which, as I said, I found indistinguishable). The truly adventurous or cosmopolitan might also get some egg foo yung or mushu pork. But that was it. That was why Chinese restaurants existed.
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    meiguoren
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/22 15:39:13 (permalink)
    'Chow Mein' is a mutation of the Mandarin Chinese 'chou mian' which just means 'fried noodles.' When I lived in China I think I only had chow mein twice, it's generally considered peasant food. It's not something they eat over there very often, at least not in the area I was. Most American Chinese cuisine is like that, it's more American than Chinese.
    #26
    Scorereader
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/22 16:50:21 (permalink)
    I agree with meiguoren that Chinese cuisine here in the US is more Amercian than Chinese.

    Even the Asian San Franciscans I met last summer, tell me that the Chinese chefs that come to the US to work in the "chinese" restaurants in Chinatown, have to be re-taught how to cook.
    So, even the food in San Fransisco's Chinatown isn't as "chinese" as you'd like to believe.

    Our Chinese tourguide on the city tour of Chinatown said more-or-less the same thing.

    Infact, even thought the food I had in Chinatown was great, it didn't look a whole lot different than the food in Chinatown in NYC or even DC.

    I looked at the food being served in the restaurants and compared that with the ingredients that were sold in the Chinese markets, and I doubt the real Chinese people in San Fran are cooking the same food in their home as the food being served in Chinatown.

    So, what ever Chow mein you have in San Fran or the Bay area, it isn't likely to be all that Chinese.




    #27
    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/22 19:38:22 (permalink)
    Dear scorereader et. al.: Nowhere have I said type (A) chow mein was utterly authentic. I just said I suspected type (B) was utterly inauthentic and type (A) was closer to authenticity. That's based, incidentally, on having lived and travelled for several years in Asia (no, not China, but Japan, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines) and eaten many a noodle there. But that's all really beside the point of my question which was mostly just to find out what I'm likely to get if I order chow mein around the US because sometimes I rather like a plate of the type (A) stuff I get here and wouldn't want to be surprised elsewhere.

    Now, as a 23 year resident of San Francisco, far be it from me to doubt any of our fine tour guides, but I very much suspect the quality of the food you get depends on which of the hundreds of Chinese restaurants in town you get it from--at least that's been my experience. There are a number of them in Chinatown that really cater mostly to tourists and those happen to be the ones the tour guides take people to and the hotel concierges direct them to because (I suspect deep in my suspicious soul) there's a little bakshish involved. Truth be told, if you want really authentic food, the percentages are better if you randomly pick a spot in the inner Richmond District where the Chinese immigrants move to when they can afford to get out of Chinatown.

    Now take a look at the DPD Noodle House menu link I posted above and tell me that you really think "Shredded jellyfish in soy/sesame sauce" was created for US diners. And you won't find too many non-Asian US diners there except the occasional tourist who stumbles in off the street and folks like me who years ago found something on their menu they really like and go back for repeatedly (in my case, it's not the jellyfish, its the tam tam noodles which may or may not be westernized but which I have read are common street food in some areas of China). Where you will find all the westerners is two doors up the street, lined up to get into the House of Nanking whose food I cannot critique because I've never eaten there.
    #28
    BT
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/22 19:43:50 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by meiguoren

    'Chow Mein' is a mutation of the Mandarin Chinese 'chou mian' which just means 'fried noodles.'


    Did I not say several times above that I thought "chow mein" meant "stir-fried noodles"? That's why I thought type (A), which is precisely that, makes sense to me and type (B) does not. Still, what I want to know is what am I going to get in YOUR town if I ask for "chow mein"?
    #29
    jeepguy
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    RE: What is "chow mein" in your 'hood? 2005/08/22 19:53:21 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by BT

    I'm curious.

    Is it (A) stir-fried (chow) spaghetti-like noodles (mein) with bits of meat and/or veggies; or is it (B) a gloppy mass of veggies and corn starch to be served with rice and little crispy packaged noodles?

    I don't recall encountering anything but (B) on the east coast. Same in Arizona. But here in SF, you ask for "chow mein" you get (A). If/when (B) is available (that's rare), it is called "chop suey" which, I believe, may have been invented hereabouts as food for the imported Chinese working on the railroads. "Chop suey" was also available back east but was somehow distinguished from "chow mein". I was never sure of the difference.
    Just curious, what do you mean by "imported Chinese"? I think they're called immigrants fyi.
    #30
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