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Thursday, January 12, 2012

History of Chow Mein

Chow Mein is a Chinese institution, go to any Chinese restaurant outside of Hong Kong, I mean quite frankly us guys here in the states, and when we talk Chinese food, we automatically think "Chow Mein." Why? It is a simple dish like Italian pasta, made almost by the same methods, it's talking cooked noodles, and tossing it around in some flavorful concoction of herbs, spices, and liquids from stocks, broths, etc.

So how did this dish actually come into play in the culinary world as we know? When I was a kid, in Lahaina, there was a local Chinese dig called Golden Palace, and the place was styled after the Cantonese style of Chinese, sweet and sour sauces, lots of ginger and garlic. They had noodle dishes made from the Chow Mein family and they made it dry, or the made it with a Chinese style gravy or sauce, usually made of seafood. But Chow Mein noodles are really good, made out of egg noodles, dishes come out smelling rich because when the egg noodles hits the hot oil, it releases an aroma that makes you come alive, and Chinese chefs do utilize everything, shrimp sauces, oyster sauces, sesame oils, lots of garlic and ginger, scallions too.

So enough of that, where did this come from? The word Chow Mein came from the people of Taishan, which is a city located in the Pearl River Delta, southwest of Jiangmen. It is 140 km west of Hong Kong and consist of many islets. Taishan is well known for Chinese volleyball. Hmm, Chow Mein and volleyball, cool.

Different regions cooked Chow Mein differently, the chefs in Hong Kong fried the noodles crispy, while the other regions opposite of Hong Kong steamed the noodles, all the while all Chinese chefs used a hot wok to cook the finished product. Here in the U.S. there's differences in how Chow Mein is cooked, most people on the east coast tend to cook Chow Mein Hong Kong style which is crispy, while the west coast counterparts steam the noodles, or lo mein.

This noodle is so popular, that Chinese travelers introduced this type of noodles to many countries, India uses a noodle similar to Chow Mein, the Filipino's adapted Chow Mein and made their own called pancit, it is a very interesting noodle like the pasta noodle.

The noodle is made very simply, but it tastes really good, and can be purchased dried, and then boiled to loosen it up before hitting the wok, or fresh, and it still needs to be cooked in hot water, strained and then stir fried. A chef or home cook can use these noodles for a soup, by simply stir frying favorite ingredients and adding a soup stock to a boil, and adding in the noodles at the last minute, these noodles become a great noodle for Asian soups.
Subgum  Chow Mein
Subgum Chow Mein is the standard dish in American Chinese digs, usually with the noodles, meat, seafood, and vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, shitake mushrooms, and a nice thickened broth. It is a Cantonese style Chow Mein.


  1. So how do you make the stuff?

  2. what year was it "invented"

  3. There's just too many answers, from centuries ago, to travelers going all over Asia and Europe, and sharing the noodles. I just like to eat it quite frankly :)..