On the face of it, a chow mein sandwich seems an impossibility. Chow mein is a noodle dish and a sandwich is something between two slices of bread. How can the two be merged ? Well, it seems they can and they have been.
The history of the chow mein sandwich is an interesting one. During the Great Depression, in 1930’s America, some enterprising Chinese American eateries in Fall River, Massachusetts created it to satisfy the needs of hungry, impoverished patrons. The sandwiches – hamburger buns stuffed with crispy noodles, meat and vegetables, all doused with brown gravy – were more filling than regular chow mein and yet cheaper. Workers from the textile mills, students and families flocked to the restaurants for the hefty sandwiches which only cost a nickel. The sandwiches sometimes came in a hot dog bun, less frequently between two slices of white bread. They were either ” strained ” ( meaning” without vegetables”) or “unstrained”. Patrons who did not like noodles could order a chop suey sandwich and those who could not make up their minds could ask for a half and half. Usually the sandwiches were consumed with French fries and a can of orange soda. Sounds perfectly ghastly, doesn’t it ? But as a cheap belly filler, these sandwiches could not be beat. Their popularity spread all over Southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island and even as far as Coney Island in Brooklyn. Even today they are sold in schools and senior citizen centers in the Fall River vicinity though they are less seen elsewhere. One must remember that these sandwiches were invented in the days before McDonalds and Burger King. In addition to being affordable, they had the virtue of portability.
The chow mein sandwich came into being out of economic necessity but the noodle burger was a fad and a short lived one at that. It first saw the light of day in Japan and it consisted of a meat patty between two rounds of crispy ramen noodles. It made the leap across the Pacific and debuted in New York City about four years ago. In it’s heyday, people stood in line for up to two hours to get one and this scene was repeated in Los Angeles. One customer was quoted as saying it was ” the best thing he ever ate” ( some people will like anything trendy! ) but others called it what it was: a novelty that had nothing to recommend it except that it was something new. Nowadays, you don’t hear much about noodle burgers. Their meteoric rise and return to obscurity was to be repeated later by the cronut, that cross between a croissant and a donut. I haven’t heard about cronuts lately. Have you?