Thursday, March 13, 2008

What! No Ketchup! All About Chow Mein...


Chinese cuisine with ketchup might seem an odd combination but the word itself has its roots in a Chinese fish sauce about the consistancy of soy sauce, and it contained no tomatoes. I grew up eating things like chow mein doused with regular tomato ketchup, a habit I picked up from my dad.

He was stationed in India during World War II and hated the food on base. The meat, he said, was tough and chewy boiled water buffalo. In places like Bombay and Calcutta there were lots of Chinese restaurants serving various dishes made with chicken and pork. He really didn't care all that much for the taste of Chinese food but he discovered that doused with ketchup, that he could get on base, it tasted pretty good. Like he said, during war time even pork with enough ketchup on it just might be Kosher. Anyway, he developed a liking for Chinese food with ketchup.

As a little kid he'd often take me to eat lunch at The China Clipper restaurant on Purchase St. in New Bedford, MA. They had a neon sign out front outlining the shape of a huge seaplane, a "China clipper". We'd eat won-ton soup and chicken chow mein and he showed me just how much ketchup to put on the stuff. I developed a taste for the combination. I must have been at least twelve before I discovered that it was really a bit odd to put tomato ketchup on chow mein, but by then I was hooked!

Another dozen or so years went by before I discovered that the word had its roots in Chinese and that there really shouldn't be anything strange about using it in a Chinese restaurant, but in this photo I'm not using ketchup. I'd stopped off at Wong's on U.S. 1 for the first time in years and I wanted to sample the chow mein "straight" before "seasoning to taste". It was pretty damned good!

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