Chop Suey Sandwich Icon Salem Lowe Closes in August 2022


Loaded with savory, saucy bean sprouts and barely contained by a modest hamburger bun, the chop suey sandwich on the Salem Lowe restaurant is a micro-regional curiosity and a North Shore icon. Locals and guests to Salem, Massachusetts, have been having fun with this summertime staple for many years, disbursed from a modest takeout window positioned in scenic Salem Willows park.

An old-looking restaurant exterior has a takeout window, menu board, and old signage with Coke branding reading Salem Lowe Chinese food.

A man in shorts and a t-shirt stands under a menu board at a casual, old takeout window at a restaurant. Staff hands a brown paper bag through the window.

Present proprietor David Yee dates his iconic restaurant again to 1912; on August 14, he’ll shut it for good, ending an extended legacy of chop suey sandwiches by the ocean.

To not be confused with Fall River’s chow mein sandwich — which incorporates crispy noodles and incorporates a brown gravy — the chop suey sandwich is sort of completely made from bean sprouts, plus bits of hen, in a light, shiny sauce thickened with cornstarch. It may be present in a couple of different spots in Salem that stay in operation, corresponding to Kiki’s and Mei Lee Categorical, however Salem Lowe’s model is what folks speak about once they speak about chop suey sandwiches.

On a current night, one chunk transported me again to the Chinese language American eating places of my youth, the place, in a time-honored Jewish ritual, I typically spent Sunday nights with my nice uncle and aunt, Mickey and Bobbie.

Bobbie, 84, is from Salem and fondly recollects consuming chop suey sandwiches on the Salem Willows within the Forties. She refers to them as “chop suey rolls” and remembers them as “terrible” — however rapidly provides, “I used to like getting them.” At her urging, I drove as much as attempt one, together with Salem Lowe’s different specialty, the pepper steak sandwich: slices of beef with inexperienced bell pepper in a brown gravy.

Sliced steak in brown gravy and sauteed green peppers sit on a hamburger bun in a white styrofoam container.

Salem Lowe’s pepper steak sandwich.

It was a nostalgic scene. The Salem Willows, perched above a cove, is a quintessential New England summer season park, with an old-timey arcade and distributors promoting fried clams and ice cream. Anchoring one finish is Salem Lowe, which doesn’t look 110 years outdated, however it doesn’t look new, both. One diner, Paula D., had pushed from out of city to have a chop suey sandwich (and a pepper steak) one final time. “I grew up in Salem,” she mentioned. “I mentioned to [my husband], we’ve gotta come down earlier than they shut.”

Chop suey takes a wide range of kinds and generally consists of extra greens or different meats. (New Englanders may additionally be accustomed to “American chop suey,” a regional identify for a dish of elbow macaroni with meat sauce — fairly completely different from the Chinese language American chop suey.) Chow mein, which incorporates noodles, may be much like chop suey. At Salem Lowe, the 2 are principally the identical, Yee says, however for chow mein, “we lower the greens somewhat bit otherwise.”

Closeup on a casual restaurant exterior, with part of the menu visible, a flyer announcing the restaurant’s upcoming closure, and a mailbox labelled letters and we will miss you.

The chop suey sandwich — with a value that looks like a relic of one other time, $2.94 — is singular, although it evokes different difficult-to-eat delights just like the sloppy joe. Bobbie remembered appropriately that Salem Lowe serves its sandwiches with a fork, however I began off consuming mine like a taco, with the highest bun cradling the chop suey filling. The mild-flavored combination has notes of hen, celery, and a normal umami, whereas the well-cooked bean sprouts present a delicate textural counterpart to the comfortable bun. Pepper steak ($4.30) has a bit extra punch, with an assertive gravy, meaty taste, and plentiful inexperienced peppers. It additionally appears barely extra at house within the hamburger bun.

Whereas an actual origin story for these sandwiches is hard to pinpoint, Chinese language American eating places within the early- and mid-Twentieth century generally tried to enchantment to Western tastes by serving sure dishes between buns or bread. St. Louis, Missouri, has the St. Paul sandwich (egg foo younger with lettuce, mayo, and pickles on white bread); Fall River’s chow mein sandwich follows an analogous sample. Chop suey and pepper steak sandwiches at Salem Lowe should be thought of on this context — without delay hyperlocal and nationally related, indispensable to the story of Chinese language delicacies in the USA.

Yee has been glad to see ample group help in Salem Lowe’s closing days and appears ahead to retiring regardless of being one of many final remaining stewards of such a singular dish. I didn’t develop up consuming chop suey sandwiches, however the nostalgia I felt in Salem was actual — my aunt Bobbie launched me to Chinese language American meals; Salem Lowe launched it to her. I felt fortunate to shut the circle, even when I’ll by no means eat a chop suey sandwich once more.

A coastal New England park, photographed on a sunny afternoon with long shadows from tall trees.

Salem Willows.

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