“Chow mein” and “chop suey"—both American appropriations of Cantonese words—have been part of the American English vocabulary since the late 19th century. With the end of mining and railway building as viable industries, Chinese food service establishments, along with hand laundries, became the major economic opportunity available to Chinese immigrants, as well as a crucial site of cultural exchange. Americanized Chinese food became an important part of the food landscape.
Chan’s Fine Oriental Dining, Jazz & Blues first opened in Woonsocket in 1905 as the New Shanghai Restaurant. A Chinese-American restaurant, Chan’s continues to offer variations on chop suey, chow mein, and fried rice.
In 1965, Ben F. Chan purchased the space, refurbished the dining area, and changed the name to Chan’s Fine Oriental Dining. In 1986, the restaurant doubled in size and added jazz, blues, folk, cabaret, and comedy performances. The space hosts acclaimed musicians while also providing familiar food options for locals.
A notable regional specialty is the chow mein sandwich, an amalgam of French Canadian, Italian, and Chinese cultures. Popularized in the predominantly Catholic towns of Fall River, New Bedford, and Woonsocket, Chinese restaurants and food trucks offered meatless sandwiches on Fridays in observance of religious strictures. The chow mein sandwich is served on a hamburger bun with noodles and a brown gravy made with onions, celery, and bean sprouts. An affordable and filling lunch option for textile mill workers, the chow mein sandwich also appeared in school cafeterias and on lunch counter menus. The sandwich signals the adaptation of traditional Cantonese cuisine to the tastes of Anglo-Americans.
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Maggie Unverzagt Goddard, “Chan’s Fine Oriental Dining, Jazz & Blues,” Rhode Tour, accessed July 7, 2020, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/65.