The Untold Truth of Chow Mein

Although chow mein has changed over time and travel, the dish’s roots go deep into Chinese history, all the way back to the Han dynasty, according to some historians. The Han dynasty spanned from 206 BC to 220 AD according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which houses several fine relics from the era. This places the origins of chow mein at the same time as Rome and Egypt. The dish may, in fact, be older than Cleopatra.

These are well seasoned noodles.

While the dish was not called “chow mein” so early, Flavor and Fortune report that the noodles were important enough to be included in burial offerings during the Han dynasty. However, they did not appear exclusively in savory dishes. Some noodles have become candies. The practice of eating chow mein with chopsticks is also a fairly recent change, and Flavor and Fortune reveals that ancient Chinese diners consumed their noodles with a spoon.

A recipe for a dish very similar to chow mein also appeared in a Song dynasty cookbook, which lasted from 960 to 1279 CE. The dish has obviously evolved as new cooking techniques have become popular and the people who prepared it have shared it with other cultures. Remember that American chow mein and Hakka chow mein from India have the basics in common, but the flavors have had over a hundred years to become unique experiences.

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