Proust:madeleines = Me:Cantonese Chow Mein

The food: Old Time Cantonese Chow Mein


The story:

When I was a child in the 1960’s, my family went out regularly to Chinatown restaurants in Toronto to eat Chinese-Canadian food: Cantonese chow mein, shrimp with lobster sauce, bean cake with BBQ pork and the like. The food may have been inauthentic but was still beloved, especially by me.

Now that all the restaurants we used to visit have closed, or become embarrassingly anachronistic (Sea-Hi on Bathurst Street, I’m looking at you), I still pine for some old-time religion chow mein, and occasionally try to hunt down a recipe for it that will match my memory of its taste.


I used shrimp and chicken in my latest attempt to recreate the dish, and added some broccoli and orange pepper I had in the fridge to the baby bok choy I’d bought specially. E, who has no childhood association with chow mein and might even be predisposed against it, liked how it came out. Mind you, he also thought his addition of roast cashews made all the difference.

I liked it too, but did the taste of a mouthful take me back, in an instant, to my childhood, to sitting in Kwong Chow on Elizabeth Street, en famille, slurping up noodles, listening to my father tell stories and my mother tell us to sit up straight and put our napkins on our laps? No. For that elusive flavour, I’m still searching.

Cantonese Chow Mein

1 c. cooked shredded chicken
8 or 10 jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined (thawed if frozen)
2 tsp. lemon juice
½ c. shiitake mushrooms caps, chopped
1. c. chopped broccoli
1. red, yellow or orange pepper, chopped in 1 in. strips
2. c. chopped baby bok choy
2 tsp. minced ginger
1 lb. fresh chow mein noodles
2 T. sesame oil
Vegetable spray
Handful of roasted cashews


3 T. Soy sauce
1/4 c. oyster sauce
¼ c. white wine
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp. corn starch

1. Combine sauce ingredients in bowl. Set aside.
2. Add noodles to large pot of boiling water. Cook, stirring often to separate and declump, for about 3 minutes. Drain and toss with sesame oil.
3. Spray large skillet with vegetable oil spray. Fry noodles in 2 batches, like a pancake, browning both sides and turning once. Remove to serving dish, keep warm in low temperature oven.
4. Clean out skillet. Add 1 T. vegetable oil, and ginger, put pan on medium high heat. When ginger is hot and spitting, add shrimp, sauté 1-2 minutes until pink on one side. Turn, add lemon juice, sauté another 1-2 minutes. Remove to bowl.
5. Clean out skillet. Add 1 T. vegetable oil and mushrooms, broccoli, and pepper. Sauté 2 – 3 minutes at medium high heat until lightly browned. Add sauce, chicken, shrimp and bok choy, stir in, let liquid come to a boil and cover with pot lid for 1 minute.
6. Remove pot lid. Turn out saucy mixture onto warm fried noodles.
7. Garnish with roasted cashews if desired.

2 thoughts on “Proust:madeleines = Me:Cantonese Chow Mein

  1. Debbie Sebesta says:

    I really enjoyed your piece on Chinatown restaurants of old with particular mention of Kwon Chow’s. My family used to frequent this restaurant back in the 60’s as well. I have fond memories of their Chicken Soo Guy with almond sauce. I loved this almond sauce. In your quest for authentic recipes from this establishment if you ever come accross it please please send it to me. Plenty of restaurants have this on their menus but sadly it is accompanied by brown gravey.

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