Chow mein sandwiches unique to the Fall River area are known to aficionados of regional food; but the chop suey sandwiches of Salem Lowe are distinctly local. They have remained a beloved summertime snack mostly because of Salem Lowe’s position next to the ice cream parlor at the end of the Salem Willows Park.
Although it is more a park concession stand than a proper restaurant, Salem Lowe offers a large menu, all ready to take-out. Most people come for the peculiar sandwiches stuffed with starchy stir-fries. Of these, the most famous is a chop suey sandwich. This is a fry-up of vegetables and a few threads of chicken bound by a starchy clear sauce and scooped onto a hamburger bun. The dish is about three-quarters bean sprouts and tastes more like table salt than soy sauce. Bean sprouts suspended in gloppy sauce might not sound delicious, but we have a soft spot for this old-fashioned American wok cooking, and we enjoy the simple sandwich immensely.
Even without the gimmick of the sandwich rolls, the chop suey at Salem Lowe would deserve celebration. It’s a chowder-thick slurry of the market’s cheapest vegetables seasoned until they taste as rich as marrow: a quintessential peasant dish.
When you order, you will be asked if you’d prefer your sandwich in a take-out container or in a paper cone. The cones are designed for eating while strolling, which is what you should do. It’s droll to imagine someone trying to eat this sloppy mess as an actual sandwich. The preferred technique is to pick at the chop suey with a fork while walking. As you eat it, the soft bread folds into the slurry.
Eager to delve further into the realm of Massachusetts’ unique Chinese sandwich roster, we ordered a pepper steak sandwich as well. We puzzled at how a sandwich that was mostly steak could cost almost the same as a sandwich that is mostly bean sprouts. When we took a bite, it became evident. You’ve been warned.
Many regulars order hot dogs or hamburgers or a pupu platter. Our favorite appetizer is egg rolls. These are fresh and hot with five-spice laced pork cocooned into a fluffy fried wonton wrapper.
Originally set aside for convalescing small pox victims to walk along the willow trees, the park’s boardwalk is now a place to find respite from more fashionable parts of the New England coastline or to escape the hokey witch-trial tourism of central Salem.