Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nankin Restaurant and Subgum Chicken Chow Mein

photo planet99.com

When I was a kid, my parents would occasionally go to Minneapolis and take me with them. Invariably, although it is now only a two-hour drive, it seemed to take long enough that we needed to stop in New Richmond at a cafe for a coffee break.

My favorite thing about going to 'The Cities' then was eating at the Nankin Restaurant. To a child, the place seemed huge and exotic - with a large open staircase to the second floor dining room and chandeliers and huge Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceilings. It was a busy, noisy place, and it seemed as though any minute Lucielle Ball and Desi Arnaz might walk past our table. They never did.

I always ordered Chicken Subgum Chow Mein. I loved that stuff, and am pretty sure I managed to eat the entire thing, for the nearest thing we got to it at home was a can of La Choy. (My mother was a great cook - it's just that Chinese food wasn't her strong suit.)

The other day I decided to try to find the recipe, and came across a 2007 Washington Post article that contained a recipe by Mary Giambruno of Victoria, Minnesota, who 'has been working on re-creating this dish for years, inspired by the chow mein served at the old Nankin Cafe in Minneapolis.'

Here's a photo of my attempt at Mary Giambruno's Chicken Subgum Chow Mein:

Chicken Subgum Chow Mein by Mary Giambruno


3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
3 ribs celery, sliced
1 large white onion, sliced
button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2-3T. peanut oil
1 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth plus 1/3 c. for the sauce
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. bead molasses or dark brown sugar
1 T. brown gravy or dry sherry
Freshly ground black pepper
3 c. bean sprouts
1 T. corn starch
1/4 c. toasted whole almonds

Heat oil in a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the chicken and cook..until the chicken is lightly browned and cooked through. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the onion to the wok or pan and cook...for 3 to 4 minutes, until soft and lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium; add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes, until they have exuded their liquid. Transfer to the bowl with the onions and set aside.

Add the celery to the wok or pan, adding the remaining oil as necessary and cook, stirring for 3-4 minutes, just until crisp-tender. Transfer to the bowl with the onions and mushrooms.

(I combined some of these steps, stir-frying the celery first, then adding the onions to them, then lastly the mushrooms. Saves time.)

Over medium heat, return the chicken to the wok or pan; add 1 1/2 c. chicken broth...

Add the soy sauce, bead molasses or brown sugar, (I used 1 t. actual dark molasses) brown gravy or sherry, and salt and pepper to taste. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until the sauce begins to bubble at the edges. Add the bean sprouts and the cooked vegetable mixture, stirring to combine; cook for 3-4 minutes until the bean sprouts have wilted. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and remaining 1/3 c. chicken broth, mixing well to combine. Add the cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly until the gravy is thickened.

Sprinkle...with toasted almonds. Serve hot.

Okay. So that's it. I added another T. cornstarch because the sauce was too thin without it, and I used Bragg's Liquid Aminos instead of soy sauce.

Was it good??   Yes.
Did it taste like the old Nankin Restaurant Subgum Chicken Chow Mein that I remembered??  No.

I suspect that the missing ingredient was the poison I regularly ingested as a child: MSG.  I now know better and wouldn't touch the stuff. But I think that was probably what made the difference. That and the absence of Chinese lanterns.

It was pretty tasty, however, and I sprinkled just a few rice noodles on the top before serving. You can always have a bowl of rice on the table too, but I'd rather save the carbs for a piece of dark chocolate. Why on earth didn't I buy Ritter when I was at Walmart today?!

As we were eating, my husband asked me what kind of bean sprouts were used. I told him I thought they were probably lentils, mung beans and garbanzo beans, but I wasn't sure. He said, 'Maybe they should use baked beans, so that they would taste better.'  Very funny.

I wish the Nankin Restaurant were still in Minneapolis. I bet they could make the subgum chow mein taste great even without MSG. And I could still enjoy watching those smartly-dressed waiters carrying large trays of food up that huge staircase.

P.S. Mongolian Fire Oil didn't help.

Author, Second Chance - A Tale of Two Puppies
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Unknown said...

Well, it looks fantastic..sorry it didn't deliver on the memory of the old one. It's sad when such a big part of our childhood disappears like that.

Andrea the Kitchen Witch said...

It looks like chow mein from my childhood! Which is a good thing :) I think I'll try a slightly modified version of this for my family (celery's not their favorite, sigh) Sorry the tastes weren't what you were looking for, but now you have a great base to work upon :) What a fun memory of a delicious childhood dish!

Midwest to Midlands said...

I used to love Chow Mein but haven't had it for ages. Thanks for reminding me.

Caution/Lisa said...

I have never mastered any Asian dish and now I feel better that I won't have to try this recipe. It surely was pretty though.

Lisa said...

Looks delicious! Definitely worth the trip!

Ma What's 4 dinner said...

Mmmmm!!! Looks amazing. Do you deliver in those cute little take out boxes? :)

Lots of yummy love,
Alex aka Ma What's For Dinner

J_on_tour said...

I need to be more adventurous like this with cooking chinese food. Sorry that the taste was not the MSG flavour that you remember !
I remember when I was younger pestering my Parents for a real chinese meal out for my birthday at a specific restaurant that we passed between the bus station and the shopping centre of Newcastle. One day they relented and we entered and climbed the steps to the upstairs unachievable location. I then discovered to my horror that they told me a story about when they were dating that my Mother got a fly in her starter and this was the first time that they had re-visited a chinese restaurant in 15 years... Although I enjoyed the food, I never asked again, never visited it again and has since closed down as the geography of that part of the city centre changed.

Unknown said...

Well Dang! At least you tried! We don't have much to choose from either in my little corner of the world when it comes to cuisine from other countries. West Lafayette, thanks I am sure to Purdue and its multi-cultural students DOES have a few good places to visit when we get down there.

Tiffanee said...

It looks delicious!! I love chow mein. What a great memory.

Yenta Mary said...

That looks SO good, even if it's not quite what you remember. Food memories are hard to match, because -- as you noted -- there are so many other factors involved. MSG? Your parents? The lanterns? Any or all of them could be the key. But it's still an excellent dinner, and a wonderful memory ... :)

Candace said...

Chow mein is one of my favorites and yours looks fantastic, Judy! I'm sorry it wasn't the same as you remembered. I have had a hard time too recreating my food memories in the past. I'm saving this one to try. My son absolutely loves Chinese food and he will be so surprised if I whip this up for him the next time that he is in town. Thank you!

Deborah said...

Well this looks really good. Look at all the wonderful veggies. (celery is so good for you and helps bring down high blood pressure) I love oriental food. The name of the dish made me laugh. It sounded like the name of the next sub sandwich at Subway marketed to kids...SubGum sandwich. lol! The almonds are always a nice addition to any meal, sweet or otherwise. Thanks for sharing. :)

partialemptynester said...

What a wonderful post!!!! This is what blogging is all about...taking us places we've never known! I love it! Oooh, and it does sound tasty, although, yes, probably didn't taste the same as the ol' MSG way...lol...I had some authentic Thai Curry Chicken the other night and the next day I had rings around my ankles where my socks were...just can't do that kind of food anymore without noticeable signs of having eaten it!

Ott, A. said...

Just Stopping by from TMTT. I've never made chow mein, but you are encouraging me to give it a try. I wanted to invite you to check out my Iron Chef Challenge This month's themed ingredient is canned tomatoes, so link up a recipe using those and you could win a prize. It should be a lot of fun, hope you can join us!!

Unknown said...

Wow that looks amazing!

Hiya! Newest follower from the Wandering Wednesday Blog Hop-- please stop by and say hello! Would love if ya followed back!

Unknown said...

I want to invite you to join in on a RECIPE LINK PARTY on my blog!


"Made it on Monday" is a WEEKLY recipe link party. So you can post as often as you want.
*There will be prizes often* :)

I hope to see some of your recipes soon.

Unknown said...

That looks amazing! I have a few recipes from my favorite restaurants, but they never taste the same. Maybe it is the MSG! Thanks for sharing with us on Made From Scratch Tuesday!

Anonymous said...

I was looking for other nankin cafe style subgum chow mein recipes to share this recipe with, maybe try this one!


Robert Moore said...

My Dad would bring home take away Chicken Subgum from the Nankin. The 1960/70's "food casserole" style of Minnesota-Chinese doesn't seem exist any more.

DaveDave said...

If you miss Nankin, visit David Fong's in Bloomington, Mn -- on Lyndale. Delicious!! And the fancy, swanky, sixties interior is still the same.

It's a time machine for your taste buds and eyes. I live in Austin, Texas now but I visit Fongs every time I visit the folks. ... from dave ... David Fong's 9329 Lyndale Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55420 (952) 888-9294

Anonymous said...

I too have many fond memories of the Nankin in downtown Minneapolis. I use to take the bus downtown with my little brother and it was always so magical what with the lanterns, the exotic waiters and the best subgum chow mein in the world. I have a recipe for chicken chow mein in a very old Betty Crocker cookbook. It is the closest I have come to bringing the taste of the Nankin home. Let me know if you would like it.

Unknown said...

I know this post is old, but I’m doing some research on the Nankin because I have a nickel silver bowl that is engraved with “Nankin Cafe” on the rim of the bowl and on the underside. Do you happen to remember them having silver bowls? If so, what years where you there? It’s about 6” across, possibly for a side dish or salad. Just curious to see if I can narrow down what era of the Nankin’s history this bowl is from. Thanks!


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