Chopsticks Sandwiches is probably one of the lowest effort dishes in Barbie’s Easy-as-Pie Cookbook. And let’s just address the name and issues with ‘ethnic’ recipes in vintage cookbooks upfront. Reference to chopsticks aside, this is an American recipe. It comes in the middle of the Sandwiches, Salads, and Snacks chapter, and wisely contains no story vignette or Barbie-based flavor text at all. As a white girl who maybe kind of definitely wore a cheongsam to her senior prom in the 90s, let me tell you. Cultural appropriation does not age well, and naïveté is no excuse for it. I am more than happy to be spared whatever Barbie and Midge might have had to say about Chinese food in 1964.
I should backtrack and point out that the recipe might have been low effort in Barbie’s day, but it proved challenging in ours, as its main ingredient is frozen chow mein, and that… is not so easy to find it turns out. Both Donna and I were stymied in our early efforts. Still, the recipe appealed to my lazy side, to say nothing of the side of me that thinks that American Chinese food served with butter on a bun sounds … pretty good, actually. (Don’t judge me!)
The internet promised me that the product does still exist, although not in a form Barbie would have recognized, and eventually, I stumbled upon a carton of Tai Pei’s chicken chow mein in the freezer section of my grocery store. Score! (Note: The history of Chinese food in America is a really rich rabbit hole to fall into if you have some free time. You could start here!) I grabbed some hamburger buns and peanuts and was all ready for a delicious* if not culturally authentic lunch.
*At least, I hoped it would be delicious.
Chopsticks Sandwiches (Please don’t eat them with chopsticks.)
- 1 package frozen chicken chow mein
- 1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped
- 2 hamburger buns (Barbie specifies “split.” I have never encountered a hamburger bun that was not split for me already!)
- Soy sauce
Pre-heat broiler to high while you follow package directions to make the chow mein. Tai Pei’s uses the microwave. Melt butter in a teflon coated nonstick skillet or griddle over high heat. (SEE NOTE!) Once the chow mein is finished per package directions, empty the container onto the hot skillet and spread the noodles and everything into a single, even layer. Let cook without stirring for about 3-5 minutes, until the noodles start to get crispy and brown on the bottoms.
While the cooked chow mein is frying, set two hamburger buns cut side up under the broiler for a scant minute and a half, until browned. Butter both halves generously.
Add chopped peanuts to the chow mein and mix well. Discover that fried chow mein doesn’t really like to be contained to a bun, but do your best to pile the mixture on the bottom half anyway. Sprinkle it with a few drops of soy sauce and top with the other half of the bun.
-Adapted from Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook
- While frozen chow mein was difficult to find, frozen LO mein was everywhere. Google told me the main difference between the two dishes is that chow mein has fried noodles, whereas lo mein just has “stirred or tossed” noodles. So imagine my disappointment when the chow mein that I finally found had no fried element to it at all. Luckily (?) I have been really into fried ramen these days, and it was pretty easy to transfer the noodle frying technique from that dish over to this one. I usually fry my ramen separately from the vegetables and sauce that I eat it with, but doing the chow mein with the meat and veg and everything mixed in worked fine and even gave the chicken a nice golden crust that the folks at Tai Pei did not bother with.
- Oh, and the point of all that is that you can probably use the sam technique with frozen lo mein and get a very similar dish.
- Speaking of fried noodles, DO NOT try this technique if you do not have a teflon coated non-stick pan. (I don’t, so I actually do mine on a teflon coated non-stick electric griddle.) I didn’t actually ruin any pans in the process of learning this (they came clean … eventually), but the crispy bits that are the whole point of the endeavor will not make it to your plate, and you will have to spend a lot of time scrubbing what should have been delicious from your pan and into the disposal.
- Barbie says to butter only the bottom half of the bun, and lightly at that. I’m sure Barbie’s Noom coach is a lot happier with her than mine usually is with me. The appeal of this dish was in the butter, and I made the most of it.
So, how did it taste? Well, Barbie’s recipe had no soy sauce, and my recreation of it didn’t either at first. And it was kind of bland? So, like any American who wants more flavor in her Chinese food, I added some. Just a little! And wow. The butter and soy sauce combination triggered one of those beautiful “feels so good it must be wrong” moments of food ecstasy. I LOVED this. My only regret was that I made it in the full and sober light of the afternoon and not under the effects of late night drunk hungries. (From here on, I plan to keep frozen Chinese food around so that I’m prepared for the next occasion of said hungries, though.)