lo mein vs chow mein

Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein: The Differences and Easy Recipes

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Tamara
April 26, 2022
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Who hasn’t found themselves at a Chinese restaurant deciding – lo mein vs. chow mein? Lo Mein noodles and Chow Mein fried noodles are two of the most popular noodle dishes, and we’re going to break down the differences between chow mein and lo mein for you. Never confuse chow mein with lo mein again! We also have some pointers for these famous dishes if you want to expand your at-home cooking horizons with a new dish!

lo mein vs chow mein noodles, stir fried noodles, lo mein dish

Lo Mein vs. Chow Mein – The Key Differences

“Lo” means stirred, and “chow” means fried (roughly). So chow mein noodles are fried, and lo mein noodles are stir-fried. While both are egg noodle-based dishes, you’ll usually only see a difference in Chinese restaurants on the East Coast of the U.S., where both are served.

On the West Coast, “lo mein” isn’t typically used, and “chow mein” is served steamed style but crispier than Italian pasta.

The most crucial difference is the texture, chow mein will have crispier noodles, and lo mein will have softer noodles.

What is Lo Mein?

“Lo Mein” translates to “stirred noodles.” Lo Mein refers to the preparation method instead of a specific combination of foods.

However, when used on a menu, Lo Mein refers to a dish consisting of soft wheat flour noodles, vegetables, and protein, usually some chicken, pork, or beef. The noodles are tossed in a wok with a sauce made from oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and sometimes garlic or ginger. The noodles are then separated and served dry.

lo mein noodles, tossed noodles, fresh noodles

History of Lo Mein

The Lo Mein you know and love is an American adaptation of the Chinese original. Cantonese lo mein sauce, the regional variation of origin, is a much thinner sauce and the toppings are added after the sauce is separated.

American lo mein, which you will be served at a restaurant, will usually concentrate on the savory sauce to enhance the flavor profile of the entire dish. American Chinese restaurants will also add more toppings, like; beef, pork, wontons, and more to the dish!

Lo Mein Key Ingredients

There are a few essential ingredients you’ll find in lo mein, and you can adapt a lot of these to make substitutions for special diets if you want to make lo mein on your own.

  • Chinese Egg Noodles – wheat noodles with egg added. You can substitute any noodles you want. I’ve used gluten-free jovial egg pasta as a substitute to make this comfort dish a bit healthier.
  • Sauce – The sauce is usually a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, or hoisin sauce, but it can also include oyster sauce and a thickening agent.
  • Protein Toppings – The toppings for lo mein are endless, but you’ll typically find some combination of chicken, pork, shrimp, or beef.
  • Vegetable Toppings – As far as vegetables go, mushrooms, onions, carrots, bok choy, celery, bean sprouts, and cabbage are all popular choices.
lo mein vs chow mein, lo mein dish, fresh egg noodles

How to Make Lo Mein Noodles

Lo mein variations are endless, so here are the easy steps to make any variation of lo mein you want. All you’ll need is a wok or a saute pan.

  1. Boil Chinese egg noodles in a pot until al dente. You don’t want to overcook because you’ll cook them a little more in the sauce near the end.
  2. In a small bowl, mix your sauce. You can use anything you have in your fridge. Use 1/2 tablespoon of base sauce per person. I use coconut aminos, but soy sauce is what restaurants use. Tweak it any way you like.
  3. (Optional) Marinade protein with the sauce.
  4. (Optional) Cook protein in a wok or a saute pan.
  5. Remove the protein (if using), and cook your vegetable toppings in the same pan.
  6. Before the vegetables are done, add the noodles (and protein) and any remaining sauce. Toss to coat the noodles with the sauce.

Enjoy your delicious homemade lo mein!

What is Chow Mein?

“Chow Mein” is a loose Chinese translation for “fried noodles.” Like lo mein, chow mein is made of egg noodles, a sauce, and various toppings, but the main difference lies in the preparation.

History of Chow Mein (Fried Noodles in America)

While chow mein is most popular in the West, it originated in Northern China. In Northern China, chow mein is made with hand-pulled wheat flour noodles boiled and stir-fried. Chinese immigrants brought the dish to America by Chinese immigrants in the 1800s. Chow mein has since been adapted to be more like the Cantonese version.

There are distinct versions of chow mein. On the West Coast, it is softer as noodles are usually steamed, and on the East Coast, noodles are generally crispier, and most restaurants serve lo mein as a softer option.

Chow Mein Key Ingredients

There are a few essential ingredients you’ll find in chow mein. You can adapt a lot of these to make substitutions for special diets if you want to make chow mein on your own.

  • Egg Noodles – wheat noodles with egg added. You can substitute any type of noodles you want. I’ve used gluten-free jovial egg pasta as a substitute to make this comfort dish a bit healthier.
  • Sauce – The sauce is usually a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, or hoisin sauce, but it can also include oyster sauce and a thickening agent.
  • Protein Toppings – The toppings for lo mein are endless, but you’ll typically find some combination of chicken, pork, shrimp, or beef.
  • Vegetable Toppings – As far as vegetables go, mushrooms, onions, carrots, bok choy, celery, and cabbage are all popular choices.
chow mein recipes, chow mein dish, chow mein sauce

How to Make Chow Mein Noodles

Chow mein variations are endless, so here are the easy steps to make any variation of chow mein you want. All you’ll need is a wok or a saute pan.

  1. Boil egg noodles in a pot until al dente. You don’t want to overcook the noodles because you’ll cook them more in the sauce near the end.
  2. Drain the noodles and use an oiled frying pan to cook the noodles as if you were cooking a pancake. Cook both sides until the noodles are at desired crispness.
  3. In a small bowl, mix your sauce. You can use anything you have in your fridge. Use 1/2 tablespoon of base sauce per person. I use coconut aminos, but soy sauce is what restaurants use. Tweak it any way you like.
  4. (Optional) Marinade protein with the sauce.
  5. (Optional) Cook protein in a wok or a saute pan.
  6. Remove the protein (if using), and cook your vegetable toppings in the same pan.
  7. Add all of the toppings to the crisp chow mein noodles.

Enjoy your delicious homemade chow mein!

Wrap-Up

So there you have it, chow mein vs. lo mein. Two delicious dishes are often confused with one another. I hope this post helped clear up any confusion and even inspired you to try making chow mein or lo mein at home. All you need is a saute pan and some egg noodles!

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or suggestions. Happy cooking!

Tamara

Tamara is an avid foodie and successful restaurateur. She has dedicated a large chunk of her life to researching healthy food recipes and diet plans, and also teaching people how to improve their eating habits. Using Eatomology, Tamara shares the very best diet plans, cookbooks, and more. Also, for those on a quest to improve their kitchen, Tamara shares some awesome and high-quality kitchen equipment recommendations as well as buying guides on her website.