What is your favorite noodle stir fry: lo mein or chow mein?
Many of us confuse lo mein for chow mein and vice versa. It is especially common in Chinese American cuisine, where these two names are sometimes used interchangeably. Yet, these two dishes are not the same.
Chow Mein noodles are soaked or par-boiled to make them softer before stir-frying. Chow mein finishes cooking after it is stir-fried with all other ingredients. Lo Mein Noodles are fully cooked and then mixed with stir-fried vegetables, meat, and sauce.
Lo mein dishes are soft and saucy, while chow mein is more on the dry crispier side. The truth is that both dishes use the same dried egg noodles, but the way the noodles are prepared is entirely different. There are more differences between the two delicious noodle stir-fries. So let's dive deeper.
The answer to the question “What is lo mein” is directly translated from Chinese. Lo Mein literally means ‘tossed’ or ‘mixed’ noodles.
捞 pronounced ‘lo’ in Cantonese and ‘lao’ in Mandarin means ‘to toss,’ and 面 pronounced ‘mein’ (or ‘mian’) means ‘noodles.
Lo mein is a dish made using fresh egg noodles that are first fully cooked and then tossed in together with other ingredients and a savory sauce that have been separately stir-fried in a wok. Lo mein is all about mixed vegetables and an optional main protein cooked in a tangy sauce.
This noodle dish is less greasy than chow mein but still relatively high in calories, mainly from the lo mein sauce. Here’s a summary of lo mein characteristics:
Cooking Method: fresh egg noodles are boiled and then tossed together with the other ingredients already cooked in a generous amount of sauce.
Texture: smooth, soft, and chewy.
Sauce: generously covered with a lo mein sauce. The sauce usually contains soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sugar, and sometimes ketchup.
Nutrition: There are fewer calories from oil as the noodles are boiled but more calories and sodium from the sauce.
Chow mein means 'fried noodles' in Chinese, and this is exactly how this dish is different from lo mein.
There are two popular types of chow mein:
Noodles are the main ingredient in both types of chow mein. Other dish elements like vegetables, meat, or seafood are kept to a minimum, and there's only a little bit of sauce to keep the noodles crispy and not soggy. Here's a summary of chow mein characteristics:
Cooking Method: the noodles are parboiled, then stir-fried, and tossed together with the other ingredients.
Texture: Crispy and slightly chewy.
Sauce: Little to no sauce.
Nutrition: Fewer calories and sodium from sauce than lo mein, but more calories from oil.
Both chow mein and lo mein are very common dishes in Chinese cuisine. In China, saying "I'd like Chow Mein, please" is like saying "I'd like pasta" in Italy - you have to be more specific than that.
Many Chinese restaurants serve nothing but chow and lo mein noodle dishes, and they have dozens of items on their menus. There are countless combinations of vegetables, chicken, beef, seafood, eggs placed in front of 'chow mein' or 'lo mein' to specify the type of noodle dish you are ordering.
Many of us confuse lo mein for chow mein and vice versa. It is especially common in Chinese American cuisine, where these two names are sometimes used interchangeably. Yet, these two dishes are not the same. So just remember their translations.
Chow Mein means fried noodles, and Lo Mein means tossed noodles. Both dishes are made using Chinese egg noodles; both are delicious and high in calories.
The main differences are the cooking method, amount of sauce, noodles to other ingredients ratio, and texture.
Now that we have figured out everything about everyone's favorite Chinese noodle dish, it's time to try and make one of them at home.
There is a reason we love these two noodle dishes. Both chow and lo mein are quick, easy to make, and incredibly tasty.
Another reason to make one of these is that, like many Asian-style stir-fries, chow and lo mein are easy to customize according to one's taste. Just mix and match your favorite vegetables with any poultry, meat, or seafood and craft a dish customized for you.
To make any of the recipes below, make sure you have these basic chow mein ingredients at hand:
American Chinese take-out favorite.
When you're craving one of the extra saucy lo mein dishes, try this quick and easy stir fry.
If you’re craving more Asian-inspired flavors, check out this Chinese Fusion Dinners Meal Plan for inspiration.