Chow Mein vs Lo Mein – Main differences and curiosities [with Recipes]

chow mein vs lo mein

I don’t know about you, but I love Chinese food. What I don’t love is that heavy, bloated feeling I get after eating it from most restaurants. Cooking Chinese food at home means I can control what I do (and don’t) put into the dish. If I want more veggies, great! If I want my food a little spicier or a little less spicy today? Let’s do it! Since one of the biggest reasons to cook food at home is that you get to eat exactly what you want, I always go straight for my favorite Chinese foods when I want Chinese at home. I’m talking about noodles, of course. Delicious noodles covered in sauce, tossed with veggies, or both. What’s not to love? The most popular types of Chinese noodles actually get mixed up pretty frequently thanks to their similar names, but they’re both really good. Right now, we’re going to look a little closer at chow mein vs lo mein, their differences and similarities. Then, I’ll share a recipe for each!

 

chow mein

 

Where Chow Mein and Lo Mein originate from

Chow mein and lo mein both originate from China. These dishes have been around for a long time. Lo mein, especially, has been around for two thousand years.

That’s a long time!

Eventually, people started frying their noodles after the noodles were already cooked, and so chow mein was born in Northern China. It started getting popular in the United States around the 1850s, so it’s not exactly a new arrival, either.

Both these dishes are made with egg noodles (Asian style, not the wavy kind). This gives them that perfectly dense texture that’s so fun to slurp up when they’re covered in sauce. Both chow mein and lo mein are usually made with or served with vegetables and a soy-based sauce.

And obviously, both dishes are delicious.

 

Chow Mein Vs Lo Mein Main Differences

Chow mein and lo mein have a few differences. The biggest one, and the one that makes the most difference between the two noodle dishes, is that chow mein is fried, and lo mein is not.

Let’s look at the names for a second. Mein in English translates to noodles. Chow translates to fried or stir-fried, while lo translates to tossed or stirred. If you can remember that, it’s actually really easy, because the difference is right there in the name:

Chow Mein = Fried Noodles

Lo Mein = Tossed Noodles

That’s the main difference (or is it the mein difference!?), but there can be a few other differences, too, depending on where you are and who’s preparing it. If you’re the one preparing it, you can mix and match as you see fit, but these are the general trends.

 

Chow Mein

Is made from either fresh or dried noodles. Because chow mein is fried after it’s boiled, the outside gets a tougher texture that works great with either type of noodle. If it’s easier to keep dried noodles in the house than fresh ones, you might want to try a chow mein dish.

Is made with either round noodles or flat ones. There’s a similar dish, chow mei fun, that’s made with thin rice noodles or rice sticks instead. Basically, stir-fried dishes tend to work well with whatever is handy.

Sometimes has less sauce or fewer veggies; the star here is supposed to be the textured noodles.

 

Lo Mein

Is usually made using fresh noodles. Fresh noodles really shine when they’re cooked this way, and it gives the taste and texture both a boost.

Is almost always made using round noodles.

Sometimes has more sauce or fresher veggies.

 

That’s basically it! These really are very similar dishes, but the handful of differences really impact the final result.

 

chow mein recipe

 

Chow Mein Recipe

Confession: for a long time, I didn’t think I liked Chinese food.

I know, I know. That’s horrible, right? It’s so delicious that seems impossible. Then, finally, as a college student, I tried chow mein after a friend accidentally ordered it.

Yum.

Okay, so I know now that this particular chow mein was pretty overcooked (which is something you can do if you like it that way!), but there was just something about the harder, fried outsides of the noodles and the barely-soft inside of the noodles that intensified the flavor. I ate until I was full, and then I ate it for the next several meals until I ran out.

Now I’ve come to like it cooked a little bit more traditionally. It’s still the same principles, with a fried outside and soft inside, but I don’t cook them quite as long, so there’s a little more burst of flavor and texture from the center of the noodles.

 

Here’s what you’ll need to make delicious chow mein at home:

  • Package of noodles. What kind you get is up to you. You can get fresh noodles or even pre-cooked ones. You can get a package of dried noodles, preferably Asian-style, but in a pinch, you can use fettuccine noodles. I often use ramen noodles, but this is also not really a traditional preparation.
  • Vegetables. Fresh veggies make the best choice in this dish, but you can use frozen if you need to. I usually get a fresh stir-fry mix from my local grocery store. Common veggies for chow mein include bok choy and bean sprouts, as well as mushrooms or carrots and snow peas.
  • Cooking oil. If you’re looking for a more traditional taste or something like you’d get at Chinese takeout, you might want to use canola oil. I like the taste of extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, but both of these do change the flavor profile a bit.
  • Ginger and garlic. Fresh is always a great option here, but frozen is often just as good. Other versions are okay, but if you’re using a concentrated version of these flavorings, make sure you adjust the amounts accordingly. Most prepared garlic and ginger come with conversion amounts on the container.
  • Sauce(s). You can use either a mixture of soy sauce and oyster sauce, or you can buy a pre-made chow mein sauce. If you like your sauce a little sweet, you’ll want some sugar on hand. If you like it a little spicy, Sriracha is a great addition.
  • Salt and pepper. Your basic salt and pepper, to taste!
  • (Optional) Meat. While this recipe doesn’t include a meat, it’s really easy to toss your meat of choice in with this dish. Popular choices include chicken, pork, beef, or shrimp. If you get a pre-cooked meat, you can throw it right in with the veggies.

 

Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

  • One package fresh, refrigerated noodles
  • 1/3 cup oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons fresh, grated ginger
  • 2-4 baby bok choy, roughly chopped
  • Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Bean sprouts, drained and rinsed

 

Directions:

  1. Cook noodles according to directions on package. Usually, this just means boiling until tender.
  2. While noodles cook, mix oyster sauce and soy sauce in a bowl. If desired, add Sriracha for heat or sugar for sweetness. Set aside.
  3. Once noodles are cooked and drained, heat half the oil in a large skillet or a wok, using medium to medium-high heat. Add the noodles and stir or toss constantly until they’re a golden brown and just the right level of crispy, usually 3-4 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Heat remaining oil. Add fresh or frozen vegetables, garlic, and ginger, stirring frequently, until tender, usually 3-4 minutes. I like to add salt and pepper here, but you can wait for the next step.
  5. Add noodles, sauce mix, and bean sprouts. Cook until heated through and well mixed, about 2 minutes.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

 

lo mein recipe

 

Lo Mein Recipe

My favorite time to eat lo mein is when it’s just a little chilly out. The soft, chewy noodles, the clingy sauce, and just a hint of heat are fantastic for warming the stomach.

My family, however, likes it during summer, with the noodles a little cold or not properly reheated.

To each their own, right?

Whatever your reason for making lo mein, it’s a delicious meal, and it’s pretty easy, too!

Here’s what you’ll need to make a wonderful lo mein at home:

 

  • Package of noodles. Look for lo mein noodles. Fresh, refrigerated ones are best. Sometimes, you can even find them pre-cooked, usually in the refrigerated section. This makes cooking a little easier. If you must, you can use dried pasta, but you might be able to taste the difference.
  • Vegetables. Fresh veggies are still the best choice here. I usually use that same fresh stir-fry mix from my local grocery store. Common veggies for lo mein include bok choy, carrots, mushrooms, and red bell peppers.
  • Cooking oil. This will just be to cook the vegetables, so use your preferred vegetable oil or other cooking oil. Again, I usually use extra virgin olive oil, but that’s a personal preference.
  • Ginger and garlic. Again, fresh is always a great option here, but frozen is often just as good. If you’re using a concentrated version of these flavorings, make sure you adjust the amounts according to the packaging.
  • Sauce(s). Like with the chow mein, you can actually buy pre-made lo mein sauce. However, if you want to make it from scratch, you’ll want soy sauce. Some people like making lo mein with the same sauce as chow mein, and you’re quite welcome to do that! If you’d like a more distinct lo mein sauce, you’ll want some sesame oil and sugar.
  • Salt and pepper. Your basic salt and pepper, to taste!
  • (Optional) Meat. This recipe doesn’t include a meat, but it’s really easy to toss your meat of choice in with this dish. Popular choices include chicken, pork, or shrimp. If you get a pre-cooked meat, you can cook it along with the veggies.

 

Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

  • One package fresh, refrigerated noodles
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Carrots, shaved or in sticks
  • Red bell peppers, sliced
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Green onions, sliced, greens reserved for topping

 

Directions:

  1. Cook noodles according to directions on package. Usually, this just means boiling until tender.
  2. While noodles cook, mix sugar and cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger. Set aside.
  3. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet or a wok, using medium to medium-high heat. Add vegetables and garlic, stirring frequently until tender, usually 3-4 minutes. I like to add salt and pepper here, but you can wait for the next step.
  4. Add noodles and sauce mix. Cook just until heated through and well mixed, usually no more than 2 minutes. Remember, we’re not trying to fry the noodles this time.
  5. Dish out noodles and top with green onions.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

 

is chow mein or lo mein healthier

 

Is Chow Mein or Lo Mein Healthier?

Now that you’ve looked at both of these recipes, you might be wondering which is healthier, chow mein or lo mein.

Well, it depends.

All things being almost equal, lo mein is probably going to be the healthier choice for most people. However, if you like your lo mein drenched in sauce but your chow mein fried in a healthy oil, that changes the equation.

Both dishes are pretty reasonable and very easy to make healthy or to tailor to specific diets or needs.

Lo mein is healthier on an average diet with no modifications, but if you’re in the mood for fried noodles, don’t be afraid to chow down on chow mein. When you’re cooking these dishes at home, they’re close enough to the same level of healthy that you really don’t need to worry about it. Just focus on good ingredients and the right kinds and amounts of oils, and you’ll be all set!

 

 

Other Popular Articles About Traditional and Authentic Asian Food

 

Hunan Beef – What it is, History, Calories and Authentic Recipe.

 

Pho Dac Biet – A Gloriously Vietnamese Dish enjoyed all around the World. [with Recipe]

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