Chow Mein vs Lo Mein: How Exactly Are They Different?

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Kaye Published: June 9, 2021 Modified: October 1, 2021
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Food is one of the best contributions of early Chinese immigrants to the United States. There’s no denying that East Asian cuisine has definitely made its mark on American households, with Americanized dishes to boot. The reinvention of mein, or “noodles” in Chinese, is one of the best examples of this cultural influence. Many renditions of the Chinese chow mein and lo mein have popped up in different places since it arrived in the country, yet one question continues to plague a lot of us: what exactly is the difference between chow mein vs lo mein?

After all, the two dishes do tend to look quite similar! If you’re also asking the same question, then you’re in luck. We’ve broken down their similarities and differences in one short reading, along with some tasty noodle recipes. Continue reading and join us in untangling the age-old lo mein-chow mein debacle. By the end, you can even try your hand at making a bowl or two of tasty pork lo mein.

Difference Between Chow Mein and Lo Mein

Difference between chow mein and lo mein

So, what’s the difference between lo mein and chow mein? The main distinction between the two is already in their names. Chow mein or chow mian ( 炒面) translates to stir-fried noodles, whereas lo mein or lo mian (捞面) means mixed or tossed noodles in the Cantonese dialect.

Aside from the cooking process, here are other major distinctions between these two Chinese dishes:

Type of Noodles

The ingredients of these two Asian dishes tend to be very similar overall, with little variation. So, what are chow mein and lo mein noodles made with? For both of these dishes, the main ingredient is egg noodles made with wheat flour, water, and egg.

It’s different from the traditional Pad Thai recipe that uses rice noodles. It’s best to use freshly-made batches of egg noodles for lo mein, whereas you can opt to use either fresh or dried noodles for chow mein. If you don’t have any at home, you can also use fettuccine or linguine pasta to substitute.

READ ALSO: 50 Types of Pasta and Their Best Pairing Sauce

Preparing Chow Mein vs Lo Mein Noodles

Much like pasta, you have to pre-cook the egg noodles first before combining them with other ingredients. For chow mein, parboil (partly cook) fresh or dried noodles for around five to six minutes (just until it’s al dente or firm to the bite).

Meanwhile, you should fully boil fresh lo mein egg noodles for two to three minutes. It’s also important to note that these timings may differ depending on the manufacturer, so you should always check the packaging of your egg noodles first.

Other Lo Mein and Chow Mein Ingredients

What’s in chow mein and lo mein aside from noodles? The rest of the ingredients involved in making these Asian dishes are also very similar, although lo mein is saucier. Common chow mein and lo mein ingredients include meat (either pork, beef, chicken), shrimp, and veggies like bok choy, bell pepper, green onions, and bean sprouts. You can stir them together with a combination of Asian seasonings such as sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and a bit of brown sugar.

Texture

Parboiling or soaking in hot water and stir-frying the thin Chinese noodles gives chow mein a texture that’s crispier than your usual noodle dish. On the other hand, lo mein is widely known as a dish with soft noodles due to fully boiling the ingredient. Aside from that, lo mein is usually served with more sauce compared to the dry chow mein noodles.

Chow Mein vs Lo Mein Cooking Methods

Bowl of lo mein noodles

You can prepare the former in two ways. The first option for making traditional pork or chicken chow mein is to stir-fry the meat, veggies, and seasonings before combining it with the parboiled skinny Chinese noodles in the wok. Another method you can try is to stir-fry the ingredients altogether. Other popular versions of this dish like the Cantonese-style, Hong Kong-style, and Singapore chow mein may be prepared differently. All in all, you should aim for that signature bite that the crunchy Chinese stir-fried noodles are famous for.

Conversely, plain lo mein requires an entirely different process. To make this dish of Chinese soft noodles, you simply have to toss or mix the boiled egg noodles with the vegetables, meat, and sauce. 

Since cooking Chinese lo mein noodles doesn’t involve stir-frying, you might wonder if lo mein is healthy. Considering that there is less oil in chicken lo mein vs chow mein, the answer is yes (in comparison to the latter). Although, you also have to consider other factors such as the sodium content in the sauce. Aside from the regular Cantonese lo mein, you can also explore other variations of this dish, such as the special Szechuan lo mein, Singapore lo mein, or a similar Japanese dish called yakisoba.

READ ALSO: 7 Types of Chinese Tea and Their Surprising Health Benefits

3 Tasty Chow Mein and Lo Mein Recipes to Try

Pork Lo Mein Recipe - Delicious Asian Chinese noodle dish with thick savory sauce and pork tenderloin meat

You can definitely recreate these East Asian dishes at home. Check out the items below for homemade chow mein and lo mein noodles recipes that you can try making yourself:

  • Cantonese Chow Mein Recipe For this chow mein noodles recipe, stir your egg noodles in familiar Asian seasonings, with mushrooms, veggies, and round steak in the mix. This chow mein stir fry is worth making at home especially if you love the taste of meat-forward noodle dishes.
  • Ground Beef Lo Mein RecipeThis lo mein noodle recipe uses ground beef as its main protein source. Instead of using the regular egg noodles for lo mein, this dish calls for spaghetti so it’s much more accessible. All you have to do is prepare the beef and gravy-soy sauce mixture, then toss in the pasta. This may not be your authentic lo mein experience, but it should make for a tasty and filling meal.
  • Hot and Sour Shrimp Lo Mein Recipe This is one of the best lo mein recipes to try if you want to explore more ways of how to cook lo mein noodles. Toss your ingredient (egg noodles, fettuccine, or linguine) into a mouth-puckering “hot and sour” sauce and ginger-marinated shrimps for a unique dining experience.

READ ALSO: 60 Easy Thai Recipes for a Spicy Home Feast

Chow Mein Is Stir-Fried, and Lo Mein Is Tossed 

The next time you dine-in or get take-out from a Chinese restaurant, you’ll know exactly the difference between these two dishes. You can either go for soft lo mein with fully boiled egg noodles mixed into a sauce mixture or go for the more popular crispy chow mein made with parboiled egg noodles that are then stir-fried in meat and veggies. 

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Kaye

Kaye is a writer and a recent oat milk convert. With a background in Language Studies, she has founded a deep appreciation of cultures, traditions, and the power of words. In her spare time, she enjoys testing some of the trendiest and most accessible recipes on the internet.

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