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Low Mein vs. Chow Mein: What's the Difference
Low Mein or Chow Mein? Learn about what the difference is between these dishes and some tasty recipes for each. Read more on our blog!
CHOW MEIN VS. LO MEIN: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE AND COMMON RECIPES
Posted on: July 20, 2021
Many people assume the distinction between chow mein and lo mein dishes is the kind of noodles used. This conclusion makes sense considering that chow mein noodles are delightfully crisp while lo mein noodles are silky smooth. However, what makes chow mein different from lo mein is how the noodles are prepared, not the type of noodle used.
To expand your Asian cuisine expertise, we’ll provide a breakdown of what chow mein is, what lo mein is and the culinary contrasts between the two popular dishes. We’ll also discuss how to make chow mein and lo mein with specific recipes for each dish so you can try making them at home.
WHAT IS CHOW MEIN?
In general, the term chow mein refers to fried noodles. More specifically, there are two main types of chow mein dishes:Steamed chow mein: In steamed chow mein, the noodles are initially flash-fried, then stir-fried while being tossed with additional ingredients like meat or vegetables and coated in a light sauce.Crisp chow mein: When making crisp chow mein, the noodles are pressed flat while frying, creating a pancake-like dish. Any additional ingredients and sauces are layered on top of the noodle pancake.
In both styles of chow mein recipes, the noodles are the true star of the dish. Any extra vegetables or protein ingredients are kept to a minimum so they do not distract from the crunchy noodles. These accompaniments are added to the noodles only after the noodles have been boiled and fried in oil on their own, allowing the chef to solely focus on cooking the noodles to a crisp perfection.
Similarly, the sauce in a chow mein recipe is used sparingly. Instead of dousing the noodles with sauce, a chow mein dish allows its crispy noodles to shine without becoming soggy. Occasionally, crisp chow mein will be served with a darker, thicker sauce, which softens the crispy exterior of the noodles to create a chewier texture.
Here are some easy tricks to determine whether you’re eating chow mein:
The noodles are distinctly crispy — in the case of crisp chow mein.
The noodles are oily — in the case of steamed chow mein.
The amounts of protein and vegetables are kept at a minimum.
The sauce is lightly applied and does not overshadow or weigh down the noodles.
WHAT IS LO MEIN?
At its root, lo mein simply refers to tossed or mixed noodles. A lo mein dish most often includes vegetables and some sort of protein, such as chicken, beef, pork, seafood or tofu. In essence, lo mein is a dry variation of traditional noodle soup. To mimic the texture of soup, the chef drowns the noodle dish in a savory sauce.
Lo mein is made with fully cooked noodles that have been boiled and drained. These cooked noodles are added to a wok containing various vegetables and proteins that have already been cooked and tossed in the lo mein sauce. All the ingredients are gently tossed together until the noodles are just heated through. At this point, some extra sauce may be drizzled over the wok to complete the dish.
If you’re unsure whether you are eating lo mein, look for these clues:
The entire dish is generously coated with lo mein sauce to give it a bold, delicious flavor.
The noodles are not greasy.
The dish includes a considerable amount of veggies and protein, which have been mixed in with the noodles and sauce.
CHOW MEIN VS. LO MEIN NOODLES
If you confuse chow mein for lo mein and vice versa, you’re not alone. It is easy to see the word “mein” and assume they are the same dish. However, “mein” simply means “noodles,” which means mixing up chow mein and lo mein is similar to confusing tortellini with ravioli — both culinary terms refer to a type of Italian pasta, but they are distinct.
In English, chow mein means fried noodles and lo mein translates to tossed or stirred noodles. Because both dishes are variations of noodles, the main difference in chow mein and lo mein lies in how the noodles are prepared. These are the main differentiators between the preparation styles for each Chinese noodle dish:The cooking method: Although both recipes call for similar ingredients, the cooking methods for chow mein and lo mein are completely different. Chow mein noodles are soaked in hot water to soften them up before stir-frying. The process of stir-frying fully cooks the noodles along with the remaining ingredients. In contrast, lo mein noodles are completely cooked before getting mixed in with the meat, vegetables and sauce. Instead of getting stir-fried, the lo mein ingredients are lightly mixed and tossed.The wok technique: While both noodle dishes taste best when prepared with a wok, the way each is cooked in the wok differs. Making chow mein noodles involves using a small amount of oil in a very hot wok to lightly fry the ingredients while stirring briskly. For lo mein, the noodles are already cooked and are simply mixed and tossed with the rest of the ingredients instead of fried.
The Difference Between Lo Mein and Chow Mein
Learn the definitions of lo mein and chow mein, including their similarities and differences between them, with recipes for each.
What's the Difference Between Lo Mein and Chow Mein?
By Rhonda Parkinson Updated on 01/14/21
The Spruce / Catherine Song
People frequently assume that the main difference between lo mein and chow mein is the type of noodles that are used. It makes sense—after all, chow mein noodles are crisp while lo mein noodles are soft, right? Actually, the main distinction between these two popular dishes lies in how the noodles are prepared.
Mein or mian is simply the Chinese word for noodles. Lo mein means "tossed noodles," while chow mein or chao mian means "fried noodles."
What Type of Noodles Are Used in Each Dish?
Both lo mein and chow mein are made with Chinese egg noodles—wheat flour noodles with egg added. Fresh egg noodles (preferably about 1/4-inch thick) are best for lo mein, while either fresh or dried can be used to make chow mein. Either way, the noodles need to be softened in boiling water before cooking. Dried noodles are parboiled in boiling water for 5 to 6 minutes before using, while fresh egg noodles only need to be boiled for 2 to 3 minutes. The exact amount of cooking time will depend on the thickness of the noodles, so be sure to follow the package instructions if available. But whether you're working with fresh or dried noodles, the goal is to boil them until they are just cooked but not too soft (what the Italian's call "al dente," or "cooked to the tooth").
If Chinese egg noodles aren't available, Italian pasta such as fettucini or linguini makes a handy substitute. A "quick and dirty" lo mein can be made by using Ramen noodles with a flavor packet.
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How Are They Prepared?
One method of preparing chow mein noodles is to fry them separately into a “noodle pancake” and then pour the stir-fried meat and vegetables over the fried noodles. The chow mein noodles can also be stir-fried with meat/poultry and vegetables.
With lo mein, the parboiled noodles are frequently added near the end of cooking to heat through and toss with the other ingredients and sauce. Alternately, the parboiled noodles may be tossed with a sauce and the stir-fried ingredients poured over.
Since the real star of any lo mein dish is the sauce, it's not surprising that lo mein recipes often use more sauce than chow mein recipes.
Which Is Better?
It all comes down to your personal taste. Soft lo mein noodles soak up more of the sauce. On the other hand, you can get a greater variety of texture in a chow mein dish. For example, crunchy noodles and celery could be combined with soft mushrooms, bean sprouts, and juicy tomatoes.
Did You Know?
While chow mein with thin crisp noodles is a staple of many Chinese take-out restaurants, more authentic versions of chao mian have soft noodles. The main difference between the two comes down to frying time: for dryer, crisper noodles, add more oil and increase the frying time.
Chicken chow mein: The classic Chinese dish, done in a crockpot.
Vegetable chow mein: This one is for vegetarians.
Turkey chow mein: This is a great way to use up leftover cooked turkey, or you can use canned turkey as well.
Beef lo mein: Inspired by PF Chang's bistro beef, flank steak is coated with oyster sauce and wok-fried with sesame oil.
Pork lo mein with ramen noodles: The flavor packet from the ramen noodles is combined with teriyaki sauce to lend flavor to stir-fried pork and vegetables.
A Variety of Chinese Noodle Recipes
Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein: What's the Difference?
Chow mein and lo mein are both popular menu items at American Chinese restaurants, but they’re not the same dish. Here’s how to tell the difference between chow mein vs. lo mein.
Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein: What’s the Difference Between These Noodle Dishes?
Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein: What’s the Difference Between These Noodle Dishes?
By PureWow Editors | Jun. 24, 2021
While some American Chinese food menus consider chow mein and lo mein synonymous, they’re two distinct foods, thanks to their cooking methods. Here’s how to differentiate between the popular dishes the next time you want to enjoy a plate of savory, slurpable noodles.
GAIL HEDGPETHA/EYEEM/HIRAMAN/GETTY IMAGES
Chow mein vs. lo mein: What is the difference?
Both of these noodle dishes are Chinese in origin and made with egg noodles (plus a combination of vegetables and sometimes meat or seafood), but their similarities stop there. Chow mein, or chāu-mèn, translates to stir-fried noodles. Lo mein, lāo miàn, means stirred noodles. So, the biggest difference is in how they’re cooked.
What type of noodles are used in each dish?
Chow mein and lo mein are both made with egg noodles, which contain wheat flour and eggs, just like Italian pasta. Lo mein is best made with fresh noodles, and chow mein can be made with either fresh or dried noodles. The noodles are usually about an eighth of an inch thick (slightly thicker than spaghetti) and have a smooth surface and toothsome texture.
How is chow mein prepared?
Because it’s stir-fried, chow mein is prepared in a wok. First, the noodles are par-boiled or soaked in hot water to soften slightly—however, they’re not fully cooked at this stage. Meat (such as chicken, pork or beef) or tofu or shrimp are stir-fried in the sizzling wok, along with aromatics like onion and celery, and beans sprouts or other vegetables. The par-cooked noodles are added to the wok to finish cooking. The end result is a slightly soft noodle dish with crisp-tender vegetables. (Chow mein is more about the noodles than the vegetables.)
How is lo mein prepared?
Different from chow mein, lo mein noodles are cooked separately from the remaining ingredients in the dish, so they’re fully cooked instead of par-boiled. Meanwhile, vegetables and meat or seafood are stir-fried, then everything gets tossed together with a sauce before serving. (That’s another distinction between chow mein and lo mein: Lo mein is a saucy dish, while chow mein is typically drier or less liquid-y.) The final dish is soft and coated in sauce.
Finally, it’s important to note is that both chow mein and lo mein have been heavily influenced and modified by the western populations that have adopted them. When you order either dish from an American Chinese restaurant, they’re usually very different from traditional Chinese cuisine, because they’ve been altered to appeal to western tastes.RELATED: 15 TRADITIONAL CHINESE FOOD DISHES YOU NEED TO TRY, ACCORDING TO A CHINESE-MALAYSIAN CHEF
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