Chow Mein Vs. Lo Mein: Chinese Cuisine For Beginners

Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein - learn all there is to about these delicious traditional Chinese dishes. You'll learn how they are prepared and how healthy they are for you too!

Most of us cannot resist Chinese take-out food, am I right?

I know I love Chinese cuisine, and thus I take pride in my knowledge of their recipes and serving techniques. However, I also know that many people often get confused when they start reading a menu at the Chinese restaurant, especially if there are no explanations or a list of used ingredients included.

For example, Chow Mein and Lo Mein are two highly popular Chinese dishes here in the USA, but how many of you could tell me the difference between these two?

I guess most of you frowned. Do not worry though, it is not that uncommon - besides similar names, these dishes have quite a few other similarities. They are both wheat-flour egg noodle dishes and share the same origin, for starters.

If you want to find out more and educate yourself on Chinese cuisine, read the following detailed comparison of Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein. You'll be one step closer to ordering Chinese food with confidence next time you go out to the Chinese restaurant!

Let's start by defining these two wonderfully flavorful meals.

What is Lo Mein?

Lo Mein is a traditional Chinese egg-enhanced wheat noodle dish. It is made with round, thick and dense noodles that resemble the spaghetti.

“Lo” means tossed in Chinese, which tells us a lot about the preparation method of this dish. “Mein” translates to noodles, and thus we now know that Lo Mein means tossed noodles.

How exactly is Lo Mein prepared?

  • You cannot merely toss some noodles around and viola you're done! You first need to cook the noodles. This means you have to boil them until they become soft and then drain them well.
  • In the meantime, you should take a wok and cook some veggies and sauce (you can add meat too). Here comes the tossing part: you add the noodles to the wok and toss them lightly until they soak up the sauce and mix with the veggies.

The sauce should be light and not too greasy as this dish is already pretty calorie packed.


What is Chow Mein?

Chow mein is, as we already learned, a traditional Chinese egg-noodle dish often served in Chinese restaurants across the USA. It is one of my favorite Chineses dish as well as I adore crispy things!

“Chow” in English means frying, and we already know that “mein” translates as noodles.

Therefore, we can safely assume that Chow Mein noodles are prepared by stir-frying. The noodles can be fresh or dry, it depends on the restaurant you choose, but they are always stir-fried until they turn crispy and then added to vegetables.

They are by definition served with hot mustard and red sauce while meat is once again optional.

There are actually two variations of Chow Mein. My favorite crisp Chow Mein and steamed Chow Mein. When preparing the crisp Chow Mein, the noodles get pressed flat while fried, and thus they turn out flat like pancakes and heavenly crispy! Steamed Chow Mein is prepared a bit differently - noodles are tossed while fried and then coated in the sauce.

  • The noodles can be boiled first and then fried in deep oil without any other additions. You always add veggies and sauces after the initial frying! It is also imperative not to overdo it with the sauce as that would make the noodles soggy and ruin the entire point!
  • When it comes to the Chow Mein, the noodles are the star of the show, so keep all the additions to the minimum. Real deal Chow Mein consists of oily and crispy noodles with a few veggies, sometimes some meat, and a thick, dark sauce.

Related article: How to Make Chinese White Sauce?

Traditional Chinese name

Origin

Translation

Shape

Texture

Made from...

Cooking method

Common Additions

Lo Mein (Mian)

Northern China

Tossed noodles

Rounded (like thick spaghetti)

Soft

Eggs, wheat flour

Fresh noodles are boiled and then tossed

Beef, chicken, shrimp.
Veggies.
A lot of soy-based or oyster sauce.

Chow Mein (Mian)

Northern China

Stir-fried noodles

Flat or rounded

Crispy

Eggs, wheat flour

Fresh, dried or boiled noodles are stir-fried

Beef, chicken, shrimp.
Veggies.
Soy-based sauce

Nutrition Facts

  • In order to prepare either of these two Chinese specialties, you have to start with noodles. You will use more-less the same noodles no matter what dish you are cooking and therefore the calorie count will be the same: about 240 calories per serving.
  • One hundred twenty-five of these calories come from fat as there are 13.8 grams of fat. Moreover, there are 25.9 grams of carbohydrates and 198 milligrams of sodium which make this dish unsuitable for both those on low sodium and low-calorie diet.
  • If you have to choose between the two, health-wise Lo Mein would be a better choice. Why? Well, it is due to the preparation process. Namely, Cho Mein noodles are fried and thus soak up on oil which makes their fat content higher than that of Lo Mein noodles.
  • On the other hand, Lo Mein has more sauce and, as you probably already know, soy-based sauces are notorious for their high sodium level. As a result, Lo Mein noodles are higher in sodium and not suitable for those who suffer from high blood pressure or cardiovascular diseases.

What Is There Besides the Noodles?

1. Chow Mein

  • When preparing the Chow Mein dish, cooks usually include meat such as chicken, beef or shrimp. As far as the vegetables are concerned, most of the time crunchy veggies such as celery and carrots are used, but cabbage and mung bean sprouts are often included as well. Onions are a common ingredient in many Chow Mein recipes too. It is not uncommon for the cooks to fry the egg noodles into a patty and serve the stir-fried veggies and meat over it. Soy-based sauces are the most common choice.

2. Lo Mein

  • Lo Mein dish can be prepared in many different ways, but ingredients are very much alike to that used to prepare Chow Mein. You can include meat such as beef, chicken, and shrimp. Cabbage and bok choy are the most commonly used veggies used to make this flavorful dish. The sauce can be either soy-based or an oyster sauce- whichever you choose do not be thrifty as this dish requires a lot of it.

Why Should You Eat Both Lo Mein And Chow Mein?

Besides the great taste of both these dishes, there is one more reason to eat Chinese noodles as often as you can. Are you curious to find out what it is?

  • It is widely believed all across China that eating noodles can bring you good luck. Therefore, noodles always have their special place in the celebration of the Lunar New Year. This traditional dish is deemed perfect for starting the new year with as noodles symbolize the longevity in life. Hence, make sure that you cook noodles on the New year's eve too, there is nothing to lose, and you can gain years if these beliefs are. Just remember to leave the noodles long, do not cut them! 😉

Conclusion

As you could see while reading this article, chow mein and lo mein are very similar, but the big difference that sets them apart lies in the method used to make these noodle dishes. It is therefore on you to decide: Will it be Lo Mein or Chow Mein the next time you visit a Chinese restaurant?

If you like soft noodles soaked in sauce, opt for Lo Mein. If you are anything like me and prefer the crispy texture, order Chow Mein, and you won't go wrong!

In fact, you will not go wrong whatever choice you make - both dishes are tasty and colorful.

Do not eat them too often though as they are not the healthiest choice you can make - they both have high sodium levels due to the sauces used to prepare them. Depending on the ingredients used, they can have a whopping 1,000 calories per serving too, plus high fat and carb content.

Enjoy them on special occasions that will make these dishes special also - and do not forget New Year is a must!

If you liked this, you would also like: Chow Mein vs. Chop Suey

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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