Chow Mein vs Lo Mein
Chow mein vs lo mein, what’s the difference?
Lo mein noodles are boiled or parboiled in water or broth.
Chow mein noodles are fried or stir fried after being parboiled.
That’s the main difference.
Lo mein noodles are cooked with water or broth, versus chow mein noodles which are cooked in oil.
Chow mein noodles can be softened by par boiling or soaking in water just like lo mein, but then they are fried or stir fried to produce noodles that range from soft to super crispy. Lo Mein noodles are just boiled or parboiled, they are not fried or stir fried.
Is that it? Well like all things, it’s rarely that simple. There are a lot of nuisances when it comes to chow mein vs lo mein. Read on to learn more!
Lo Mein vs Chow Mein Translation
Lo can mean tossed, mixed, stirred and mein means noodles.
Chow is translated as fried or stir fried and mein as we saw before means noodles.
So lo mein = tossed / mixed / stirred noodles and chow mein = fried / stir fried noodles.
Chow Mein vs Lo Mein Noodles
Now let’s compare and contrast the most important part of chow mein and lo mein, the noodles or mein.
Both chow mein and lo mein use egg noodles, which are made from egg and wheat flour.
Chow mein noodles are fried or stir fried after being boiled or parboiled.
Lo mein noodles are just boiled or parboiled.
Lo mein noodles are often (but not always) thicker than chow mein noodles.
This is sometimes due to lo mein noodles being boiled vs chow mein noodles being fried or stir fried, and sometimes it’s just how the noodles are made. And sometimes the noodles are the same size. Not confusing at all right?
Chow mein noodles can be flat or round.
Lo mein noodles are almost always round.
Chow mein can be made from fresh or dried noodles.
Lo mein is preferably made using fresh noodles.
Preparation of Chow Mein vs Lo Mein
First off let me say that the preparation of both chow mein and lo mein can vary wildly from one region to another and can even vary from restaurant to restaurant in the same area. But with that in mind, here’s a very general overview of how each is prepared.
Both chow mein and lo mein sauces are commonly made with soy sauce. Although not always, like in Minnesota, where the chow mein sauce might be a creamy sauce.
Lo mein is generally a sauce with vegetables, and some sort of protein (tofu, chicken, pork, or beef) with noodles added. The lo mein noodles are boiled, and the sauce is prepared separately. The lo mein noodles are put in the sauce as the last step
Chow mein is also a sauce with vegetables and some sort of protein (tofu, chicken, pork, or beef) with noodles. But here is where it gets buck wild. Well, as buck wild as chow mein can get. The chow mein noodles are sometimes stir fried with the sauce. Sometimes the noodles are stir fried on their own, and then the sauce is added at the end. And sometimes the noodles are deep fried, and the sauce is served separately to be poured over the deep-fried noodles.
So basically, if you order lo mein the noodles will always be soft. If you order chow mein, the noodles can be anything from soft to super crispy depending on the restaurant.
If you order chow mein in one place, you might get a completely different dish than if you order it in another place!
Regional differences of chow mein and lo mein in the USA
So can chow mein and lo mein really vary that much by region? Let me give you an example. This was crazy to me.
If you order chow mein on the West Coast of the US, you get what someone on the East Coast would call lo mein.
So, if you are from the East Coast of the US and want lo mein on the West Coast, you need to order chow mein.
But what if you want chow mein? Well then, you need to order Hong Kong style chow mein.
That’s because on the West Coast the term lo mein isn’t used very often. There’s just chow mein and Hong Kong style chow mein.
That’s how much these two dishes can vary by region.
Chow mein in China vs chow mein in the USA
Well in China chow mein is often stir fried along with the sauce and so the noodles are softer. Unless you are in Hong Kong where the noodles might be fried and crispy.
In the USA chow mein is more often crispy than not. So it’s more similar to Hong Kong chow mein. Although whether the sauce is poured on a bed of crispy noodle or whether the crispy noodles are mixed in depends on the region.
On the west coast, you can get chow mein that is more like what they serve in mainland China. But sometimes on the west coast, the noodles are boiled (which makes it lo mein) and sometimes they are stir fried (which makes it like mainland Chinese chow mein).
The problem is that often on the west coast it’s called chow mein whether or not the noodles are stir fried.
You can see the differences between the two types of chow mein (fried and crispy vs boiled and slightly stir fried) in this video. Ching’s chow mein almost seems like it should be called lo mein.
Nutritional Differences of Chow Mein vs Lo Mein
Chow mein is usually higher in fat content due to the noodles being fried or stir fried.
Otherwise, the nutritional differences come down to the sauce which can vary wildly depending on the restaurant. With some restaurants using sweeter or more fat heavy sauces than other restaurants.
Often lo mein sauces are heavier / thicker than chow mein sauces which can mean more corn starch or other thickening agents. Once again though, this changes from restaurant to restaurant.
Final Thoughts on Chow Mein vs Lo Mein
It’s easy to see why people are confused by chow mein vs lo mein and the differences between them. I mean, if you order chow mein in one place you might get something COMPLETELY different than if you order that same dish somewhere else.
Sure, the main difference is lo mein noodles are boiled, and chow mein noodles are fried/stir fried. But restaurants and regions vary so wildly that you should probably look at a picture or ask the staff about the dishes before ordering. Especially if you are traveling.
I mean some places stir fry the noodles and call it lo mein, deep fry the noodles and call it chow mein. While others boil the noodles, mix it with the sauce and call it chow mein and don’t even serve lo mein. It’s all pretty confusing. The best way is to ask. Is your chow mein crunchy?
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