Chow Mein and Lo Mein: What Is the Difference?

They may sound similar but these two mein dishes have subtle differences.

Two of the most popular dishes in the Chinese-American canon have similar names. "Mein" means noodles, so whether you order chicken chow mein or chicken lo mein, you'll end up with egg-enhanced wheat noodles on your plate. Where the difference lies, in addition to a slightly different noodle shape between lo mein and chow mein, is in the preparation of these two dishes. It's easy to figure out why both meins are so popular; they're delicious, colorful, and wonderfully flavorful meals. Keep reading as we break down the difference in cooking techniques for these two signature noodle entrees.

One note to consider. This difference in preparation can affect the overall nutrition of the finished plate so if this is a consideration, keep that in mind. Both chow mein and lo mein can be higher in sodium since both preparations usually include ingredients such as soy sauce, fish sauce, and hoisin. Depending on the oil and noodles used, the fat, carbs, and calories can add up as well. But both can also include lots of veggies and lean proteins if that is the goal which makes this arena a blank canvas within your wok, as versatile as you are.

What Is Lo Mein?

In Chinese, "lo" implies tossing, which is exactly how lo mein is prepared. Lo mein is made with fat, round, dense noodles that bear some resemblance to thick spaghetti. The noodles are fully cooked ahead in boiling water. The noodles are then tossed into the pan with the rest of the ingredients that have already been cooking to combine, heat through, and soak up the saucey goodness.

Lo mein. Photo by Meredith
Lo mein. Photo by Meredith.

Lo Mein Dishes

Lo mein can be a delicious vegetarian meal, or great with your favorite protein. The options are many.

Get the Recipe: Lo Mein Noodles

Lo Mein Noodles. Photo by Sherri
Photo by Sherri.

What Is Chow Mein?

Chow mein has many meanings in the U.S. "Chow" translates to "fried", so the crispy noodles that are sold in a can or served at a restaurant with hot mustard qualify as chow mein. For the entree version, chow mein noodles are typically thinner and can be dried or fresh. Dried noodles are soaked or pre-cooked before they are stir-fried in hot oil to get a crisp exterior and a soft interior. Once fried, the noodles get combined with a sauce and any other ingredients that have cooked separetly to marry the flavors all together. This process gives chow mein its signature flavor and chewy texture. In many chow mein versions, the noodles are the star and the vegetables and proteins take a back seat.

Crispy chow mein noodles. Photo by Meredith
Chow mein noodles can be served dried or fresh. Photo by Meredith.
Chicken Chow Mein Casserole. Photo by Meredith
Chicken Chow Mein Casserole. Photo by Meredith.

Chow Mein Dishes

Chow mein noodles are cooked separately for this satisfying take on a Chinese-American classic in this Spicy Beef and Broccoli Chow Mein.

Get the Recipe: Spicy Beef and Broccoli Chow Mein

Spicy Beef and Broccoli Chow Mein. Photo by Deb C
Photo by Deb C.

See how to make chicken chow mein at home. You'll see how to prepare the simple marinade and sauce and get tips for cooking the noodles and veggies just right.

Get the Recipe: Chicken Chow Mein with Vegetables

Check out dozens of other Chinese food recipes, including more Chow Mein Noodle Recipes.

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