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Chow Mein and Lo Mein: What is the Difference?

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. But the dishes are prepared differently, which is why chow mein has the slight edge from a health standpoint.

Actually, make that very slight: Neither chow mein nor lo mein is a good choice if you’re watching your sodium levels, since both preparations usually include high-sodium sauces such as soy, fish, and hoisin. And both can weigh in at as much as 1,000 calories per serving, with high fat and carb counts to match. But if your diet permits, it’s easy to figure out why both meins are so popular; they're delicious, colorful, and wonderfully flavorful one-dish meals.

What is Lo Mein?

Lo mein is make with fat, round, dense noodles that bear some resemblance to thick spaghetti. In Chinese, “lo” implies tossing, which is exactly how lo mein is prepared. The noodles are added to the pan to soak up sauce toward the end of cooking, which is why lo mein is typically the gloopier and fattier of the two dishes.

 

Lo mein. Photo by Meredith

Lo mein. Photo by Meredith

Lo Mein Noodles

A delicious vegetarian meal, or add your favorite meat.

 

Lo Mein Noodles. Photo by Sherri

Photo by Sherri

What is Chow Mein?

Chow mein has many meanings in the U.S. “Chow” translates as frying, so the crisp noodles that are sold in a can or served at a restaurant with hot mustard and red sauce qualify as chow mein.

 

Crispy chow mein noodles. Photo by Meredith

Chow mein noodles can be served dried or fresh. Photo by Meredith

Chow mein, unlike lo mein, is a dish in which the noodles – whether fresh or dry – are stir-fried separately, then added to vegetables. Meat is optional.

 

Chicken Chow Mein Casserole. Photo by Meredith

Chicken Chow Mein Casserole. Photo by Meredith

Here are some favorite chow mein recipes:

Spicy Beef and Broccoli Chow Mein

Chow mein noodles are cooked separately for this satisfying take on a Chinese-American classic.

 

Spicy Beef and Broccoli Chow Mein. Photo by Deb C

Photo by Deb C

Authentic Chicken Chow Mein with Vegetables

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.

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

 

About Hanna Raskin

Not just a grits eater, but a one-time grits roller (a sport involving an inflatable tub and 27 cases of instant grits). Devoted to queso, chopped liver, Cuban toast, soft-shell crabs, and the roads that lead to them.