What is the Difference Between Chow Mein and Lo Mein?

The difference comes down to the way the noodles are cooked.

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May 11, 2022
Bowls with chicken, beef and vegetables chow mein

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Bowls with chicken, beef and vegetables chow mein

Photo by: luchezar/Getty Images

luchezar/Getty Images

By Clarissa Wei for Food Network Kitchen

Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in Taipei.

The earliest Chinese dishes in America came from Cantonese immigrants, and by now, their quick and easy noodle plates have become all-American favorites. Chow mein and lo mein are among these classics, but what’s the difference between the two, and what do their names even mean?

Chicken Chow Mein

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Chicken Chow Mein

Photo by: Thomas Faull/Getty Images

Thomas Faull/Getty Images

What Is Chow Mein?

Chow is the Cantonese term for stir-fry, and mein means noodle. Therefore, chow mein means stir-fried noodles. Wheat noodles are semi-cooked on a wok first with hot water, and then tossed over a high heat with the accompanying ingredients. Those ingredients vary. Common combinations include thin strips of pork with bok choy, julienned carrots, shrimp and piquant chunks of scallions.

Cantonese Chow Mein vs. Americanized Chow Mein

The differences are actually quite subtle on this one. Americanized chow mein is heavier on the flavors, a bit saltier and will often use broccoli, chicken and carrots as a pairing. Chow mein found in China is much more delicate. Traditional Cantonese cooking is actually known for its soft and elegant flavor profiles. While there’s still a heavy amount of flavor, the more common ingredients are napa cabbage, leeks, carrots and thin slices of pork.

Homemade Beef Lo Mein Noodles with Carrots and Broccoli

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Homemade Beef Lo Mein Noodles with Carrots and Broccoli

Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

What Is Lo Mein?

Lo means stirred. Lo mein is usually made with egg noodles. The noodles are first cooked separately and then gently draped with sauce and toppings. There isn’t a lot of heavy wok action on this dish. It can be quite simple—a savory oyster plus soy sauce concoction makes up the sauce, and the topping could be as simple as slivers of scallions or a protein and a bunch of veggies.

What Is the Difference Between Chow Mein and Lo Mein?

The main difference between chow mein and lo mein is in the cooking technique, though few recipes actually make the distinction. In chow mein, everything is done all at once in the wok. It’s a high-heat affair and the toppings are really integrated into the final dish. Lo mein is made in parts: cook the noodles first, add the sauce, then put on the toppings.

Chow Mein Recipes

Food Network Kitchen’s Chicken Chow Mein, as seen on Food Network.

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Food Network Kitchen’s Chicken Chow Mein, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

Spice up your weeknight dinner with this incredibly simple recipe for chicken chow mein. Pro tip: make the sauce and cut up all the ingredients ahead of time, then cook everything in one go.

A simple, gently seasoned chow mein with lots of bright, crunchy vegetables. The vegetables can be swapped out with whatever is in season.

Lo Mein Recipes

An easy stir-fry that highlights shrimp, garlic and thin egg noodles.

Photo by: www. KenGoodmanPhotography.com

www. KenGoodmanPhotography.com

This recipe covers the fundamentals of lo mein. The sauce is a savory concoction of oyster sauce, sesame oil and soy sauce, and it’s all served over a hearty plate of fresh noodles.

Weeknight Cooking

Photo by: RYAN DAUSCH

RYAN DAUSCH

A vegetarian classic for all skill levels, this is an incredibly fast dish to whip up. Spicy tofu gives it an extra boost of protein.

Photo by: RYAN DAUSCH

RYAN DAUSCH

A burst of flavor with slices of ginger and scallions, accented by a generous bits of spicy pepper.

Food Stylist: Jamie Kimm
Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

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Food Stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

Photo by: Antonis Achilleos Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

Antonis Achilleos Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

This is a hearty dish with thin slices of pork and egg and a heaping serving of vegetables. It’s well-balanced and healthy.

A simplistic rendition on lo mein with soba noodles and beautiful, crisp snap peas for textural contrast.

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