Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein: Comparing Chinese Noodle Dishes

By: Marie Look  | 
The noodles you ordered look and smell amazing, but can you tell whether they're chow mein or lo mein? Eugene Mymrin / Getty Images

Chow mein and lo mein are two noodle dishes that are staples in Chinese restaurants worldwide, each boasting its own loyal following. However, for many diners, distinguishing chow mein vs. lo mein and vice versa can be perplexing.

So, what exactly sets these two dishes apart, and how do their flavors and textures differ? Let's delve into the world of popular Chinese noodles.


What Is Chow Mein?

Chow mein is a classic Chinese noodle dish that has found its way onto menus in Chinese cooking worldwide. It typically consists of cooked noodles tossed with a variety of ingredients, such as vegetables, meats and sometimes seafood. The name "chow mein" translates to "fried noodles."

Cooking Process

To prepare chow mein, you stir-fry the noodles, resulting in a dish with a slightly crispy texture. Then you toss the noodles in a hot wok with various vegetables, meats and a savory sauce, ensuring that each ingredient is infused with flavor.


Popular Variations

Wooden chopsticks picking up a piece of shrimp in a bowl of chow mein
Chow mein noodles are often a bit thiner than lo mein noodles.
LauriPatterson / Getty Images

There are various chow mein recipes, each offering its own unique blend of flavors and ingredients. Some variations include chicken chow mein, beef chow mein, shrimp chow mein or even vegetarian chow mein.

The key to a delicious chow mein lies not only in the quality of the ingredients but also in the chow mein sauce that lightly coats the noodles.


What Is Lo Mein?

Lo mein is a beloved Chinese dish that features cooked noodles tossed with a variety of ingredients in a flavorful sauce. The term "lo mein" translates to "stirred noodles," or "tossed noodles," perfectly describing the cooking method involved.

At the heart of any lo mein dish are the lo mein noodles themselves. These noodles consist of wheat flour and egg, giving them a soft and chewy texture that pairs perfectly with the other flavors of the dish.


While dried lo mein noodles are readily available in most grocery stores, many traditional recipes call for fresh noodles.


To prepare lo mein, you steam the lo mein noodles and then stir-fry them briefly. This cooking process yields a soft texture, allowing the noodles to absorb the flavors of the accompanying ingredients while maintaining their tender consistency.


3 Similarities Between Chow Mein and Lo Mein

Chow mein and lo mein are alike in a few key ways:

  1. Both dishes use egg noodles. Egg and wheat flour form the basis of this very versatile Chinese noodle.
  2. Both dishes include stir-fried vegetables. When making either dish, you separately stir-fry vegetables and proteins in a heated wok before combining them with the noodles.
  3. Both dishes can feature an array of ingredients. Common additions include snow peas, green onions, carrots, mushrooms and bean sprouts, along with chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or tofu (a soy product). These can vary depending on regional preferences.


3 Differences Between Chow Mein and Lo Mein

There are nuances to these two dishes:

  1. The dishes use different cooking methods. In chow mein, you typically steam and then fry the noodles until they're crispy before tossing in the stir-fried vegetables and meats. With lo mein, you boil the noodles until they reach the desired tenderness, then you toss them with stir-fried vegetables and proteins in a flavorful sauce.
  2. The noodles in each dish differ in texture and heft. Chow mein noodles are usually crispier, while lo mein noodles are softer and chewier. Also, chow mein noodles can vary in thickness, but they are generally thinner and more delicate compared to lo mein noodles.
  3. The dishes use different sauces. Lo mein typically features a thicker sauce, often with ingredients like soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil. In contrast, chow mein tends to have a lighter sauce, which allows the delicate flavors of the ingredients to shine through without overpowering the dish.


6 More Types of Chinese Noodle Dishes

While lo mein and chow mein are undoubtedly popular choices in Chinese cuisine, there are many more noodle dishes that have gained popularity inside and outside of China.

From simple stir-fries to elaborate noodle soups, noodles are a staple on Chinese menus, beloved for their comforting taste and satisfying texture. Below are some different types of noodles you might encounter.


1. Fried Noodles

One of the most beloved variations is fried noodles. Chefs cook these noodles until they become crispy, creating a delightful texture contrast. Often, they top them with a stir-fry of meat, vegetables and a savory sauce.

The noodles soak up the flavors while retaining their crunchiness, offering a satisfying dining experience.

2. Stir-fried Noodles

In Chinese cuisine, stir-fried noodles stand as another staple. The chef quickly cooks fresh or dried noodles in a hot wok with a medley of vegetables, meat and sauces.

The high heat of the wok imparts a smoky flavor to the dish while ensuring that it cooks each ingredient to perfection. This cooking method commonly utilizes Chinese egg noodles, which have a springy texture and the ability to absorb flavors well.

3. Noodle Pancake

A unique twist on traditional noodles involves creating a noodle pancake. The chef presses fresh egg noodles into a pancake shape and pan-fries them until they turn golden and crispy. This dish offers a delightful contrast of textures, with a crunchy exterior giving way to soft, tender noodles inside.

4. Tossed Noodles

Chinese restaurants often favor tossed noodles, a dish where noodles undergo boiling until they're fully cooked before chefs toss them with a flavorful sauce. This method ensures an even coating, allowing each strand to absorb the dish's flavors.

Chefs commonly use light sauces, such as a light soy sauce or oyster sauce, to complement the delicate taste of the noodles.

5. Crispy Noodles

Crispy noodles, another crowd-pleaser, involve deep-frying noodles until they turn golden and crunchy. Chefs then top these crispy noodle nests with a stir-fry of meat, vegetables and sauce for a dish with a satisfying crunch to it.

6. Soft Noodles

In contrast to crispy noodles, chefs cook soft noodles in boiling water until they're tender before incorporating them into various dishes. Depending on the recipe, chefs may use wheat flour noodles, egg noodles or rice noodles.

Softer noodles are perfect for soaking up the flavors of rich broths or sauces, making them a popular choice in noodle soups or braised dishes.

We created this article in conjunction with AI technology, then made sure it was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.