The main difference between chow mein and lo mein is that different methods are used to make these stir-fry noodles. Both chow mein and lo mein use wheat-flour egg noodles. More authentic chow mein noodles are fried to crispness, while lo mein noodles are boiled to softness. The noodles themselves have similar nutritional value, but whether a chow mein or lo mein dish is healthy depends on the ingredients used with them in a stir fry.

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Chow Mein versus Lo Mein comparison chart
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Introduction Chow mein is a Chinese term for a dish of crispy stir-fried noodles. Lo mein is a Chinese dish with soft wheat flour noodles.
Literal meaning Stir-fried noodles Tossed noodles
Texture Crispy Soft
Traditional name Chao mian Lo mian
Ingredients Egg noodles – wheat flour with egg Egg noodles – wheat flour with egg
Preparation Start with fresh or dried noodles, parboil; add parboiled noodles to stir fry. Start with fresh noodles, parboil; pour ingredients and sauce over noodles, stir.
Noodle shape Either flat or rounded Rounded
Typical dishes Meat such as beef, chicken or shrimp stir fried with vegetables; soy-based sauce; noodles fried as a patty. Meat such as beef, chicken or shrimp stir fried with vegetables; oyster or soy-based sauce.
Country of origin China China

Preparation and Texture

Both chow mein and lo mein dishes start with egg noodles, made from wheat flower mixed with egg. Chow mein noodles can be either flat or rounded. For preparation, cooks start with either fresh or dried noodles, which are then parboiled. The parboiled noodles are then added to the stir fry mixture and cooked until crispy. This preparation results in a variety of textures within the dish.

Cooks generally start only with fresh noodles for lo mein dishes. These are also parboiled. They can then be added to a stir fry dish with a lot of sauce, tossing them only long enough for them to soak up the sauce. Otherwise, cooks simply pour the stir fry over the cooked noodles and stir. Lo mein noodles are known to soak up the sauce. The video below gives a culinary tour of the different kind of Asian noodles like soba and lo mein, among others:

Nutrition

Because the noodles start out exactly the same, the noodles themselves have the exact same nutrition: 237 calories, 125 calories from fat, 13.8 grams of fat, 25.9 grams of carbohydrates and 198 milligrams of sodium.

However, the very different preparation methods results in differing nutrition. Because chow mein noodles are fried for longer, they usually end up higher in fat than lo mein noodles. Depending on the sauce, lo mein noodles may end up higher in sodium.

Typical Dishes

There are many kinds of chow mein dishes. They typically include a meat such as beef, chicken or shrimp stir fried with vegetables. The stir fry often includes crunchy vegetables such as celery and carrots. Onions, cabbage and mung bean sprouts are other typical ingredients. The sauce is usually soy-based. Sometimes cooks fry the noodles into a patty and serve the stir fry over this. Food network has some authentic as well as creative chow mein recipes.

Lobster chow mein (left) and crispy chow mein in a cup (right)
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Lobster chow mein (left) and crispy chow mein in a cup (right)

Lo mein dishes also come in several varieties. They, too, include a stir fry of meat such as beef, chicken, or shrimp with vegetables. Bok choy and cabbage are common vegetables for lo mein. The sauce can be soy-based or based on oyster sauce. Lo mein dishes typically include more sauce than chow mein dishes do.

Lo mein noodles in a square bowl (left) and chicken lo mein (right)
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Lo mein noodles in a square bowl (left) and chicken lo mein (right)

Origin

Both chow mein and lo mein come from northern China, where wheat-based dishes are more common than rice-based ones. They are both widely available in American Chinese cuisine as well.

Regional Variations

However, chow mein also transcends to Chinese cuisine in other cultures. Brazilian Japanese cuisine features a chow mein similar to the American version with crispier noodles and more soy sauce as well as sesame oil. In Canadian Chinese cuisine, thinner noodles get deep-fried and served with a thick sauce. South Asian Chinese cuisine, such as that served in India, is more likely to be vegetarian and served with gravy. Nepalese Chinese cuisine serves a chow mein with water buffalo meat.

Lo mein dishes do not tend to differ so dramatically except in the sauce, which is not regional.

Etymology

Both chow mein and lo mein are noodle dishes from China. Their names are anglicized versions of the traditional Chinese names, chow mein for chao mian and lo mein for lo mian. Mian simply means noodles. Chao means stir-fried, so chow mein are stir-fried noodles. Lo means tossed, so lo mein are tossed noodles.

References

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