Noodles, veggies, and protein: These are the three components in any classic chow or lo mein. Although they may have similar ingredients, and are both delicious and popular in Chinese American restaurants across the country, they are not the same dish. “I think they became prominent on Chinese American menus because early Cantonese immigrants brought these dishes over,” said Maggie Zhu, author of the Omnivore’s Cookbook. She has developed recipes of both dishes, and explained the difference between them thusly.

chow mein, lo mein

Lo mein is on the right. chow mein is on the left.

Let’s start with the noodles.

“For me the key difference is the type of noodles used in them,” Maggie said. “Lo mein usually uses the fat, chewy noodles, while chow mein uses the thin type of noodles that sometimes contain egg.” Lo mein uses fresh noodles that are boiled for a few minutes, while chow mein uses dried noodles that are parboiled for five to six minutes.

Then there’s the difference in cooking method.

“You can pan fry chow mein noodles with a bit more oil so they become crispy,” Maggie said. The noodles are fried, often with the veggies and meat. “With lo mein, you just toss the noodles with sauce and the ingredients,” she continued. “So the flavor is soaked in, and the noodles have a nice chewy texture.” These noodles are added to the end of the stir fry with tons of sauce.

So, what’s the best way to prepare chow or lo mein?

“I like to load up my fried noodles with a ton of vegetables. Sometimes as much vegetables as noodles,” Maggie said. “I like to add shrimp to mine as well, because they require very little prep, and you can get away without marinating them.” To get started, check out this chicken chow mein recipe or this shrimp and broccoli lo mein recipe.

Chow mein: thin, dried noodles that are parboiled for 5-6 minutes, and fried alongside veggies and meat.

Lo mein: fat, chewy noodles that are boiled for a few minutes, then added to stir-fry after veggies and meat is cooked.

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