What Is Chow Mein?

Chow Mein is a favorite takeaway dish for many people. It is delicious, thanks to an array of ingredients added to it, and fills you up pretty quickly. 

Even though the dish mainly comprises chow mein noodles, it also has lots of vegetables (and meats, if you like), along with the sauce that makes this dish stand out. In short, it is a great meal for dinner, whether it’s home-cooked or ordered in a restaurant. 

And the great thing is that the chow mein recipe is so simple that it takes less than 20 minutes to prepare.

If you are new to Asian cuisine, you’ve come to the right place. This article discusses everything about chow mein, including its distinction from a remarkably similar dish – lo mein. 

So, sit back and get ready to dive into a wonderful Asian dish – chow mein.

What Is Chow Mein?

Basically, the chow mein dish is fried noodles with veggies and sauce. Although, there is more to that. The Chinese dish isn’t your regular fried meal, it requires the technique that lets you cook crispy chow mein noodles. Soggy noodles will simply not taste the same.

Chow mein sauce is also a combination of different ingredients that give the dish its unique taste. Not to mention veggies and protein that only enhance the taste.

Chow Mein Varieties

In fact, cooking crispy chow mein noodles isn’t the only way to prepare the meal. There is another variety of the dish that is cooked slightly differently. Let’s compare the two:

  • Crispy chow mein: To cook this variation, you need to press chow mein noodles flat on the pan when frying. This will give them a pancake-like shape and look. You can add other ingredients and sauce only when the noodles are firm and crispy.
  • Steamed chow mein: Steamed chow mein is flash-fried and stirred with ingredients and sauce.

Regardless of which variation you choose, the amount of sauce and ingredients never change in a traditional recipe. There is only a bit of thin sauce and a minimum of vegetables and meat. It allows you to enjoy biting into crispy noodles without anything distracting on the plate.

Chow mein noodles are the star of the dish. Preparing the noodles in a proper way is the priority of every chef when it comes to chow mein. Noodles are the main ingredient you can identify chow mein by. Here is how:

  • Chow mein noodles are exceptionally crispy.
  • Chow mein noodles are oily if cooked as seemed chow mein.

Other distinctions include chow mein having just a few extra vegetables and meats but not an overwhelming amount. Another factor that differentiates chow mein from other Asian dishes is the sauce. 

If you like your noodle drained in sauce, be ready to face the opposite with chow mein. The sauce is there just to soften the crispy noodles and poured over the dish just slightly.

What Is Lo Mein?

Lo mein is another Chinese dish that is almost identical to chow mein. Basically, the main ingredient here is also noodles. The dish also includes a variety of vegetables and meats or tofu if you like.

Unlike chow mein, lo mein noodles are dipped in sauce. The noodles absorb the sauce, enhancing its flavor. Other ingredients are also added to the sauce together with lo mein noodles and stir-fried until heated.

There are no varieties of lo mein. The lo mein noodles are usually boiled and drained before being tossed into a wok with savory sauce and other ingredients.

This is how to identify lo mein from chow mein:

  • Lo mein noodles are dripping in sauce.
  • Lo mein isn’t oily or greasy since noodles are boiled.
  • Lo mein has a generous amount of vegetables, meats, or tofu that are also coated with sauce.

Chow Mein Noodles vs. Lo Mein Noodles

Since the main ingredient of the two Asian dishes is noodles, you should know they are prepared differently. Comparing the two dishes, you may not be able to spot even a single difference. 

But don’t be misled into thinking these Chinese dishes are, indeed, the same. The following factor will give you a bigger picture:

  • Chinese cooking methods:
    • Chow mein and lo mein noodles are prepared differently. Chow mein is stir-fried noodles that are pre-soaked in hot water to soften up. Noodles are also cooked alongside other ingredients until everything is ready to be served.
    • In contrast, lo mein noodles are first fully cooked and only then tossed into the wok with the remaining ingredients.
  • Frying vs. tossing:
    • Frying: chow mein noodles are fried with a bit of oil on a blazing hot wok. The stir-fried noodles aren’t fried for too long, just enough to give them a bronze color.
    • Tossing: Lo mein noodles are boiled and only tossed on the wok with other ingredients. There is basically no frying involved; therefore, the noodles aren’t oily.
  • Sauce: Chow mein noodles are usually crispy; that’s why chefs would normally pour just a bit of chow mein sauce to soften noodles. Lo mein dish, on the other hand, features soft noodles well-soaked in the sauce. Its predominant taste comes from its signature sauce.
  • Noodle texture: If chow mein noodles are crispy, then lo mein noodles are rather chewy. Chow mein noodles may resemble a noodle pancake, thin and crunchy. Lo mein, though, is visually a much bigger dish since the cooked noodles become thicker in a sauce, resembling a traditional noodle soup.

Both Chinese dishes use regular egg noodles. For those who don’t know, Chinese egg noodles are wheat flour noodles mixed with eggs. As for lo mein, fresh noodles are the best choice, whilst chow mein can be cooked with either dried or fresh egg noodles.

We will share the recipe for both dishes, but there is one thing you should know when dealing with egg noodles. If you want to cook fresh egg noodles, only a few minutes are enough to bring them to an al dente texture. Dried noodles are boiled for a bit longer, about 5 minutes.

If you cannot find chow mein noodles, don’t worry. There are a few substitutes to use, like spaghetti or linguine noodles.

Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein: Taste Comparison

By answering a few questions, we can help you choose a dish of your preference. However, the final decision is only yours.

  • Do you prefer crunchy noodles, or are you more into soft noodle dishes?
    • If the answer is crunchy noodles, go for chow mein. If you like soft noodles, choose lo mein instead.
  • Do you like your dish coated with sauce?
    • If you have answered yes, definitely try lo mein. But if you want to state the flavor of each ingredient separately, go for chow mein.
  • Do you avoid greasy food?
    • Chow mein is stir-fried with oil, making the dish greasy. However, lo mein may not be the most calory-friendly dish, taking into consideration a bigger portion of ingredients, especially the amount of sauce.

We do insist on trying them both, as the Chinese dishes are only similar in their looks. They taste, though, quite differently, tackling your taste buds from the first bite.

How to Make Chow Mein at Home?

Now to the most important part of this article – the chow mein recipe.

Here is your shopping list for a plate of chow mein:

  • Chow mein noodle, or an alternative
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Bean sprouts
  • Green onions
  • Oil

As for the secondary ingredients, you can really be creative here. If you have other vegetables waiting to be eaten in the fridge, don’t hesitate to add them. Here are some ideas for you:

Don’t forget to add some protein to your plate. Basically, anything you fancy will blend in well:

  • Shrimp or other seafood
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Tofu

Now that you know what to stir-fry to prepare mouth-watering chow mein, it is time for the sauce. Here are chow mein sauce ingredients:

  • Soy sauce (you can opt for a low sodium soy sauce)
  • Oyster sauce
  • Chinese cooking wine
  • Dark soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Brown sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Sriracha sauce (for those who like spicy food)

Once you have all the necessary ingredients, it is time to start the cooking process. First is the sauce recipe:

  1. Get a glass bowl and whisk all the ingredients well.
  2. Set the sauce aside, as we will need it later.

Second, start boiling your egg noodles and get your wok pan. Next, follow these steps:

  • If you want to add any protein, you should cook it now with a bit of oil on a hot wok.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and sauté everything together.
  • Drain the cooked noodles and add to the wok.
  • Stir-fry everything and add just a little bit of the thick sauce.
  • Serve and enjoy!

How to Make Lo Mein at Home?

Lo mein is similar to chow mein in cooking, it is quick and easy (not to mention that the ingredients are exactly the same). We’ve discussed before that what sets lo mein from chow mein is the sauce and noodles. You can add significantly more sauce, and you boil and toss noodles instead of stir-frying.

Here is what you will need:

  • Lo mein noodles (fresh noodles are the best to use for this recipe), or an alternative like ramen noodles
  • Green onions
  • Carrot
  • Zucchini
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Garlic

As for the protein, the choice is pretty much the same as for a chow mein dish:

  • Shrimps or another seafood
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Tofu

Now, one of the most important parts is the lo mein sauce recipe:

  • Sesame oil
  • Light soy sauce
  • Dark soy sauce
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Oyster sauce
  • Brown sugar
  • Red pepper flakes for spiciness

For this recipe, you will need a pot and a wok. Here are the instructions:

  1. Boil the lo mein noodles.
  2. Whisk all the lo mein sauce ingredients together in a glass bowl. Set it aside.
  3. Cook protein in a hot wok.
  4. Add and sauté vegetables with protein.
  5. Drain the noodles and add them to the wok.
  6. Next, pour the sauce.
  7. Don’t fry the noodles, but rather toss or mix them continuously. This prevents noodles from overcooking or becoming soggy.
  8. Serve and enjoy!

Chow Mein Recipes

Chicken Chow Mein

Lo Mein Recipes

Shrimp Lo Mein

As for the chow mein dish, lo mein has basically the same ingredients, except for the protein:

  • Shrimps (we recommend medium-sized shrimps)
  • Vegetables (e.g., zucchini, broccoli, green onions, mushrooms, etc.)
  • Noodles
  • Sauce

Follow these few steps to make a delicious lo mein dish:

  1. Boil noodles.
  2. Peel the shrimps and cut the tails.
  3. Slice vegetables and prepare the sauce (soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and hoisin).
  4. Sauté the shrimp until pink and set aside.
  5. Add a bit of oil and fry vegetables on low heat.
  6. Add shrimp back to the wok and add noodles with the sauce.
  7. Toss and mix everything continuously.
  8. Serve and enjoy your meal!

Final Word

You don’t have to be a professional chef to cook chow mein dishes. It is an easy Chinese dish with a number of ingredients that give it its unique taste. To conclude, the most important ingredient of the dish is noodles. You should fry them until they are crispy and mix them with vegetables and chicken or shrimp.

The same can be said about lo mein dishes. Their main distinction is considerably more sauce and vegetables than chow mein has. This dish features soft and full noodles coated with sweet and sour sauce and lots of vegetables.Follow The Kitchen Community for more dinner ideas.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main ingredients in chow mein?

Chow mein typically consists of noodles, vegetables, and protein such as chicken, beef, or shrimp. The dish can be customized according to your preferences by using different combinations of vegetables and proteins. The noodles are stir-fried with a flavorful sauce to give the dish its signature taste.

How is chow mein different from lo mein?

The primary difference between chow mein and lo mein is in the cooking method. Chow mein noodles are stir-fried, resulting in a crispier texture, while lo mein noodles are boiled and then tossed with sauce. Both dishes can contain similar ingredients in terms of vegetables and proteins.

What distinguishes chow mein from chop suey?

Chow mein and chop suey are both Chinese-American dishes. Chow mein focuses on stir-fried noodles, while chop suey is a vegetable-based dish served over rice or sometimes noodles. The sauces used in each dish may also differ, with chow mein featuring a slightly darker sauce.

What are some popular chow mein variations?

Popular chow mein variations include vegetable chow mein, chicken chow mein, shrimp chow mein, and beef chow mein. You can also find different regional takes on the dish, such as American chow mein, which may include a tomato-based sauce and crispy fried noodles on top.

How is chow mein sauce prepared?

Chow mein sauce typically consists of a mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. The sauce is combined with the stir-fried noodles and ingredients, coating everything evenly and enhancing the flavors.

Where did chow mein originate?

Chow mein originated in northern China and was brought to the United States by Chinese immigrants. It has since become a popular dish in Chinese-American cuisine, with many variations found across different regions.

chicken Chow Mein

What is Chow Mein? - Chicken Chow Mein Recipe

Chicken chow mein is one of the popular homemade dishes. It takes about 20 minutes and can be cooked with most of the vegetables you have in your fridge.
5 from 7 votes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 4
Calories 277 kcal


The main chow mein ingredients for this recipe are exactly the same as we have listed before but with chicken. In short, you need:

  • Vegetables e.g., carrots, broccoli, bell peppers, green onions, garlic, etc.
  • Noodles
  • Chicken filet
  • Sauce


In a few steps, your chicken chow mein is ready to be served for dinner:

  • Prepare the sauce by combining oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and oyster sauce.
  • Cut the chicken into small pieces and cook them on medium heat.
  • Cook chow mein noodles (or a substitute), drain, and set aside.
  • Slice and sauté vegetables together with the chicken for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the noodles and stir-fry them for another few minutes.
  • Pour just a bit of sauce on noodles to soften them.
  • Serve and enjoy your dinner!

This recipe is truly versatile because of the range of vegetables you can add and substitute chicken with shrimp, tofu, pork, or anything else.


    Calories: 277kcal
    Keyword chicken chow mein, chow mein recipes
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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    Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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