What is Chow Fun?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

“Chow fun” is both a noodle and a dish most commonly seen in the cuisine of Southern China and Hong Kong, though it also appears in some regions of both Malaysia and Singapore. In most cases, this name is only used for the dish in countries that speak English. The Southern Chinese dialectical term for the noodles is ho fun, and the style of preparation — usually stir-fried with vegetables or meat — is shahe fen. The Anglicized name is widely believed to derive from the Mandarin, or Standard Chinese, translation of shahe fen, which is chao fen.

Chow fun noodles are wide and typically stir fried with vegetables and meat.
Chow fun noodles are wide and typically stir fried with vegetables and meat.

The Noodles

Only very wide noodles qualify as chow fun. Most of the time, they are made from ground rice, and are typically sold dry either in thick strips or in sheets. They are usually at least an inch (about 2.5 cm) wide, and anywhere from 6 to 12 inches (about 15 to 30 cm) long. Fresh markets may also sell the noodles wet, usually coated in oil to help them maintain their elasticity.

The flag of Hong Kong. Chow fun is a dish eaten in Hong Kong.
The flag of Hong Kong. Chow fun is a dish eaten in Hong Kong.

Means of Preparation

There are usually two ways of preparing a chow fun dish. The first method is “dry” frying, in which the noodles are cooked on their own in a wok or deep skillet. The heat of the pan gives the noodles a distinctive smoky flavor that many consider a delicacy.

Chow fun may be prepared in a skillet.
Chow fun may be prepared in a skillet.

The alternative is “wet” cooking, in which the noodles are soaked in oil or a savory sauce before cooking, then fried while moist. These noodles often turn out more slippery than those cooked dry, but may be more flavorful.

Types of Dishes

Differences from Lo and Chow Mein

Chow fun noodles are usually made of the same rice starch as chow mein or lo mein, but are very different when it comes to shape and presentation. Both chow and lo mein are rounded thin noodles, often about the size and width of spaghetti. Chow mein are fried in oil before serving, which makes them crunchy. Lo mein are cooked soft, and are usually piled at the bottom of a stir fry dish or topped with meats or cooked vegetables. Fun noodles, in contrast, are usually cooked alongside other ingredients and served as one large mixture.

Nutritional and Health Concerns

Chow fun is rarely considered a health food, even when made with plenty of vegetables. It is typically known for its greasy, oily texture, and the thick sauces most chefs use carry a lot of calories. Some home cooks are able to make moderately healthy chow fun from scratch, but the majority of the dishes that are purchased in restaurants are not considered particularly healthful.

Points of Sale

In the south of China, where the dish originates, noodle stalls and roadside food stands are popular places to find the "fun" preparation, with each vendor offering a slightly different twist. Sometimes, the distinction comes through the sauce or the additions; other times, it is the cooking style. In its many variations, the dish is one of the most popular street foods of Hong Kong and the Guangzhou region of China.

Most Westernized Chinese restaurants and take out services offer a variety of chow fun dishes as well. Some of these are similar to what could be found in China or Southeast Asia, but others are much more adapted to local tastes and customs.

Chow fun is common in the southern part of China.
Chow fun is common in the southern part of China.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Is it Chinese?


Lo mein and chow mein are very different from chow fun. Chow fun noodles are rice noodles. Lo mein and chow mein are egg noodles (wheat based) that are prepared by different methods.


What is the difference between chow fun, chow mein and low mein? I have had all three and every one of them has turned out different. Sometimes you get low mein and it has wide noodles. Sometimes it has rice noodles. Sometimes it has a strong soy flavor and other times it's more subtle.

Are there actually definition for these kinds of foods or are they just American generalities like burritos or pasta?


Vegetable chow fun is a great fast dinner recipe that can feed a whole hungry family quickly. You can buy frozen stir fry veggies at the store. Just steam or fry them up and combine them with cooked chow fun noodles. You can find pre-made sauces at the store that you can pour over the entire concoction.

And then you have an Asian feast that took less than 10 minutes to make. Usually even kids who do not like veggies will enjoy this fast and healthy meal.


Chow fun is one of my all tie favorite noodle recipes. I make it at home and I also end up ordering out for it about once a week.

It is my weakness. I make up in the mornings and I already have a craving for it. I now that it is terrible for you but who cares. Sometimes you have to indulge once in a while. I bet it is better for me than cheesecake.

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