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What is Chow Mein?

Amy Pollick
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Chow mein is a type of Chinese food that contains fried noodles. There are almost as many varieties of this dish as there are cooks, and some varieties might have different names in certain locations. Chow mein often contains stir-fried vegetables and sometimes meat along with the noodles. Soy sauce or other flavorings also can be added.

This dish has its roots in Chinese peasant cooking, with its emphasis on vegetables and stir-fry preparation. It has since been adapted by cooks in many parts of the world. There are varieties that are considered Americanized, as well as Caribbean, Indian and other varieties, although many people still consider all of the varieties to be Chinese food.

One of the distinctive features of chow mein is the noodles, which are often prepared to be crispy. Whether they are the smaller, crunchy noodles that come in a can or the fried egg noodles in restaurants, crispy noodles are what people expect to find in chow mein. Many people call the same mixture with soft noodles lo mein instead of chow mein.

Chow mein can be easily prepared at home, especially because frozen Chinese vegetables are readily available in most grocery stores. A cook can make a sauce with soy sauce, water, cornstarch and oil, but some cooks recommend marinating the meat in soy sauce as well. Cooks who wanting a more authentic flavor might also throw some fish sauce and oyster sauce into the mix. These sauces are rather like soy sauce and are available in most Asian markets or Asian food aisles in supermarkets.

The cook then stir fries the meat, if desired, and sets it aside while cooking the vegetables through. The meat and sauce are returned to the pan and all warmed through. The chow mein is then served with the crispy noodles.

There are so many varieties that there essentially is no wrong way to make chow mein. The cook is free to substitute and tinker with the ingredients in any recipe. Many cookbooks contain recipes, and a great variety of recipes also can be found online.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick , Former Writer
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.

Discussion Comments

By orangey03 — On Apr 11, 2012

I frequently visit the Chinese buffet next to my workplace for lunch, and chow mein stir-fry is my favorite meal that they offer. I usually get the chow mein shrimp, because I have a weakness for seafood.

The dish contains zucchini, squash, and carrots that have been fried along with the noodles. The veggies themselves have a little bit of crunch to their skins, and that goes great with the cruncy noodles.

I have no idea how much fat I'm consuming when I eat chow mein stir-fry, but I really don't want to know. I will still keep eating it, because I am addicted to it.

By Oceana — On Apr 10, 2012

I love the chow mein noodles that you can buy in the grocery store. I seriously could eat half a can at one sitting without any other ingredients added.

My husband makes chicken teriyaki, which is actually a Japanese dish, but we love using chow mein noodles in it. In addition to chicken, this dish also has rice, scrambled eggs, onions, and zucchini, all cooked in teriyaki sauce.

We sprinkle the chow mein noodles on top when it is ready to be served. They don't have to be heated, since they are already fully cooked. They add a wonderful crunch to the meal, and the flavor blends perfectly with the other elements.

By OeKc05 — On Apr 10, 2012

@StarJo – I see what you mean, but I love chow mein. I would much rather crunch on my dinner than have it slide down my throat effortlessly.

To me, the crunchy noodles seem more substantial. I feel like I am really eating something. Chow mein is much more satisfying to me than lo mein.

I particularly love chow mein beef, because I really have to chew on the meat as well as the noodles. The fried noodles may have more calories than other kinds, but I think that is part of what makes the dish so filling.

By StarJo — On Apr 09, 2012

I have had the crispy noodles of a chow mein dish before in a Chinese restaurant, but I actually prefer the soft noodles of lo mein. The meat and vegetables used in both dishes are the same, but the taste is so different to me.

When I bite down on a noodle and feel a crunch, it feels like it is overcooked. I grew up on spaghetti and macaroni, and I just can't get used to the idea of crunchy noodles.

However, I love the flavor of the chow mein dishes, so lo mein is perfect for me. I really love the lo mein that uses beef, shrimp, broccoli, and red peppers along with the soft noodles. It has a very distinctive flavor.

By anon90116 — On Jun 14, 2010

I still would like to know how the noodles are grown? You're not answering my question.

nipper

By dfrum32 — On Apr 21, 2008

I'm glad this article recognizes that chow mein is not exactly authentic Chinese food. Don't get me wrong, I love chow mein, but I am sure it doesn't bear that much resemblance to what actual Chinese peasants eat. Then again, I'm not sure that any Chinese food that you can buy at the local American grocery store bears that much resemblance to real Chinese food!

Amy Pollick

Amy Pollick

Former Writer

Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking...
Learn more
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