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What is Lo Mein?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Lo mein is a Chinese noodle dish made from boiled wheat noodles which are tossed with stir fried vegetables, meats, and a sauce. This dish is extremely popular at Chinese restaurants all over the world, and a wide variety of recipes for it can be found in Chinese cookbooks or by searching with your favorite search engine. Although some people may think of a very specific dish when they think of lo mein, the name is actually a term for a method of preparing noodles; people can use any sort of ingredients or sauce.

In Chinese, mein are noodles, and lo mein are “tossed noodles,” a reference to the fact that the noodles are added to a stir fry wok at the very end of the cooking process. As a result, the noodles stay soft, and they absorb the sauce that the rest of the food is cooked in. In some regions, lo mein isn't even fried; it's made more like a noodle soup than a stir fry dish. By contrast, chow mein is made with noodles which are fried first so that they are crunchy and crispy.

To make lo mein, all you need is noodles, vegetables and meats of choice, and a sauce. Traditionally, the Chinese use egg noodles made from wheat for this dish, although the noodles can be any shape or size. The noodles should be cooked in boiling water until they start to soften and then drained; run cold water over the noodles to prevent sticking. While the noodles are cooking, you can chop ingredients for the stir fry.

Some common ingredients are ginger, garlic, water chestnuts, scallions, peas, carrots, onions, broccoli, bok choy, and mushrooms, though not necessarily together, and you are certainly free to improvise. You can add protein in the form of meats, seafood, or tofu as well. Fry the ingredients lightly; for best results, fry them separately in the wok in batches to ensure that everything is fully cooked.

Once all your add-ins are cooked, toss them together with your sauce, and then add the noodles to make lo mein. Cook until the noodles are warmed through, and serve immediately. You can use shredded vegetables or preserved meats for a garnish, or serve your lo mein straight.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon995267 — On Apr 15, 2016

If I understand correctly the noodles for the dish used in China are thinner then the ones used in America? Can anyone tell me if this is true or not? And if not is that because they use the same noodle or beccause the dish doesn't exist in China proper?

By shell4life — On Jun 15, 2011

Apparently, I have been making chicken lo mein for quite some time now, and I did not even know it! The recipe named it "Chicken Cashew Stir Fry," and I never knew what "lo mein" meant until now. The dish included boiled whole wheat spaghetti noodles, cooked and rinsed in cold water and added to the wok during the last few minutes of cooking. Ginger, shredded carrots, chicken, and soy sauce combined with the noodles do indeed make for "chicken lo mein."

By Valencia — On Jun 15, 2011

I once had a cook off with a friend to settle a long running argument about the merits of lo mein vs chow mein. Unfortunately I lost as I substituted egg noodles for wheat and it didn't work.

I've since found out that spaghetti would have been fine, which is a handy tip for the future.

By Potterspop — On Jun 15, 2011

@angelBraids - I used to have a Chinese neighbor who taught me how to make lo mein, so I can give you some hints on the sauce.

There's no definitive recipe, so I'm not claiming that this is the only way, but a good basic sauce only requires four ingredients.

For a three - four person Chinese lo mein meal you need 2.5 tablespoons of both soy and oyster sauce. (Or all soy if you don't have them both.) Mix the liquid with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch and about a quarter teaspoon of salt.

Chicken lo mein recipes are fine with some chicken broth added, or even some dry sherry. I think this basic sauce is quite open to adaptations, so don't be afraid to experiment.

By angelBraids — On Jun 15, 2011

I've had lo mein chicken, beef and shrimp dishes at Chinese restaurants and they were always tasty. These days I worry about how much MSG is being added and I'd like to make my own.

This article is really helpful with the list of vegetables you can add, but I don't have any recipes for lo mein sauce. Does anyone have advice on how to make this part of the dish?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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