Lo Mein: The Classic Chinese Noodle Dish
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Two foods immediately cross our minds when discussing Chinese noodle dishes- the iconic chow mein and its cousin lo mein.
While you’ll find plenty of info about the former online, lo mein is often less talked about. Or even if it’s mentioned, it’s almost always compared with chow mein.
Well, not here! In this article, we are going to dive a bit deeper in the Chinese noodleverse, and will try to explore its most underrated character in as much detail as possible!
Lo mein is a Chinese dish with egg noodles, vegetables, and protein. The vegetables and proteins are lightly sauteed and then tossed in the sauce with the noodles. The noodles are not fried, unlike chow mein, and the dish is much more complex in flavor.
Let’s jump in to explore more!
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What is Lo Mein?
Lo mein is a Chinese dish that mixes noodles, vegetables, protein, and sauces.
Unlike its cousin, chow mein, the noodles are not stir-fried with the veggies and protein, but mixed with it, in a saucy mixture.
The sauce is prepared with various ingredients, giving it a generally sweet and sour flavor, but with a little complexity that somewhere leads it in the direction of umami.
However, it can also be spicy, depending on what ingredients you put in.
The noodles used in the dish are made with egg and wheat, but you can use any noodles, which we will discuss later.
Although the standard lo mein is prepared with vegetables, noodles, and chicken, the dish has a lot of varieties as you move from place to place, with its own unique tweaks to the original recipe.
For example, In the US, lo mein is often associated with chicken or vegetable varieties. You will usually easily find it in the traditional Chinese noodle takeaways.
However, as you explore, you will find the dish to be made with seafood and beef as well.
In fact, in China, there are tens of different varieties of lo mein as you move from one region to another.
Lo mein can also be made with different noodles, including thin, flat, pressed, or even pancake-like noodles.
The noodles can be steamed, boiled, or fried before being mixed with the other ingredients- whatever suits your preference.
Lo mein can also be made with dried or fresh noodles, found in the fridge section of grocery stores like Woolies or vac-packed in Asian grocery stores.
In some regions of China, lo mein noodles are made from rice flour instead of wheat flour. Some versions of lo mein use thinner, more delicate noodles, similar to angel hair pasta.
The list goes on. But do you know what’s common among them all? They all taste absolutely delicious!
Let’s compare lo mein to hibachi noodles so you won’t mix them up next time
What does lo mein mean?
Lo mein (撈麵) literally translates to “tossed noodles” or “stirred noodles” in Cantonese.
The first translation of the term is used more prevalently because it is more relevant to the preparation method of the dish.
The noodles are tossed and mixed with the other ingredients instead of stir-frying, hence, the name!
What does lo mein taste like?
The taste of lo mein is quite challenging to describe as the dish has so many variations.
However, the most common flavor you will experience in each variation is the sweet savoriness, which is almost the signature taste of Chinese cuisine.
However, when the sauce ingredients are commingled with the varied tastes of vegetables, protein, and noodles, it more or less takes the direction of umami.
This whole new flavor originates from Japan.
Now don’t be confused by the fancy Japanese word and mistake this flavor for something exotic.
Almost all of us have tasted umami, whether in a bowl of noodles, a plate of fried rice, or even our all-time favorite beef stews.
If you’re still confused, you must have tasted MSG at some point in your life, right? Well, that’s the purest form of umami that there is.
Mix it with a grain of sugar and some pepper, and that’s exactly what lo mein tastes like.
The taste of lo mein can differ if you mix other ingredients in the sauce, such as garlic, ginger, and oyster sauce.
They often add herby and tangy notes to the flavor, which can also be spicy sometimes.
How to cook lo mein
Cooking lo mein might be one of the easiest, most delicious-tasting dishes you will ever make.
It takes about 15 minutes to prepare, combining all the sauce-making, stir-frying, and mixing. Let’s break down the whole process in a step-by-step manner:
Making the sauce is simple. All you have to do is mix the right ingredients in the right amount, and there you have it, a bomb of flavors ready to blast in your mouth.
The best thing about lo mein sauce is that you can make it with anything you like, as long as it has that umami tinge.
However, remember that you cannot substitute base ingredients like soy sauce, sugar, and toasted sesame oil with anything else.
As for the rest, you can either add the oyster sauce for a salty-sweet kick, sriracha sauce for more spiciness, or dark soy sauce for a stronger umami. It’s really whatever you like. ; )
Find the best quality soy sauce to buy here in my extensive review
After making the sauce, fill a large pot with water and cook the noodles (or pasta, yup, you can use it) until they obtain the ideal consistency.
The noodles shouldn’t be too soft or too hard, somewhere near al dente.
Make sure the noodles aren’t overcooked, as they obtain quite a mushy and unpleasant texture.
Plus, they will break as you mix them with all the sauce and veggies. Overcooked noodles could turn your lo mein into a hot mess you would struggle to eat and enjoy.
Well, this one’s the most exciting step of the process. You can almost feel the flavors in the aroma that fills your kitchen.
So, here’s how it goes:
- Heat a skillet or wok on high heat and add olive oil or, even better, sesame oil.
- Add any protein of your choice to the skillet and cook it perfectly.
- Set the protein aside and add some vegetables to the same skillet with a bit more oil.
- Cook them until they are crisp: cooked from the outside, a bit raw on the inside.
- Add the sauce and protein to the skillet or wok and cook for a minute.
- Add the noodles and mix up everything together by tossing.
- Serve hot, and enjoy!
How to eat lo mein?
When it comes to eating lo mein, there are a few things to remember. For starters, don’t be afraid to slurp those noodles.
In fact, it’s encouraged! Not only does it help cool down the noodles, but it also adds a certain level of satisfaction to the eating experience.
Ensure you’re not slurping so loudly that your dining companions question your manners.
Another important factor is the sauce.
Generally, mild lo mein noodles are served with a special sauce. Make sure to mix the noodles and sauce thoroughly before taking a bite.
You want to avoid ending up with a mouthful of plain noodles followed by a burst of sauce in the next bite.
It’s like a breeze followed by a hurricane- your taste buds are not ready for that, and neither is it fun.
Last but not least, remember to enjoy the experience. Eating lo mein should be a fun and satisfying activity, not a stressful one.
So, take your time, savor the flavors, and don’t be afraid to go back for seconds (or thirds, we won’t judge).
What’s the origin of lo mein?
We know what you’re thinking, “Who cares about the origin? It’s just noodles, right?”
Wrong! Lo mein is a beloved dish that has been around for centuries, and its history is as fascinating as its taste.
First things first, let’s get one thing straight. Lo mein is not the same as chow mein. I repeat, NOT the same.
Chow mein is made with crispy noodles, while lo mein is made with soft wheat noodles.
Now, back to the origin of lo mein. It’s believed that the dish originated in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE).
However, it was in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) that lo mein became popular.
Legend has it that a famous poet named Bai Juyi was served a dish of soft noodles by a monk, and he loved it so much that he wrote a poem about it. A POEM!
Who does that: dude must have been at the pinnacle of creativity at the moment.
In the 1800s, Chinese immigrants brought lo mein to the United States, where it became a staple in Chinese-American cuisine.
The origin of lo mein is a tale as old as time, filled with poetry… and immigration.
The next time you’re chowing down on a plate of soft, delicious noodles, remember the history behind it.
And please, for the love of all things culinary, don’t confuse it with chow mein.
What is the difference between lo mein and chow mein?
Chow mein and lo mein are two of the most confusing culinary terms that refer to two different noodle preparation styles.
The word “mein” translates to “noodles” in Chinese, and the word “chow” means “stir-fried,” while “lo” means “tossed.”
Here are the differentiators in the preparation styles of chow mein and lo mein:
Chow mein involves cooking the noodles separately from the vegetables and meat.
The noodles are soaked in hot water, drained, and stir-fried in a wok alongside the remaining ingredients.
The goal is to make the noodles slightly crispy and chewy, thick enough to support the weight of the toppings. Despite the wheat flour, the noodles are slightly dry and sturdy.
Lo mein, on the other hand, involves mixing cooked noodles with vegetables and meat.
The noodles are boiled until barely cooked, drained, and then poured into the wok near the end of the cooking process.
The remaining ingredients are then mixed and tossed together with the noodles. The goal is to make the noodles saucy and slightly chewier than chow mein.
Both dishes also greatly differ in flavor and texture. Chowmein is prepared with a very light, delicate sauce, mostly by mixing soy and oyster sauce.
Moreover, the noodles are prepared in a way that they are slightly crispier and dry, obtaining most of their flavoring from veggies and protein added to the dish.
Lo mein, on the other hand, is prepared in a sea of thick sauce made with ingredients of myriad different flavors.
These noodles are comparatively moist, smooth, and chewy, with no crispiness.
While both taste delicious and seem similar, anyone regularly eating chow mein or lo mein can instantly tell the difference.
What’s the difference between lo mein and yakisoba?
You might well know that yakisoba is the Japanese version of lo mein.
But are both the dishes really that similar, or is it just a vague comparison? Let’s have a look!
So the difference between lo mein and yakisoba is the preparation method.
Yakisoba, unlike lo mein, is a stir-fry. In other words, the noodles are not just tossed and mixed with the ingredients.
Instead, they are properly stir-fried with the ingredients to absorb maximum flavor. The flavoring ingredients of both dishes are similar and have the same profile.
Another difference is that lo mein is prepared using egg noodles, while yakisoba is prepared with wheat noodles or other noodles, depending on your choice.
You can even prepare yakisoba noodles with ramen.
That’s what makes this dish so special. It gives you a lot of room for customization according to your taste and preference.
You can even prepare it with leftovers!
Overall, these dishes are more similar than different. You can eat either one and be sure that it will taste delicious.
There’s no comparison when it comes to the taste.
Types of lo mein
Hey there, noodle lovers! Are you tired of the same old boring lo mein?
Well, fear not, because there are different types of lo mein out there! Let’s dive in and explore these delicious differences.
Classic lo mein
First up, we have the classic lo mein. This is your go-to, basic noodle dish that you can find at any Chinese restaurant.
It’s made with wheat flour noodles and typically includes vegetables and protein. It’s a safe choice, but sometimes you need a little more excitement.
Seafood lo mein
Next, we have seafood lo mein. As the name suggests, this dish features a variety of seafood, such as shrimp, squid, and scallops.
It’s an excellent option for seafood lovers who want to switch up their usual order. Just be careful not to get any tentacles stuck in your teeth!
Vegetable lo mein
If you’re feeling adventurous, try out vegetable lo mein. This dish is perfect for vegetarians or anyone looking to add more greens to their diet.
It’s typically made with a variety of vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms.
It’s a healthy option that won’t leave you feeling guilty for indulging in some noodles.
Like to combine veggies and meat? I have a hearty & healthy Filipino Lo Mein Beef Broccoli Recipe here for you to try
Spicy lo mein
For those who like a little kick, there’s spicy lo mein. This dish is not for the faint of heart, as it’s made with spicy sauce and chili peppers.
It’s perfect for those who love a challenge and want to test their spice tolerance. Just make sure to have a glass of milk nearby!
Chicken lo mein
Chicken lo mein. This dish is made with tender chicken and various vegetables, such as onions and peppers.
It’s a classic that never gets old and is perfect for those days when you just need some good old-fashioned comfort food.
Besides the aforementioned basic variations, there are also some local takes on the dish as we move throughout China.
However, they are all similar to the ones we mentioned. The ones other than that are conventionally called lo mein because they use the same wheat noodles.
Some variations of lo mein also mix chicken with seafood to obtain a unique texture and taste. You will find those most in American-Chinese restaurants.
What are some popular Lo Mein seasonings?
Following are all the popular seasonings used to flavor a typical lo mein bowl:
First up, we have soy sauce. We know what you’re thinking, “Soy sauce? That’s not exciting!”.
But hey! Soy sauce is a classic for a reason.
It’s salty and savory and adds a depth of flavor to your lo mein that you can’t get with anything else.
Next, we have oyster sauce. Don’t worry; there are no actual oysters in it (unless you’re into that kind of thing).
Oyster sauce is a thick, sweet, and slightly salty sauce made from oyster extract, soy sauce, and sugar.
It’s perfect for adding a touch of sweetness to your lo mein and other dishes. You can also use it as a dipping sauce.
It brings a beautiful depth to the already delicious flavors of your favorite snacks.
If you’re feeling adventurous, add some hoisin sauce to your lo mein. It’s a thick, sweet, and savory sauce made from soybeans, sugar, vinegar, and garlic.
It has a generally complex flavor and enhances the umaminess of the soy sauce.
Sriracha sauce and chili
Ok, this one’s not for the faint-hearted. But if you’re all into spicy foods and would love to convert your lo mein into something more than just a basic Chinese salty-sweet dish, try adding chili powder or sriracha sauce.
It will add a beautiful combination of garlicky-sweet notes to the noodles, converting them into something more aromatic and tasteful.
The prominent tanginess of the sauce transforms lo mein into a true Chinese sweet-sour staple.
On the other hand, chili powder will add much-needed hotness to the dish, making it spicier than an ordinary Chinese food lover would like.
Sure, it’s not traditional. But who cares as long as it tastes great and you like it?
Last but not least, we have sesame oil. It’s a fragrant oil made from toasted sesame seeds, adding a nutty flavor to your lo mein.
Additionally, it’s healthy and fills your bowl of lo mein with good fatty acids.
You can also try grapeseed oil if you don’t have sesame oil. It has a similar flavor and is a great flavor enhancer.
Besides, it’s healthy too, so that’s another great thing about it.
Can’t find sesame oil? Here are the 12 best substitutes for toasted and light sesame oil
What are popular lo mein pairings?
Lo mein is a dish filled with veggies, proteins, and powerful seasonings that don’t leave much room for any pairings.
However, we understand that sometimes you want to kick things up a little, so we compiled a list of some of our favorite pairings with lo mein.
The following are all of them:
General Tso’s cauliflower
Ok, we’re not gonna lie! The first thing that caught our attention while researching this unique dish was the name itself.
But that’s not the only thing that makes this unique.
General Tso’s cauliflower is one of those dishes you won’t find in your local Chinese takeaways.
It’s crispy, saucy, and so flavorful you could eat it with bland bread. If you want to try out something special, give this a try.
You’ll like it!
But you might think, well, there’s already a lot of veggies in my lo mein. Why would I want more broccoli?
Well, because it tastes absolutely amazing without overshadowing the flavor of lo mein itself?
Garlic-sesame broccoli takes about a few minutes to prepare, and the garlicky, nutty goodness it adds to your lo mein with a little of that crisp is something no one can dislike.
Chinese vegetable spring rolls
Watching your calories? Don’t try it! Want to have some fun? There’s nothing better.
With or without dips, Chinese spring rolls supremacy is undeniable.
So next time you make your favorite lo mein and want to spice up the experience, side it with vegetable spring rolls, and be ready to fill up a few second plates!
One thing makes sauteed cucumbers unique: you either hate or love it; there are no in-betweens.
Sure, your tastebuds will take a few bites to get used to it, but you won’t get enough of it once they do.
Just make sure you don’t overcook the cucumbers, though. The texture needs to be fresh and crispy for a complete experience.
Rather have your cucumbers raw? Try this light and fresh Sunomono cucumber salad recipe to pair with your lo mein
Baked chicken breast
Well, if you have already added stir-fried chicken to your lo min, there’s no need to side the dish with extra chicken since it could make it heavier.
But if you are eating vegetable lo mein, baked chicken breast is one of the best pairing options.
The crisp texture of the chicken from the outside and the juiciness from the inside with a purely natural flavor are tantalizing.
Don’t forget to top the chicken breast with a light drizzle of lemon juice, though. It will make the taste so much better.
Ingredients of lo mein
Lo mein is prepared with various basic but delicious ingredients that blend well.
Following is a brief overview of everything you can put in this Chinese street staple:
First off, let’s start with the noodles. Lo mein noodles are made from wheat flour and egg, and have a nice chewy texture.
It’s like biting into a rubber band but in a good way!
These noodles are cooked until they’re just the right amount tender, not too soft, and not too hard.
Lo mein is typically loaded with various vegetables, including carrots, cabbage, onions, and bean sprouts.
It’s like a garden party in your mouth!
These veggies add a nice crunch and some much-needed nutrition to the dish.
Moreover, their subtle flavors combine well with the other ingredients.
Want to grow your own sprouts? Here are the best mung beans to buy for sprouting
Lo mein can be made with various types of meat, such as chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp. It’s like a meat lover’s dream come true!
The protein is usually cooked separately and then added to the noodles and veggies, creating a perfect balance of flavors.
The combination of noodles, veggies, and proteins is typically tossed in a savory sauce made from soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sesame oil.
This sauce ties all the ingredients together, giving the dish its signature taste. Unlike chow-mein, the lo mein sauce is much more complex in its flavor profile.
Where to eat Lo Mein?
Wherever there’s Chinese food, there’s lo mein. The dish’s so common you don’t even have to look for it.
Go to any of your favorite food places with the word Chinese in it, and you’ll find lo mein listed as one of their customer favorites.
For example, we have the classic Chinese takeout joint. You know the one – it’s been around since you were born, and the menu hasn’t changed since then, either.
But hey, they know what they’re doing. You can always count on them for some greasy, satisfying lo mein.
Just don’t expect any fancy ingredients or presentations.
Another place you can eat chow mein is the trendy Asian fusion spot. They’ve got all sorts of crazy twists on traditional dishes, and lo mein is no exception.
They may throw in some kale or quinoa or top it with a poached egg. It’s all about the Instagram-worthy presentation here.
But be prepared to pay a pretty penny for your fancy noodles- they don’t come cheap.
Last but not least, we have the DIY option. Hit up your local Asian market and grab some fresh noodles, veggies, and sauce. Then head home and get cooking.
Sure, it might not be as convenient as takeout, but you’ll feel like a culinary master when you’re slurping up your homemade lo mein.
What is the etiquette for eating lo mein?
First things first: Lo mein is meant to be slurped up with chopsticks like a pro.
Don’t worry if you’re not a chopstick master yet; practice makes perfect.
Now, when it comes to slurping, don’t be shy. In fact, the louder the slurp, the better. It’s a sign that you’re really enjoying your food.
Just make sure you don’t slurp up any noodles that are too long and end up with sauce all over your face.
Another essential thing to remember is to mix up your noodles and toppings. Don’t just dig in and eat all the noodles first, leaving the veggies and meat behind.
Take a little of everything in each bite for the perfect flavor combination.
And finally, remember to use your chopsticks to pick up any loose veggies or meat that may have fallen out of your bowl.
It shows respect for the food and the chef who prepared it.
Is lo mein healthy?
As simple as it seems, this is quite a complex question. To answer it, this really depends on what you put in your dish and how much you put in.
It can be either healthy or unhealthy, depending on the ingredients. Let us explain!
So, lo mein noodles are made from wheat flour, which means they’re not gluten-free. But hey, if you’re not gluten intolerant, then that’s not a problem.
Find gluten-free noodle options in my line up of the best substitutes for egg noodles here
The noodles themselves aren’t necessarily unhealthy, but they are high in carbs. So if you’re watching your carb intake, go easy on the lo mein.
While the sauce makes lo mein so delicious, it’s also what can make it super unhealthy.
Lo mein sauces are generally loaded with sugar and sodium, which can wreak havoc on your health.
However, let’s not make it a villain just yet. There are a lot of healthy alternatives to high-sodium ingredients you can use to make the sauce.
The only problem is that none are “sodium-free” or “sugar-free.” So you have to be careful.
Now let’s talk about the good stuff- the protein and veggies. As you know, lo mein contains plenty of them.
The veggies and meat are packed with vitamins and minerals, making the otherwise tasty food a tad nutritious.
While the dish is not as healthy as something you would want to include in your daily diet, it’s one of the most delicious foods when eaten in moderation.
In conclusion, lo mein is a delicious and versatile dish that has become a staple in Chinese cuisine.
With its long, thin noodles, savory sauce, and a variety of meat and vegetable options, it offers a satisfying and flavorful meal that can be enjoyed on its own or paired with other Chinese dishes.
Whether you prefer it with chicken, beef, shrimp, or vegetables, or with a spicy or mild sauce, lo mein is a crowd-pleaser that can be easily customized to suit any taste.
So the next time you’re in the mood for some Chinese food, consider trying a plate of lo mein – you won’t be disappointed!
Next, let’s explore the wonderful world of those thick Japanese noodles: udon
Check out our new cookbook
Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.
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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.