Lo mein (撈麵, lāo miàn) is a Chinese noodle dish ubiquitous at Chinese restaurants in the United States. While lo mein has changed over time, especially in the United States, the history of lo mein can actually be traced back over 2,000 years. Not only are the noodles used especially because they hold sauce easily and don’t break apart in water, but they also have a spiritual meaning as well. They are often served during celebrations to honor a long and prosperous life.
What Is Lo Mein?
Lo mein is made with fresh, thick egg noodles, vegetables like bok choy, bean sprouts, and cabbage, and, oftentimes, beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp. American lo mein is different from Chinese lo mein. American lo mein consists of stir fried noodles with a thick soy-based sauce, vegetables, and meat or seafood. Cantonese lo mein has a thinner sauce that is stirred into the noodles, which are topped with wontons or brisket.
What Does Lo Mein Taste Like?
Essentially, lo mein is a dry version of noodle soup. The noodles are chewy, drenched in sauce, and mixed with stir fried vegetables. A popular dish at Chinese American restaurants, lo mein takeout is traditionally served without soup, but when you order lo mein at a restaurant, it often comes with a separate bowl of broth. Like many Chinese food dishes, it has evolved and grown, so you can find many variations at restaurants and takeout establishments.
Chow Mein vs Lo Mein
Chow mein (炒面, chǎomiàn) and lo mein share similarities: both have egg noodles and vegetables and, oftentimes, meat, but they are distinct dishes. The differences between the dishes are how the noodles are prepared, the texture of the noodles, and the sauce. Lo mein noodles are soft and chewy and have more sauce than chow mein.
Chow mein is a dish of thin, dried egg noodles that are boiled al dente (Italian for "to the tooth") and then fried in oil with vegetables until the noodles are crispy.
Lo mein is a dish of thick, fresh egg noodles that are boiled. Vegetables and sauce are stir fried and then the noodles are added at the end for a final stir fry.
How to Make Lo Mein
A basic lo mein recipe typically includes the following ingredients:
Vegetables like bok choy, cabbage, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and snow peas
Optional: meat or seafood
First, the egg noodles are boiled and set aside. Then, vegetables and sauce (and, oftentimes, protein like meat or seafood) are stir fried together. Finally, the noodles are added to the wok or pan and stirred until well coated with sauce.
Lo mein delivers on all the best sweet and umami comfort food flavors and can be adjusted to fit your favorite ingredients. Lo mein is easy, quick, and inexpensive to make, and it is a great option for busy nights.
Variations of lo mein include beef lo mein, shrimp lo mein, and vegetarian lo mein.
Recipe: Beef Lo Mein
Make a heartier version of lo mein by adding beef. Give it an extra kick by adding Sichuan Chili Crisp.
Fresh lo mein noodles
Vegetables: Mushrooms, red peppers, bamboo shoots, cabbage, snow peas, bean sprouts.
Step One: Prepare your beef in the marinade and let sit for half an hour. For flank steak, slice into thin strips against the grain.
Step Two: Mix the lo mein sauce. This will be rich with flavors of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Adjust to taste.
Step Three: Prepare the noodles. If you purchased cooked noodles, you’ll want to loosen them under hot water and then allow them to drain completely. For uncooked noodles, follow the instructions on the package, and cook until al dente. Drain completely.
Step Four: Slice and prep your vegetables.
Step Five: Heat your oil in the wok. Sear both sides of the meat in a single layer. Remove and set aside.
Step Six: Cook the vegetables according to their preparation needs, adding when ready with another splash of oil.
Step Seven: Add the noodles, taking care to unstick them so they all cook individually.
Step Eight: Toss Shaoxing wine, noodles, and vegetables together and then add your sauce.
Step Nine: Add any remaining vegetables and beef, then toss in any scallions or toppings. Serve with sauces like chili crisp, and enjoy!
Lo Mein Variations
Shrimp Lo Mein
Making shrimp lo mein is very similar to beef lo mein; just adjust the flavors for that savory, umami taste. While the ingredients are the same, you will swap out the vegetables for vegetables that complement shrimp rather than beef.
Vegetarian Lo Mein
Lo mein is already a vegetable-rich dish, so if you’re looking to adjust it to be vegetarian or vegan, it’s easy. Even if you don’t follow a vegetarian diet, this dish is chock full of great flavors and ingredients that you’re sure to love the vegetarian version.
The major difference between vegetable lo mein and other lo mein recipes is in the pantry ingredients. If you’re making vegetable lo mein for a vegetarian diet, substitute out the oyster sauce for a vegetarian oyster sauce and the chicken stock for a vegetable stock or water. You’ll also get to add more vegetables. Carrots, snow peas, peppers, and mushrooms are all great options! Serve immediately or prepare a large batch to enjoy this great dish over the course of a few days.