Noodles are an especially popular dish in China. Dating way back to the Han Dynasty, noodles symbolize a long and prosperous life.
While many Chinese-American dishes, like General Tso’s chicken, are nowhere to be found in China, lo mein is actually an authentically Chinese dish, popular and inexpensive throughout many regions in China.
And, of course, lo mein is also a wildly popular and cheap meal in the States, especially for take-out. It’s the ultimate comfort food, like a bowl of mac ‘n cheese, right?
Simply put, “lo” means stirred or tossed and “mein” means noodles. And lo and behold, there are differences between the lo mein you’d find in China and the Chinese-American lo mein you’d order at a restaurant in a Chinatown in New York, Boston or San Francisco (although that’s not to say you can’t find authentic lo mein here).
There are some similarities, too. For instance, the noodles used to make the dish in China and in the States are the same—typically Chinese egg noodles made from fresh wheat flour with added egg and about ¼ inch thick.
The noodles are cooked al dente, drained and, in the states, then added to a sizzling hot wok where they are quickly tossed with the sauce and meats like pork, beef and chicken, or seafood is also sometimes used like lobster and shrimp. The soft noodles soak up the sauce, making lo mein a saucy standout dish. And the noodles are tossed, not stir-fried, the technique used when making chow mein.
In China, the noodles are typically tossed in that sizzling wok with a thin sauce for a soupy consistency and you might find wonton or beef brisket crowning the dish. Often, too, the noodles, veggies and meat are served alongside the sauce or soup in authentic Chinese lo mein. And in China, vegetables typically include bok choy, mushrooms and cabbage.
Sauce is also key. In the states, the sauce is typically a brown sauce typically made from sesame oil, rice wine, chicken broth, soy sauce, hoisin, ginger, oyster sauce and a thickener like cornstarch. Whereas in China, the sauce is much lighter and soupier and with fewer ingredients—soy, rice vinegar, and just a pinch of cornstarch to thicken.
And yes, it’s true that lo mein can be salty and greasy—but if a reduced or low sodium soy sauce is used, as well as less sesame or other oil, you’ll get a healthier, but just as tasty dish.
Note: When making the dish at home, you can find classic lo mein egg noodles in an Asian grocery market. But you can also easily swap in fettuccine noodles, linguini, even spaghetti as long as you cook them al dente. And keep in mind, the thicker the noodle the more authentic the dish.
Lo mein is a cheap take-out meal, and a budget-friendly and easy dish to make at home for a snack or meal. Here are a few recipes.
Try this quick, under-thirty-minutes chicken lo mein recipe from Chef Savvy. It features chicken thighs and vegetables—along with those noodles, of course.
And this lo mein recipe from Damn Delicious is perfect for a last-minute craving—it’s a 15-minute dish with a healthy bent, thanks to loads of veggies.
The Woks of Life offers another solid vegetable lo mein recipe.
When you can’t get to an Asian market for those Chinese egg noodles, here’s an easy Homemade Chinese Egg Noodles recipe from China Sichuan Food.
Header image courtesy of Chef Savvy.