The Starchy Difference Between Chicken Lo Mein And Mei Fun

More than 1,200 types of noodles are commonly eaten in China, so if you're cracking open a restaurant take-out menu for American Chinese food, you may feel like you're suddenly over your head when it comes time to order. However, if you're in the United States, there are some noodle dishes you're more likely to see on restaurant menus than others. Two popular options include chicken lo mein and mei fun. 

The main difference between these two dishes is they are made with distinct types of noodles, each based on a different starch. Chicken lo mein is made with thick wheat-based noodles, usually containing eggs. Mei fun, on the other hand, is made from very thin rice noodles. Secondarily, lo mein is usually saucier than mei fun, which is more of a dry noodle stir fry. As for which to order, it depends on what you're in the mood to eat — the thick heft and soft yet chewy bite of lo mein noodles or the slippery, thin strands of mild, rice-based mei fun.

Lo mein noodles are prepared differently in American Chinese cuisine

Wheat and egg-based lo mein noodles are very popular in China and the United States. That said, how these noodles are served in their country of origin differs from how you usually find chicken lo mein at an American Chinese restaurant. In China, lo mein noodles are traditionally boiled, then finished by stirring in a thin sauce to make it more soup-like and topped with wontons or brisket. On the other hand, in the U.S., lo mein is more of a stir-fried noodle dish with a thicker sauce and a mixture of veggies and meat — or sometimes seafood — tossed together. 

Lo mein is also sometimes confused with chow mein. So, what's the difference between chow mein and lo mein? Chow mein is made with a similar type of egg noodle, which is usually boiled, then fried until crispy. However, chow mein noodles are typically used in a dried state before being cooked, whereas lo mein noodles are better when fresh. Lo mein noodles are also better for dishes which are intended to be made ahead of time, thanks to the fact that they're more substantial than chow mein noodles, so they don't get soggy as quickly if left to sit out. 

Mei fun are often used in noodle stir fry dishes

If you've ever had a dish called Singapore noodles from a Chinese restaurant, you've tried mei fun. Mei fun (sometimes called mai fun or rice vermicelli) are thin, circular rice noodles made from rice and water and are white when cooked. These noodles can be used in all sorts of recipes, but in the United States, you're most likely to find them in stir-fried noodle dishes, similar to lo mein. 

Singapore mei fun is a Southern Chinese dish brought to the U.S. and made popular by immigrants. This dish features rice noodles stir-fried with Japanese curry powder, vegetables, and meat. You may also see chow mei fun, or stir-fried mei fun noodles, on numerous Chinese restaurant menus. Chow mei fun can be made with numerous types of meats and vegetables and is usually seasoned with a savory combination of ingredients like soy sauce, oyster sauce, and Shaoxing wine.

The next time you open a Chinese restaurant menu, there's no need to be confused when you get to the noodles section. Remember that lo mein are thick noodles made of wheat and egg, and mei fun are thin, slippery rice noodles, and you'll have an easier time deciding what you want to eat.