Chow mein and chow fun (pronounced chow foon) are two incredibly popular Chinese noodle dishes. In both dishes, noodles are stir-fried with meat, vegetables, and saucy condiments for a flavorful and nutritious one-pan meal.
Due to their similar-sounding names and base of noodles, these dishes are often confused. This article highlights the notable differences—most importantly the type of noodle used—between chow fun and chow mein, plus provides recipes for each.
What is chow fun?
Chow fun is a Cantonese dish that typically consists of chewy rice noodles stir-fried in a very hot wok with a combination of protein (meat or tofu), vegetables, and bean sprouts.
This staple Chinese noodle dish, native to southern China, can be found in most Chinese restaurants around the world. It’s also easy (and delicious!) to make yourself at home.
What does chow fun mean?
Chow fun (炒粉 in Cantonese, pronounced “Chow foon”) literally translates to fried (chow) noodles (fun).
The dish is said to have originated in Shahe, a subdistrict of Guangzhou in the South. (Therefore, the noodles themselves are sometimes called Shahe Fun.) Chow fun is popular throughout China, Vietnam, Thailand, and the West.
Types of chow fun
There are two different styles of chow fun stir fry: wet and dry.
- Dry chow fun uses less soy sauce and other seasoning ingredients so that it colors and flavors the dish but doesn’t form a sauce. Dry chow fun typically consists of noodles, meat, and bean sprouts, without the addition of other vegetables. The noodles in dry chow fun get a tad crispier.
- Wet chow fun is cooked in a similar way but uses more soy sauce and flavoring ingredients so that a sauce or gravy forms. In addition to the noodles, meat, and bean sprouts, vegetables (such as bok choy, onions, and mushrooms) are included. Wet chow fun tastes slightly sweeter due to the added gravy ingredients. This style is also known as Hong Kong-style chow fun.
What is usually in chow fun?
Chow fun consists of stir-fried rice noodles, protein, and vegetables in a flavorful sauce. While the noodles are consistent, there are many variations of proteins and vegetables based on personal preference. Here are some common chow fun ingredients:
- Noodles: Chow fun noodles are wide, flat noodles made of rice flour. They have a slightly chewy texture and don’t crisp up as much as chow mein noodles.
- Protein: The most popular protein choice is beef, but chicken, pork, shrimp, eggs, or tofu are also commonly used in chow fun.
- Vegetables: Bean sprouts are very common in chow fun. Other veggies include bok choy, green beans, white onion, green onions, broccoli, carrots, snap peas, cabbage, and mushrooms.
- Sauce: The amount of sauce will vary based on wet or dry style chow fun. The sauce can also be used as a marinade before cooking the meat.
What is chow fun sauce made of?
Chow fun sauce commonly includes light soy sauce (or regular soy sauce, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and black pepper. Sugar and starch may be added to sweeten and thicken the sauce.
What does Chow Fun taste like?
Chow fun is a saucy noodle dish with a nice balance of sweet, savory, and umami flavors from the sauce ingredients. There is an undertone of rice flavor from the noodles and added flavor from the aromatics often used in the sauce (garlic and ginger).
How do you make chow fun?
The most important tool for making chow fun is a large wok. Be sure the wok is very hot, and use oven mitts if needed to protect your hands. Here are the basic cooking steps:
- Prepare the noodles: If using dry rice noodles, you will have to soak them before cooking.
- Cook the protein: Pan-fry your chosen protein in a smoking hot wok with some oil.
- Add veggies: Next, add your vegetables of choice to the meat in the hot wok. If you’re using bean sprouts, add these at the very end.
- Season: Add your sauce condiments to the meat and veg as they continue cooking.
- Cook the noodles: Lastly, add the soaked noodles to the pan to briefly fry them and coat them with the sauce ingredients. Add sprouts now, if using.
Best chow fun recipes
The Woks of Life has two fantastic chow fun recipes: a traditional beef chow fun recipe that can easily be made with chicken breast and a vegetable chow fun that calls for eggplant, mushrooms, and bell peppers.
What is chow mein?
One of the most popular Chinese cuisine dishes, chow mein is another noodle-based dish consisting of thin and crispy egg noodles stir-fried in a hot wok, typically with meat, vegetables, and a flavorful sauce.
This is a northern-style Chinese dish that is enjoyed around the world. Like chow fun, it’s very versatile and is easy to whip up at home!
What does chow mein literally mean?
The name chow mein literally means stir-fried noodles. The term originates from the Taishanese words chow (炒) meaning 'stir-fried' and mein (simplified Chinese: 面; traditional Chinese: 麵) meaning noodles.
The dish chow mein originated in Taisha near the Pearl River delta in northern China. While chow mein is popular throughout China and the world, it is thought of as a northern-style Chinese dish.
Types of chow mein
As with chow fun, there are two styles of chow mein. The different types of chow mein have to do with the noodles, rather than the amount of sauce used. The two types of cooking methods for the noodles are:
- Stir Fry method: In this method, par-boiled noodles are added to the wok with cooked meat, vegetables, and sauce ingredients toward the end of cooking. They are mixed in with the other ingredients and coated in the sauce before serving.
- Noodle pancake method: In this method, the stir-fry begins by adding the soaked noodles to a hot wok with oil. The noodles are kept together and fried on hot heat until they form a crispy pancake of sorts. The meat and vegetables are then cooked in the sauce ingredients and added on top of the noodles.
What does chow mein consist of?
Chow mein consists of stir-fried egg noodles, protein, and vegetables, all coated in an aromatic sauce. The noodles can be cooked in one of two ways (stir-fry method or pancake method).
As with chow fun, the protein and vegetable options for chow mein are endless. Here are some common chow fun ingredients:
- Noodles: Chow mein noodles are made from egg, wheat flour, and water. They are thin, long, and similar to spaghetti or ramen noodles in shape.
- Protein: Chow mein often uses beef or chicken, but shrimp, pork, egg, and firm tofu are also popular.
- Vegetables: Bok choy, onion, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, snap peas, and bean sprouts are popular choices for chow mein stir-fry.
- Sauce: Chow mein is typically a bit less saucy than chow fun, but a mixture of savory sauce ingredients, such as soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil, can be used.
What is chow mein sauce made of?
Traditional chow mein sauce uses a combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and pepper. Cornstarch and sugar are often added to thicken and sweeten the sauce.
How does chow mein taste?
The sauce condiments used in chow mein give it a sweet and savory flavor with notes of umami, ginger, and spicy pepper. The egg noodles have a crispier texture than chow fun.
How do you make chow mein?
Just like with chow fun, chow main should be cooked in a large wok at high heat. The steps for making the dish will depend on the style of noodle you are going for.
How to make stir-fry chow mein:
- Prepare the noodles: If using dry noodles, they will have to be parboiled and put into a pot with cold water first.
- Cook the protein: Add your chosen protein to the hot wok with vegetable oil. Once the meat is cooked through, set it aside.
- Add veggies: Now add your veggies to pan-fry them.
- Season: Add the sauce condiments to the cooking vegetables.
- Add noodles: Toss in the noodles and mix with other ingredients and sauce to coat them fully. Return the meat to the wok and mix well before serving.
How to make pancake-style chow mein:
- Prepare the noodles: If using dry noodles, they will have to be cooked al dente first and put into cold water.
- Fry noodles: Add the soaked noodles into the hot wok, keeping them together so they fry up into a pancake of sorts. Once fried, transfer to the plate.
- Cook the protein: Add your chosen protein to the hot wok. Cook the protein through and then set aside.
- Add veggies: Now add in your veggies to pan-fry them.
- Season: Add the sauce condiments to the cooking veggies and mix well.
- Serve: Top the fried noodle pancake with the cooked meat, veggies, and sauce before serving.
Best chow mein recipes
We love this authentic chicken chow mein recipe from Omnivore’s Kitchen. Ready in just 10 minutes, it uses juicy chicken breast, crunchy vegetables, and an aromatic brown sauce.
For a gluten-free alternative. I Heart Umami has a Cantonese beef chow mein recipe using spiralized sweet potato noodles. With crunchy veggies in a sweet and tangy sauce.
Summary: What is the difference between chow fun and chow mein?
Both of these noodle dishes consist of stir-fried noodles with protein and vegetables in a sweet and savory, umami-rich sauce. There are some notable differences to consider when deciding between chow mein vs chow fun.
- Noodles: Chow fun uses chewy wide rice noodles, while chow mein is made with thin, round egg noodles that get a bit crispy when cooked.
- Sauce: Chow fun can be made wet (more sauce) or dry (less sauce). Chow mein is typically a bit dryer than chow fun.
- Texture: Chow fun rice noodles are soft and chewy and the dish uses more sauce. Chow mein noodles tend to be crispier and dryer.
- Origins: Chow mein originated in northern China while chow fun is a southern-style Chinese dish.
If you enjoyed this breakdown of chow fun vs chow mein noodle dishes, be sure to check out some of our other trending “vs” articles on Asian cuisine:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1: Is chow mein healthier than chow fun?
A: No, chow mein is considered less healthy than chow fun because it is typically higher in calories and sodium. Both dishes can be made healthier by reducing oil and high-sodium sauce ingredients and by using lots of fresh vegetables and lean protein for added nutrition.
Q2: Are Chinese noodles healthy?
A: Traditional Chinese noodle dishes tend high in calories, carbs, sugar, and sodium. They can be made healthier by reducing the amount of oil used, opting for low-sodium sauce ingredients, and incorporating lots of fresh vegetables and lean proteins. from rice and noodles, sugary sauces, and battered and fried proteins.
Chow Fun vs Chow Mein: What's the Difference?
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