What is Lo Mein?

Mary McMahon

Lo mein is a Chinese noodle dish made from boiled wheat noodles which are tossed with stir fried vegetables, meats, and a sauce. This dish is extremely popular at Chinese restaurants all over the world, and a wide variety of recipes for it can be found in Chinese cookbooks or by searching with your favorite search engine. Although some people may think of a very specific dish when they think of lo mein, the name is actually a term for a method of preparing noodles; people can use any sort of ingredients or sauce.

Shiitake mushrooms are a common ingredient in lo mein dishes.
Shiitake mushrooms are a common ingredient in lo mein dishes.

In Chinese, mein are noodles, and lo mein are “tossed noodles,” a reference to the fact that the noodles are added to a stir fry wok at the very end of the cooking process. As a result, the noodles stay soft, and they absorb the sauce that the rest of the food is cooked in. In some regions, lo mein isn't even fried; it's made more like a noodle soup than a stir fry dish. By contrast, chow mein is made with noodles which are fried first so that they are crunchy and crispy.

Tofu can be used to add protein to lo main.
Tofu can be used to add protein to lo main.

To make lo mein, all you need is noodles, vegetables and meats of choice, and a sauce. Traditionally, the Chinese use egg noodles made from wheat for this dish, although the noodles can be any shape or size. The noodles should be cooked in boiling water until they start to soften and then drained; run cold water over the noodles to prevent sticking. While the noodles are cooking, you can chop ingredients for the stir fry.

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Oyster mushrooms are popular in lo mein recipes.
Oyster mushrooms are popular in lo mein recipes.

Some common ingredients are ginger, garlic, water chestnuts, scallions, peas, carrots, onions, broccoli, bok choy, and mushrooms, though not necessarily together, and you are certainly free to improvise. You can add protein in the form of meats, seafood, or tofu as well. Fry the ingredients lightly; for best results, fry them separately in the wok in batches to ensure that everything is fully cooked.

Lo mein noodles with shrimp.
Lo mein noodles with shrimp.

Once all your add-ins are cooked, toss them together with your sauce, and then add the noodles to make lo mein. Cook until the noodles are warmed through, and serve immediately. You can use shredded vegetables or preserved meats for a garnish, or serve your lo mein straight.

Peanut oil has a high smoking point and mild taste ideal for making a lo mein stir-fry.
Peanut oil has a high smoking point and mild taste ideal for making a lo mein stir-fry.

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Discussion Comments


If I understand correctly the noodles for the dish used in China are thinner then the ones used in America? Can anyone tell me if this is true or not? And if not is that because they use the same noodle or beccause the dish doesn't exist in China proper?


Apparently, I have been making chicken lo mein for quite some time now, and I did not even know it! The recipe named it "Chicken Cashew Stir Fry," and I never knew what "lo mein" meant until now. The dish included boiled whole wheat spaghetti noodles, cooked and rinsed in cold water and added to the wok during the last few minutes of cooking. Ginger, shredded carrots, chicken, and soy sauce combined with the noodles do indeed make for "chicken lo mein."


I once had a cook off with a friend to settle a long running argument about the merits of lo mein vs chow mein. Unfortunately I lost as I substituted egg noodles for wheat and it didn't work.

I've since found out that spaghetti would have been fine, which is a handy tip for the future.


@angelBraids - I used to have a Chinese neighbor who taught me how to make lo mein, so I can give you some hints on the sauce.

There's no definitive recipe, so I'm not claiming that this is the only way, but a good basic sauce only requires four ingredients.

For a three - four person Chinese lo mein meal you need 2.5 tablespoons of both soy and oyster sauce. (Or all soy if you don't have them both.) Mix the liquid with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch and about a quarter teaspoon of salt.

Chicken lo mein recipes are fine with some chicken broth added, or even some dry sherry. I think this basic sauce is quite open to adaptations, so don't be afraid to experiment.


I've had lo mein chicken, beef and shrimp dishes at Chinese restaurants and they were always tasty. These days I worry about how much MSG is being added and I'd like to make my own.

This article is really helpful with the list of vegetables you can add, but I don't have any recipes for lo mein sauce. Does anyone have advice on how to make this part of the dish?

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