What is chow mein?
Chow mein (pronounced “chow MAIN”) is a Chinese dish of fried (chow) noodles (mein). The variations are endless – depending on the chef or region, stir-fried with pork, chicken, shrimp and whatever vegetables you like. Frequently seen in a plate of chow mein are cabbage, beansprouts, bell pepper, carrot and spring onion.
Chow mein is the inspiration for many Asian stir-fried noodle dishes. Emigrant Chinese took their cuisine in general and their noodles in particular wherever they went. That is why, nowadays, you can eat pad Thai in every Thai restaurant and you will find yakisoba and yakiudon everywhere at Japanese festivals. The Indonesian version of chow mein is called bami goreng.
The noodles used for this dish are aptly called chow mein noodles. They are yellowish because there is egg in the dough, not too thick, and when raw, they look a bit crinkly.
In Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, people prefer to eat chow mein crispy – the noodles are shallow-fried in oil so that they are crispy on the outside and still soft on the inside. In other regions, the noodles are softened by briefly warming them or steaming in the wok (this dish is also called lo mein).
Did you know...
The term “chow mein” is a general term for Chinese fried noodles. If you say, “chow mein”, it means nothing more than an Italian saying, “pasta”, so anything can appear on your plate once you sit down.
East vs. west
Chow mein was first seen outside of China at the end of the eighteenth century, in the Chinese areas (Chinatown) of major cities, such as New York and London.
How to make chow mein
Chow mein is a super-fast dish that is prepared just before serving. The wheat noodles are already cooked and cooled. Bite-sized pieces of meat, fish or chicken are briefly fried in a wok with some garlic and then stir-fried with the chosen vegetables. Finally the noodles and the chow mein sauce – a mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, sugar and sesame oil – are stirred in. This is where the chow mein magic takes place! Stirring is done until each noodle is coated in the tasty sauce.
How to eat
This is a dish of which everyone enjoys a generous portion, so don’t be too precise when serving. Serve on a plate or in a bowl, with chopsticks.
In terms of ingredients, the average chow mein does not differ much from tjap tjoy – the big distinction is that one dish is served with noodles, the other with rice.