The Great Lo Mein Mystery

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What is Lo Mein?

My dear friend, Mary, gently reminds me from time to time that she wishes to have a Nut Free Wok Allergy Aware Asian Fare recipe for Chicken Lo Mein and because I am intrigued, I think about how to make Chicken Lo Mein often. But I have been stumped for awhile. I’ve had Lo Mein a few times in my life and I couldn’t imagine why a plate of egg noodles, with small amounts of meat and veggies, with a bowl of broth on the side to pour over the noodles would generate a lot of enthusiasm or interest from many Nut Free Wok readers besides Mary. I personally would want a recipe for Chicken Chow Mein, stir fried chicken with vegetables, seasoned with sauce, a touch oily, and with “wok hay.”  Because I know it’s too oily for me to make at home often, I usually whip together a lighter and simpler version at home. Make a stir fry, add some cooked noodles, add some seasoning, stir, and serve.

Nic’s Lo Mein

I belong to Food Bloggers Central, which his a fun and supportive group of food bloggers learning from each other. One of the founders, Nagi of Recipe Tin, organized a Blog Hop, where members can opt in to try out each other’s recipes and blog about their experiences. I was introduced to Nic at Nibbles by Nic and I decided to try her recipe for Lo Mein is Back (More Veggies & Healthier). It wasn’t anything like my recollection of a plate of egg noodles with a bowl of broth on the side but I was excited to try someone else’s recipe. I really wanted to try it exactly, without any modifications but I ended up adapting it with more pasta and a lighter sauce to suit our family’s preferences. I didn’t have cooked chicken on hand either, such as a rotisserie chicken breast, so I cooked some chicken thighs and chopped them rather than doing the usual slice, marinate, and stir fry. Because I have been busy with a home project, dinner was late, so I served up a dish, took a quick picture, and had dinner with my hungry family. The kids enjoyed some veggies with their noodles and I enjoyed some noodles with my veggies. Everyone was happy, full, and we had plenty for lunch the next day. Thank you, Nic, for sharing your recipe with me! 

Chicken & Vegetable Lo Mein
Chicken & Vegetable Lo Mein

What’s Duck Sauce Got to Do with Lo Mein?

Still something about what is lo mein didn’t seem right to me. Is lo mein a stir fry with noodles in it or is it noodles with a bowl of broth on the side? I couldn’t publish this post and didn’t know what I didn’t know until I remembered the time my friend, Susan, tagged me in a Facebook post about a Smithsonian article, “What Exactly is Duck Sauce” to ask me what’s my opinion regarding duck sauce. Duck sauce? I had no idea. The resulting discussion was quite amusing as my east coast friends talked about their experiences with duck sauce and my west coast friends and I were basically baffled. My friends and I had some fun exchanges with our casual observations which led to some anthropological comparisons. I came to the realization that there are some differences between Chinese American cuisine on the East and West coasts and suddenly I wished I had eaten at some Chinese restaurants when I’ve visited the East coast!

The Great Lo Mein Mystery Solved!

I felt closer to figuring out what exactly is lo mein  when I checked online and learned that on the west coast, lo mein refers to egg noodles with a bowl of soup on the side, it’s also known as Hong Kong style lo mein. On the east coast, lo mein refers to a dish that is a stir fried noodle dish seasoned with sauce, which people on the west coast call chow mein. When people on the east coast order chow mein, they are expecting a crispy fried noodle that is cake shaped with a stir fry with brown sauce on top. On the west coast, we refer to that kind of chow mein as Hong Kong style chow mein. Now I have a better idea of Mary’s request, we both want the same kind of recipe but we have different names for them because the same dish has different names depending on which coast you live. Thanks Mary, Susan, Nagi, and Nic for all being a part of this learning experience for me!

Allergy Aware Asian Fare

Lo Mein is usually made with a wheat based egg noodle but we avoid egg noodles due to my son’s allergy to egg. I have found that an allergy safe angel hair or capellini pasta works very well as a substitute for egg noodles. For this kind of recipe, you can easily substitute any kind of allergy safe pasta that won’t fall apart from the stirring. There are plenty of great soy sauce alternatives and if you want, you can also try making your own soy-free soy sauce. I like using Kikkoman, Wan Ja Shan (peanut/tree nut free facility), and San-J (they test their rinse water for nut residue) soy sauces. If one is allergic to corn starch, try substituting tapioca or potato starch instead. You can just omit or substitute the other ingredients with something similar, enjoy!

This recipe as written is free of peanuts, tree nuts, egg, dairy, shellfish, and fish. 

 

4.67 from 3 votes
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Chicken & Vegetables Lo Mein

This recipe is adapted from Nibbles by Nic with permission. You can find Nic's recipe, Lo Mein is Back (More Veggies & Healthier), at http://www.nibblesbynic.com/2015/01/27/deep-dish-light-chicken-lo-mein/
Servings 8 -10
Author Sharon Wong

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cappelini or angel hair pasta
  • 5 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil divided
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or to taste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil omit if allergic
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 bunch about 1 pound of garlic chive flowers (or garlic chives or chives)
  • 4 carrots peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 pound snow peas trimmed and washed

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente, rinse with cold water and drain in a colander.
  2. Heat up a large skillet on medium high heat, add 1 teaspoon olive oil, and pan fry chicken on both sides until cooked thoroughly, set aside to cool, and chop into bite sized pieces.
  3. Prepare sauce by combining soy sauce, water, rice vinegar, cornstarch, sesame oil (if using), garlic powder, ginger powder, and sugar in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, add another teaspoon of olive oil and stir fry the garlic chives and sliced carrots until the chives are bright green (3-5 minutes)
  5. Add snow peas, stir fry for 1 minute.
  6. Rinse pasta with water if the strands are stuck together and add to the stir fry.
  7. Stir sauce ingredients and pour over the noodles.
  8. Stir to combine the noodles with the stir fry until the sauce thickens or is absorbed by the pasta.

References: Wikipedia on Chow Mein, Simply Chinese on Lo Mein

 

What are your experiences with Chinese-American dining around the United States? Have you noticed any variations? 

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About Sharon Wong 207 Articles
Welcome to Nut Free Wok, a blog about Allergy Aware Asian Fare. I hope that you will find my food allergy mom experiences helpful and enjoyable to read as I write about recipes, cooking techniques, Asian ingredients, and food allergy related awareness and advocacy issues. My professional experiences include education, teaching, and a little bit of science and computers. Thank you for visiting! ~Sharon Wong, M.Ed.

18 Comments

  1. I’ve noticed a huge variation in chow mein lately. Most of the restaurants we order it from it’s in a sauce that is almost white in color and lately we’ve ordered from a newer restaurant and it’s more of a brown sauce. Either way, I feel I can never go wrong w/ Asian cuisine. I am a big fan of lo mein so I’m happy to see this recipe! Thanks!

  2. What an awesome surprise was waiting for me this morning!!! I am beyond excited! This is something that has been important to kiddo and I have failed to deliver. I can do this!!!!

  3. Sharon, what a WONDERFUL post! Lo mein, chow mein, hokkien – all the terms ARE used quite loosely and I love love LOVE that you have done the research and explained it properly. It IS one of those things I always “meant to clarify”, and now you’ve done it for me!! Thanks Sharon. 🙂

    I’m sharing this recipe to some boards with dietary requirements who will be THRILLED to find an authentic lo in recipe. 🙂 I think your blog is fabulous and what you do to share amazing food for those with dietary restrictions is truly amazing. I have friends who are horrendously allergic to seafood and peanuts (life threatening) so I am genuinely very away of such things.

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend!! 🙂

    • Hi Michelle, I use Marukan/Kikkoman rice vinegar because it’s the same brand that I’ve used for the last 25 years (!) and have never called since using it has been reaction free. I was shopping today and saw that Wan Jan Shan (peanut/tree nut free facility when I checked last year) also carries a rice vinegar. Sesame oil is a little tricker to source peanut and tree nut free as there is a higher risk of being manufactured on the same equipment as nut oils. My all time favorite brand (pre-food allergies) is Maruhon which I talked about in this post , it’s the best. Some other brands you can consider are Lee Kum Kee (tastes OK, not very responsive regarding consumer questions, but pn/tn free according to an email that a friend shared) and Kevala (haven’t tried, so I can’t comment regarding the taste, definitely responsive via email). I hope that helps.

  4. Really, duck sauce is an east coast thing? west coasters don’t know what they are missing 🙂 I miss Chinese food so much since we discovered FA, but haven’t yet attempted to make it at home. Maybe this will be my first experiment!

    • Yes, and my kids are waiting for mid-westerners to respond with their take on duck sauce. I can’t wait to try duck sauce next time I’m on the east coast. You can totally make this recipe, let me know how it goes for you! I learned how to make pad thai based on strong reader requests.

  5. Sharon, this is such an interesting post. I had no idea about the chow mein vs. lo mein variations on east coast and west coast!

    I am going to try your recipe. I’m not big on pasta of any type. Do you think shiritake noodles (made from soy or yam) could work in this recipe instead? I am thinking they might.

    Also, if you really want some duck sauce, I can send you some! My husband orders Chinese takeout frequently, and they always include packets of duck sauce he never uses. I don’t use it because I believe it’s preserved with sulfites.

    Lynda

    • Lynda, you are so sweet! Yes, I would love to try some duck sauce (and go easy on it because I try to limit our intake of sulfites) but I can also wait until I see you in person (maybe November in Denver?). Yes, shiratake noodles would work great and be all nice and slippery slidey mixed into the noodles. That would be a great way to make the recipe free of wheat (but it won’t be considered lo mein or chow mein since shirataki noodles are Japanese). It’s a great idea!

  6. I am glad I came across this recipe. I made another one and it didnt turn out so great. Also I just found out that there is sesame oil in lo mein! Who knew? Not me of course. Oh and did I mention I have a son who has a peanut shellfish allergy and has been eating lo mein for years from our favorite Chinese Restaurant and nothing. So I called and they were sad to hear I wasnt ordering but answered my concern about lo mein and using sesame oil. “Yes they do”. SMH. I think this is something that should be disclosed to the public especially to those with a peanut shellfish allergy.
    Cant wait to try to see how omitting the sesame oil.

    • Hi Andrea, I hope you enjoy the recipe, please let me know how it works out for you. You mentioned that your son has peanut and shellfish allergies, but not sesame and it seems like you’re avoiding it even though he’s eaten it in the past without reaction. What does your allergist say about sesame?

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