Asian cuisine is varied and includes many different dishes. This includes chow mein and chop suey. If you have had them before, you must have liked them; but do you know what the real difference is between these two in Chinese cuisine?
Instead of making the mistake of ordering the wrong thing, take a look at this article, and we’ll break down what chow mein and chop suey are and why you should eat either of them.
What Is Chow Mein?
Chow Mein refers to Chinese stir-fried noodles that come with vegetables, meat, or tofu. This stir fry dish is popular in Chinese restaurants but can be found in Indian and Nepalese cuisines.
In English, chow mein means fried noodles, but the noodles are boiled first, then fried, and then the other ingredients are added.
These egg noodles are covered in a thick, dark sauce, usually made with soy sauce, broth, oyster sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, ginger, and sugar. The sauce allows the noodles to soften and become chewy, which makes the texture more appealing.
The noodles in chow mein have a good amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One serving (43g) has the following nutritional content (*):
- 203 calories
- 4.68 g protein
- 9.13 g fat
- 27.4 g carbohydrate
- 2.88 g fiber
- 2.76 mg iron
- 8.17 mg magnesium
- 42.1 mg phosphorus
- 44.3 mg potassium
- 53.8 µg folate
Which chow mein is the best?
While chow mein is commonly the same across many restaurants and recipes, there are two kinds: steamed chow mein and crispy chow mein, also called Hong Kong-style chow mein.
The soft chow mein uses longer and rounder noodles, while the crispy kind uses fried and flat noodles. Also, the crispy chow mein is served with onions and celery. Soft chow mein, on the other hand, is served with many vegetables, including onions, celery, cabbage, carrots, and mung bean sprouts.
Some variations exist depending on the country and restaurant you’re in. These two are considered the traditional chow mein dishes. Soft chow mein is usually served with either beef, chicken, pork, or tofu.
In terms of which one is best, that depends on taste. However, many people consider steamed chow mein to have better texture, flavors, and aroma. The fried kind tends to be used as a side dish and can be a bit greasy.
What Is Chop Suey?
While it looks similar to chow mein, chop suey was invented by Asian Americans. Because of this, the origins and original recipes are unknown, which makes its preparation a bit more loose than chow mein and it might not be considered an authentic Chinese dish.
First, the meat and vegetables are chopped and then stir-fried with the sauce. However, because the dish was invented to improvise with ingredients at hand, it doesn’t contain any noodles. Instead, chop suey is served over rice.
Nutritional information for chop suey is a bit complicated since its preparation varies from place to place. However, the vegetables and rice in it offer a variety of micronutrients.
One serving (170g) has the following nutritional content (*):
- 217 calories
- 13.5 g protein
- 8.5 g fat
- 21.9 g carbohydrates
- 1.2 g fiber
- 220 mg potassium
- 24.2 mg calcium
- 122 mg phosphorus
- 42 µg folate
- 1.41 mg iron
Which chop suey is the best?
Since the origins aren’t clear, and neither is a specific recipe, the kinds of chop suey you can find are very different. Yet, traditionally, the vegetables and meat are served with rice. Some Asian cuisines, like Indian, Polynesian, and Indonesian, have adapted the dish to their version.
Some chop suey variations include noodles instead of rice, but these are deep-fried and never steamed. If you are trying to go for the original dish, then we suggest you try to eat the chop suey prepared with rice, which is also healthier due to the lower fat and higher fiber content in rice.
As for the meat or vegetables, there is no real difference and the sauce varies. Normally, chop suey is cooked with bean sprouts, celery, cabbage, and carrots. Some variations may also include broccoli, snow peas, and onions.
What Are The Key Differences Between Chow Mein and Chop Suey?
While some people often assume chow mein and chop suey are the same dishes, they are not equal and neither is their origin.
For starters, chow mein is traditionally Chinese food, and it has a specific recipe to follow that has been adapted in other countries. Chop suey, though, is Chinese-American in origin, and the original recipe doesn’t exist.
Another key difference between these two dishes is their preparation method. As mentioned before, chow mein noodles are often steamed, then fried, and then covered in sauce, making them softer.
Chop suey doesn’t have any noodles in its most common form, and the vegetables and meat are stir-fried, then served over steamed rice.
In terms of recipes, chow mein has a standard one that gives very specific ingredients and steps. Chop suey doesn’t have a recipe to follow, which makes it complicated to try to and replicate the “original”.
While chow mein has cooking variations depending on the country, the main ingredients and methods remain constant.
As if it wasn’t confusing enough, chow mein usually has a lighter, less dark sauce. Chop suey is known for having a very thick, sticky, and dark sauce, almost similar to a gravy.
This is a good way to differentiate what dish you are about to eat, as chop suey is sometimes also served with noodles.
Finally, the ingredients in chow mein are all fresh at the time of cooking, including the meat of choice, vegetables, sauce, and noodles.
As for chop suey, the many tales of its origin dictate that leftovers are to be used. This means that normally when making chop suey, people use previously made rice or noodles, and sometimes even the meat and vegetables are reused.
|Main Differences||Chow Mein||Chop Suey|
|Shape||Flat and round noodles||Medium, round rice grain|
|Size||Long and skinny noodles||Short rice|
|Color||Light brown sauce||Dark brown|
|Origin||China||The United States of America|
|Taste and Smell||The dish is sweet with a hint of spiciness from the ginger and lots of umami. The smell is sweet and only a bit aromatic.||The sauce is sweet and savory, there is a hint of soy sauce. The smell is aromatic and has a hint of oyster sauce.|
|How To Cook||Usually, the noodles are steamed, then fried, and then covered with sauce. Best for pork, beef, and tofu.||Usually, the meat and vegetables are stir-fried with a thick sauce, then served over steamed rice. Best with beef or chicken, and served with starchy and fibrous vegetables.|
|Cooking Time||Prep time: 15 minutesCooking time: 15 minutes Total time: 30 minutes||Prep time: 10 minutesCook time: 40 minutesTotal time: 50 minutes|
|Calories per 100 gram serving||471 calories||130 calories|
Is Chow Mein or Chop Suey Healthier?
While chow mein is considered a more decadent and tasty dish, it is not the healthiest choice. Considering how much oil has to be used to fry the noodles, and then the sugar in the sauce, this dish is higher in fat and carbohydrates. Also, the noodles aren’t as nutritious as rice can be.
Chop suey, however, is healthier because it is only made by stir-frying the meat and vegetables, while the rice is steamed. The preparation allows it to keep its nutritional value, especially the rice in the dish, which has more vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber.
If you are looking for flavor and tradition, we suggest you go for chow mein. If, though, you want to have flavor and stay on a healthier path, then chop suey is probably the right choice for you.
Now you know the clear difference between chow mein and chop suey, especially because chow mein is considered to be a traditional Chinese dish.
In terms of health, chop suey wins due to its ingredients and preparation methods, but as for flavor, you may want to stick to chow mein. Whichever you choose, it is clear how these two are similar and different, and you’ll never be confused again.
*Photo by chop suey/depositphotos