My deep affection for all things noodles is certainly no secret. Recently I’ve had several people ask me about certain Chinese noodle dishes and decided to share the information with you in this column.
What is the difference between chow mein and lo mein? In a nutshell, chow mein has crispy noodles and lo mein has soft. It’s not because of the type of noodle used but in the cooking preparation. Both of these wonderful dishes typically use Chinese wheat-flour egg noodles that need to be softened or parboiled before using.Chow mein literally translates as “fried noodles.” One technique for preparing chow mein is to pan-fry the drained parboiled noodles, sort of like a “noodle pancake,” then top the “pancake” with stir-fried meats and vegetables. The key to making successful chow mein is to pan fry the noodles separately from the topping.
Lo mein comes from the Cantonese “stirred noodles.” The parboiled noodles are usually added near the end of the cooking, and heated thoroughly and tossed with a sauce and additional ingredients.
Dandan mein is also made with Chinese egg noodles. It is a quintessential and one of the most famous street foods in Szechuan cuisine. The boiled noodles are topped with a spicy sauce, which usually includes chili oil, Szechuan pepper, preserved vegetables, and minced pork. Literally dandan mein means, “noodles carried on a pole,” but is also known as “peddler’s noodles” because the name refers to the type of pole used by walking street vendors who sold the dish to customers passing by. The pole was carried over the vendor’s shoulder with a bucket containing noodles on one end and a bucket filled with sauce on the other.
Biang Biang mein is a popular dish with roots from the Shaanxi province. It is advertised as being one of the “ten strange wonders of Shaanxi.” The noodles, broad and hand-pulled, are often described as a belt because of their thickness and length. The noodles are topped with a savory and spicy sauce.
Biang Biang mein doesn’t have a literal translation. Rather it is onomatopoeic, a word that describes sound. In this case “Biang” imitates the sound the noodles make when the cook pulls on the dough and slaps it on the kitchen board. The Chinese word for biang is considered the most complicated Chinese character as the single character requires 62 total strokes to write. It’s a sort of distant and foreign cousin to supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Boy howdy, all this talk of noodles has me craving a great big bowl. My pantry is well stocked with all kinds of dried noodles, and I usually have a package or two of fresh noodles in the refrigerator.
I just took a quick inventory of what I have on hand. This is what I’m noodling around with tonight!