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chow mein vs. chow fun??

Hey Chowhounds... what's the difference between Chow Mein and Chow Fun ?
Thanks in advance!

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  1. Chow mein usually mean thin egg noodles which have been pan browned to be crispy. Usually the noodle is served at the bottom of the plate, and the meat/veggies are dumped on top. Chow fun (or Chow foon) are wide flat rice noodles which have been coated with lard. It's stir fried with meat / veggies together.

    10 Replies
    1. re: dpan

      It's coated with lard? Really? All the time? Or just in specific dishes?

      1. re: litchick

        AFAIK all the rice noodles used in chow fun are coated with lard, hence its slipperiness before cooking.

        1. re: dpan

          Interesting! Thanks for the 411.

          1. re: dpan

            Are you sure that chow fun are rice noodles? I have been eating beef or spicy beef chow fun in Chinatown restaurants for decades, and the texture appears to be much more like a traditional noodle than a rice noodle. In fact, there is quite a bit of elasticity, which makes me think it is the same concoction as lo mein noodles, but rolled and cut flat. I am only questioning this because when I took a Chinese cooking class many years ago, rice noodles were whitish, very thin and rolled into balls before cooking. They were then fried, which seemed to puff them up, but they looked nothing like Chow Fun, shape aside. They just seem so different in texture from Chow Fun.

            Chow fun dishes are often slightly smoky in flavor, due to the use of liquid smoke. Chow mein noodles are those long, round, crunchy items that you are often served to toss over your chow mein or meat/veggie dish in Cantonese restaurants, and lo mein is a round noodle, similar in shape and texture to thick spaghetti.

            1. re: RGC1982

              There are many types of rice noodles. These noodles are called "haw fun" when you buy them in sheets at the store. The smoky flavor you describe is what "wok hei," which is associated with the dry type of chow fun (like beef chow fun or "gon chow ngo haw" in Cantonese). Frankly, I don't know where you get this stuff about the use of liquid smoke. The smoky flavor comes from the intense heat of the wok, nothing else.

              1. re: RGC1982

                Chow fun gets its texture from being stir-fried in the wok, which makes it tougher and drier. The smoky flavor comes from adding the soy sauce while the wok is hot.

              2. re: dpan

                Here in LA, they are coated with oil, not lard. Coating it with lard makes it difficult to stir fry--too low of a smoking point.

                1. re: raytamsgv

                  I'd have to say the same for Bay Area, never heard of ho fun being coated in lard.

                  1. re: kc72

                    The ones I buy in Manhattan's Chinatown are also coated in oil, not lard.

                  2. re: raytamsgv

                    I don't think any Chinese restaurants are using pork lard in their chow fun, cheung fun, or dim sum items like wrapper dough and so forth. It was used traditionally, though.

            2. I believe "chow" means to fry or stirfry. "Fun" refers to the flat rice noodles.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kittyfood

                kittyfood is right, but incomplete.

                Chow = stirfry
                fun = flat rice noodles
                mein = thin wheat noodles

                There are as many variations on chow fun and chow mein as there are cooks making the dishes.

              2. since nomenclature differs from area to are, I will preface by saying that in Chicago, these are the differences:

                Chow mein = chop suey with crunchy fried noodles

                Cantonese chow mein = chop suey with very thin pan fried noodles (still a tiny bit chewy)
                Chow fun = stir fry with an assortment of better vegetables, and far less gravy / cornstarch than chop suey, with pan fried WIDE rice noodles. I can actually buy sheets of refrigerated "chow fun" noodles. I LOVE chow fun, and usually judge an american-Chinese resto by how they do chow fun. Actualy just ordered some on Friday night!

                Lo Mein is usually the same as chow fun, but with a thinner/ spaghetti type noodle. Some places here will use ramen noodles for this. I do not go to those places.

                War mein usually IS spaghetti noodles.

                So here, the noodles are definitely different, but I also find that the quality of veggies / sauce getting chowed is different too.

                1. In San Francisco...you can get Chow Mein (thin noodles, fried crispy or not.)

                  ChowFun is a wide noodle... it can be ordered "dry" which picks up Wok Hai (the smokey flavor of the wok) (my personal favorite) or "wet" with a gravy.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ChowFun_derek

                    Here in Toronto the most common chow fun noodle I've bought at Chinese supermarkets is a fresh rice noodle (think lasagna pasta) impregnated with finely chopped dried shrimp and fresh green onion. It can be cut to suit whatever size your recipe or fancy dictates.

                    Chow mein noodles that I buy are packaged semi-dry and are roughly the thickness of dry spaghettini. I reconstitute them under running hot water for 3-4 minutes. I use them in stir fries, letting my appetite direct the degree or not of crispiness. I also use them in soups. They are wheat noodles.

                    1. re: mrbozo

                      The flat rice noodles that are impregnated with dried shrimp and green onion are rolled up like fillingless canneloni and are cooked that way (called cheung fun). Regular fun refer to rice noodles, generally plain fettucine shaped rice noodles.

                  2. Mein: wheat noodles. Fun: Rice noodles. Chow simply means stir fried.

                    1. When I ask for Chow Mei Fun (Singapore Noodles) I get curried (thin) rice noodles with an assortment of meats/shrimp. Why not flat noodles if fun means flat???? I have had these noodles from coast-to-coast and it's always the same.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: twodales

                        "Fun" doesn't mean flat. It means rice noodles. "Mei fun" are the thin, angel-hair type of rice noodles while "ho fun" are flat rice noodles, but because "chow fun" is typically made with flat noodles it's never spelled out explicitly unless, like the Singapore style, it's an exception.

                        1. re: twodales

                          This is the way it is made in the Mid East coast. All the places I have been to in Delaware, Maryland, PA, New Jersey, DC, I think Virginia too have made it this way. Thin Angel Hair Rice noodles with lots of curry lighly stirfired to a golden color with assortment of meats and veggies and egg thrown in. The noodles are not hard, they are about the toughness of a little bit underdone spaghetti or rice, but are by no means crispy or tough. Also it is not very wet.

                          I believe this is a Mandarin style dish or "American Chinese"? I went to a Chinese place yesterday and they only serve Cantonese dishes and didn't have Singapore Chow Mei Fun. Instead they served the angel Hair style rice noodles drenched in a brown meat gravy with large shrimp and veggies on top. Definatly didn't care for that at all.

                          Attached picture is what Chow Mei Fun is around here.

                          1. re: MikeGates

                            I had this for the first time in Oakland at a Chinese hole-in-the wall that my friend took me too. That was about 35 years ago. Another Singaporean friend tells me that this is made in Singapore so I don't think it's an American Chinese invention. It's darn good though.

                        2. "Mein" refers to long, thin noodles (typically egg noodles). They can be stir-fried, put into soups, or boiled.

                          "Fun" refers to wider noodles (typically made of rice). "Fun" is often cut into long strips about half an inch wide or so. These can be stir-fried or put into soups. Wider sheets are used to create "cheung fun", which are often in rolls. Sometimes, they put dried shrimp and green onions in these, or these are used to wrap meat or fried dough in a dim sum dish.

                          There are other types of "fun," such as those made with mung beans. Sometimes, these are labeled as "vermicelli." In general, "fun" is white in color.

                          As others have noted, "chow" refers to a specific cooking style: stir-frying in a wok. Even so, there are different ways of stir-frying noodles. For example, "fun" can be stir fried in two ways--"dried" and "wet". I believe the "wet" style uses more water to keep the noodles from sticking. An example of this would be Beef Chow Fun with Black Bean Sauce. The noodles are white in this dish. It can also be cooked "dry," which I believe requires more oil. An example of this would be usually listed as "Beef Chow Fun." The noodles are dark.

                          There are also different ways to stir-fry "mein." For example, you can have both sides crispy or you can simply mix them together. Note that this differs from the crunchy, deep-fried noodles usually found in older Cantonese-American restaurants but not in more "authentic" Cantonese restaurants.

                          Aside from the different techniques required for stir-frying "mein" versus "fun,", the other ingredients of chow fun and chow mein can be interchangeable: meat, veggies, mushrooms, bell peppers, sauces, etc.. Of course, some combinations taste better with "fun" than "mein" and vice versa.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: raytamsgv

                            and of course some combinations are tradionally made with one or the other e.g. Sing Chow (Sinagapore) (already dicussed here) as well as Xiamen and Taipang which alre also pretty much always done with Mai Fun noodle (I once asked a certain Chinese resuraunt (when the informed me that they had run out of mai fun noodles) if it was possible to make Xiamen Lo mein or Ho Fun (use lo mein/or Ho fun noodles instead) and the looked at me as if I was absolutey, totally, crazy.)

                            BTW since there apper to be people on the site who know such things what exactly is
                            "Yee fun" and "Lai mein"

                          2. Unfortunately I do not believe there is a definite answer to this question. The comments about Fun being rice noodles and Mein being wheat noodles is pretty close but there are exceptions. I have noticed that lo mein for instance can describe different types of noodles depending on country or even region. Here in Toronto lo mein is wonton mein like noodles, not served in soup, but comes with soup on the side. Spaghetti is refered to in cantonese as fun even though it is made from wheat.

                            1. Okay, here's another little wrinkle. The little place we ate at in Portland (not in Chinatown, out in Tigard) has something called "chow yuk." No noodles in that at all. (and whatever "yuk" means in Chinese it's obviously not the same as what it means in English b/c this stuff is absolutely delicious.)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: revsharkie

                                "yuk" sounds like the phrase for "meat" in Cantonese. The dish's name means "stir-fried meat"--most likely pork.

                              2. Just thought I'd mention that in Boston fun is spelled foon. Based on the posts on this thread, that's definitely a local thing.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Bob W

                                  "Fun" is the Cantonese pronunciation while "foon" is Toisanese

                                2. I have heard of chow fan but never chow fun

                                  1 Reply