Chow Mein vs. Chop Suey: How Are They Different?

Chop suey and chow mein have been mistaken for one another ever since they were both introduced in the late 1800s. However, while chop suey is an American invention with a clear history of Chinese origins (likely from Guangzhou), Chow Mein was created by Cantonese immigrants who arrived on America’s west coast after fleeing poverty and war-torn China. The difference between these two dishes stems mainly from their ingredients; Chop Suey uses any available meat or veggies over noodles, but Chow Mein sticks to vegetables like cabbage, bean sprouts, peppers & carrots that are stir-fried separately before being added to cooked noodles.

But there is more to what exactly separates these two dishes. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between chow mein and chop suey to clear out your confusion.

What is Chop Suey?

American Chop Suey

This dish has many origins, but the most popular one says that it was invented by Li Hung Chang’s chef, who prepared this for American guests. The original chop suey consisted of meat and celery mixed in with a flavorful sauce served on top of noodles or rice. Another tale surrounding the origin of this meal claims that it was created as an offering to miners during California gold rush days when they lacked much variety in their diet. Other stories say Chinese immigrants brought it into America while emigrating from China via San Francisco’s Chinatown at around 1850-1920 because of its popularity among Americans. It is said that the Americans back then savored flavorsome Chinese dishes combined with western ingredients like egg creams or cream sauces.

The name of this delicious food comes from tsa-sui, which loosely translates into “miscellaneous broken pieces.” Today, restaurants all over still serve this delicious mixture of vegetables, meats cooked with noodles, or rice in a savory sauce, which can sometimes include garlic powder mixed into soy sauce for added flavor!

Let’s take a look at what makes chop suey unique by exploring its ingredients.

Common Chop Suey Ingredients

  • Rice or noodles
  • Choice of beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp
  • Oyster sauce
  • Vinegar or rice wine
  • Ketchup
  • Broccoli
  • Corn starch
  • Vegetable oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Onion
  • Bean sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cabbage
  • Water

How Chop Suey is Cooked?

Some people like to eat chop suey over rice, while others prefer noodles. If you want a delicious and mouth-watering meal for your family or friends, this dish is perfect! Chop suey consists of many different ingredients listed above that are easy enough to find in any store (including grocery stores). It’s really as simple as cooking the sauce first then adding all other ingredients into a wok with oil heated up on medium heat. Soon after these components have mixed together nicely without burning from too much direct contact with high temperatures, it will be time for dinner!

  1. To prepare the sauce, you will need 1 tbsp of vinegar or rice wine mixed with ¼ cup sugar. In addition, 2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in water needs to be added for thickening purposes. Finally, add 1 tbsp of soy sauce and ½ cup ketchup to the mix, and your sauce is ready.
  2. Next, prepare the wok (stir-fry pan) by heating vegetable oil. Once the pan is hot, add chopped onions and saute them on medium heat until they turn brown.
  3. Once the onions are sauteed, add your favorite vegetables like cabbage, sprouts, broccoli, carrots, and celery, and saute them under medium heat until they are cooked.
  4. If you prefer meat, you can add shredded chicken, beef, pork, or turkey into the wok and stir until cooked. Or you can separately cook the meat and add it into the wok later. (Skip this step if you don’t want to add meat).
  5. Finally, add your sauce into the mixture in the wok, mix well, and serve it immediately over rice or fried noodles.

What is Chow Mein?

Chow Mein

Chow mein is like the cousin of chop suey. They are very similar, but not quite identical: for one thing, chow mein uses meat (like chicken or beef) and vegetables in its dish. Nevertheless, vegetable chow mein is highly preferred over meat chow mein because of the health factors. Vegetable chow mein is basically a stir-fried noodle dish with lots of vegetables. This recipe is quick and easy to make as long as someone has chopped the veggies for you! Using a food processor speeds up this process even more, making it possible in minutes. The English translation for chow mein can loosely translate to “fried noodles.” The origins of this dish trace back to northern China in the 1800s. But its exact origin story is unknown. In American Chinese cuisine, it is a dish consisting of stir-fried noodles with meat, onions, and celery. The most common meats in this dish are chicken, but other options exist, such as beef or shrimp, which still provide an authentic taste without being too spicy like what you might find at many westernized restaurants around town.

Let’s take a look at the popular ingredients that make chow mein unique and distinct from chop suey.

Common Chow Mein Ingredients

  • Wonton noodles (steamed/fried)
  • Chicken breast (non-vegetarian)
  • Oyster sauce (non-vegetarian)
  • Cremini/button/shiitake mushrooms
  • Broccoli
  • Chinese spice mix
  • ​​Bean sprouts
  • Cornstarch
  • Soy sauce
  • Groundnut oil
  • Onions
  • ​​Bell pepper

How Chow Mein is Prepared?

The “chow mein” is a dish with subtle differences in the East and West coast regions of the US. The east coast’s version of the noodle consists of deep-fried noodles, while the west coasts’ chow meins are steamed but can still be called Hong Kong-style if prepared with crispy noodles.

  1. Take a deep pan, boil some water and cook the noodles for about 5 minutes until they are soft and chewy. While your noodles are cooked, add some sesame oil to prevent the noodles from sticking together.
  2. If you prefer meat, season chicken with soy sauce and Chinese spice mix. Add some cornstarch to ensure that the spices mix well with the chicken pieces.
  3. Take a wok, add some groundnut oil, and heat on a high heat burner. Once the oil is hot and smoking, add your seasoned chicken and saute until the pieces are well-cooked and soft.
  4. Next, add your veggies and stir fry for a minute – don’t add all the veggies together.
  5. Finally, add cooked noodles into the wok and season with light soy sauce. Add some black pepper and sesame oil for flavor. Cook for about a minute and serve immediately.

The Final Chop

As you can see, both the dishes seem quite similar but are different in terms of the cooking style and ingredients used. They are a staple in Chinese cuisine but have taken over the world with different variants and cooking styles.

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