Chow Mein and Chop Suey, perhaps the most recognizable and iconic dishes from Chinese cuisine. These dishes are popular for their easy preparation, their immensely unique flavors, and their filling nature.
A good and hearty Chow Mein is perfect for warming the soul, and fueling your after, or midway through, a long and difficult day.
These dishes are very popular even outside of mainland China. Many restaurants and popular eateries in the United States have even begun to put their own twists onto the classic formula to create new and exciting ways to enjoy Chinese cuisine.
But what actually is the difference between Chow Mein and Chop Suey? Are there any differences, and how would you identify them in the moment? Do they taste different? Do they have different ingredients?
All very reasonable questions, and ones we’ve heard many times before. Tired of asking the same question but getting no answers? Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here to help.
Let’s find out what really is the difference between chow mein and chop suey, and why they are often compared!
What is the Difference Between Chow Mein and Chop Suey?
Let’s get the most important question out of the way. What actually are the differences between these two beloved dishes?
The most distinct difference between the two dishes is how they are prepared. Chow mein is produced all within one wok, with every ingredient mixed and cooked together at the same time.
This allows the noodles to really absorb the flavors from other ingredients, such as meats, garlic, or vegetables. This is how chow mein is able to have such a great and satisfying flavor.
Chop suey, on the other hand, is prepared by cooking the noodles separately from all of the other ingredients, like meat, and then combining them into one once the dish is served. The sauce for the dish is then poured over the top.
As you can see, most of the major differences seem to stem from how the dish is prepared.
What is Chow Mein?
Chow Mein refers very simply to a stir fried noodles dish. This is how the dish has been able to have so much staying power throughout many generations of Chinese chefs and across different continents. The dish is incredibly simple and was originally devised in Northern China as a way to cook both vegetables and boiled noodles together.
This simple recipe means that the dish has always been changing and adapting to different tastes and cultures, while still being known uniquely as chow mein. You can add all sorts of different ingredients, such as different meats, sauces, and vegetables to create entirely new flavors.
What is Chop Suey?
The exact history of the chop suey is very murky, and very few actually know the exact origin of the dish. Many believe that it was actually an American creation, created by a Chinese-American chef who was looking for a way to make quick use of seemingly disparate ingredients.
This is a likely story, seeing as there is no record in Chinese history of a dish called ‘chop suey’, or anything phonetically similar. Chop Suey is very popular, thanks to its easy method of preparation and the ability to prepare the dish with any number of varying ingredients, and variate it in any way you feel is best.
How Do You Identify Between Chow Mein or Chop Suey?
If you want to be able to tell, at a glance, if a dish is a chop suey or a chow mein dish, then there are a few things you can look out for to help you!
As mentioned earlier, chow mein is prepared with all of the ingredients in one wok, mixed and cooked together, to create a unified and solid flavor. You might be able to identify this just by sight, as chow mein dishes tend to have a unified color throughout.
Chop suey, on the other hand, involves the ingredients being cooked and prepared separately and then layered atop each other within the dish. You might be able to identify it by looking at the ingredients and how they are arranged. If you see lots of unique shapes and colors, then you are likely looking at chop suey.
Of course, this is not a surefire method, and you may still identify them incorrectly since these recipes have been adapted and changed by many generations of chefs.
Do Chow Mein and Chop Suey Have Different Ingredients?
The two dishes do share similar ingredients, such as noodles, and various vegetables. However, chow mein and chop suey recipes do not always use the same ingredients, and they can differ in large or small ways in terms of ingredients.
Some chow mein dishes may contain spring onion, while others may not contain any at all.
It is difficult to say with certainty that each dish has different ingredients, as the dishes are each so open to variation and adaptation.
Let’s Finish Up
As you’ve now seen, chow mein and chop suey actually only have rather minor differences that come down to how the dishes are prepared. Is the dish made in one wok? Then it’s a chow mein. Is it made from different ingredients cooked separately? Then it’s a chop suey.
Identifying between the two can be quite difficult, thanks to the long history of each dish. These dishes have been adapted and changed slightly by many generations of chefs, with each recipe having different combinations of ingredients or different preparation methods.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do They Call It Chop Suey?
This name actually derives from the original Chinese name of ‘Tsap Seui’. The Chinese-American chef that created the dish would have named it as such, and then the name would have changed slightly to be more easily pronounced by the non-Chinese speaking Americans, who called it ‘Chop Suey’.
Is Chop Suey A Real Chinese Dish?
Chop Suey is actually believed to be an American-Chinese creation, and the dish actually has no distinct history within China itself.
This means that technically, no, chop suey isn’t a ‘real’ Chinese dish, but it does have a distinct Chinese twist to it that gives it some credibility as a ‘real’ Chinese dish.
Does Chop Suey Have Egg?
Chop suey dishes very often have egg included as one of the main ingredients. However, not all chop suey recipes are the same, and they can differ in many different ways from recipe to recipe. Many recipes won’t contain any egg at all.
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