Chow Mein vs Chop Suey: A Guide On The Differences Between The Two

Is Chop Suey the same as Chow Mein? It may seem like a stupid question, but a lot of people are unaware of the answer. With this, in the rest of this post, our discussions on Chow Mein vs Chop Suey will enlighten you about how these two popular Chinese dishes differ from each other.

What’s In A Name?

In understanding the differences between the two, it is important to take a look at what their names literally translate to English. This is a good starting point to prove that the two are not the same.

​Chow Mein, which is traditionally called chao mian in China, means fried noodles. Chao means to fry, while mein is the Chinese name for noodles.

On the other hand, chop Suey, also called tsa tsui in Mandarin and shap sui in Cantonese, literally means mixed small bits, which is in reference to the ingredients used and the manner of cooking.​

Where Are They From?

China, you might say! Yes, these two are similar in a way that they are among the most popular Chinese. But, a deeper research would reveal that they are indeed from different parts of China and through time, they have been modified to suit global tastes.

Chow Mein is believed to have originated in Northern China, specifically in Pearl River Delta. This part of the country is popular for their noodle-based dishes because of the cool climate. This makes it ideal for growing wheat, the main ingredient in making traditional noodles.

From its roots in China, the dish was able to find its way to the United States. In the 1920s, it was even mentioned in Main Street, a novel written by Sinclair Lewis. Many Chinese-American restaurants have this on their menu and use different ingredients.

In contrast, while Chop Suey is a Chinese dish, it is believed to have originated in the United States. It was introduced by Chinese who came from the coast of South China, specifically in the town of Taishan.

It was in the 1840s when Chop Suey was introduced in the US, specifically during a period known as The Gold Rush. According to History’s website, it was first served amongst Chinese miners in San Francisco.

Today, both Chow Mein and Chop Suey are popular all over the world and only a few actually care about where they are from. However, they were altered from their original recipes to make them more suitable for global palates.​

Manner Of Preparation And Ingredients Used

The two Chinese dishes are also different in the way that they are prepared. While each person may have a different way of cooking it, traditionally, the recipes are actually not the same, which also results in differences in taste.

Because Chow Mein means fried noodles, its preparation includes frying the noodle, resulting in a crunchy texture. This Hong Kong-style preparation is also popular on the West coast of the United States. In some cases, it is also served with steamed noodles.

This quick video provides a glimpse of how Chow Mein is traditionally prepared.

Meanwhile, in the case of Chop Suey, ingredients are mixed in the pan, usually starting with meat. Once it has tenderized, you can add softer ingredients, including the vegetables. For consistency, cornstarch is also usually added towards the end of the cooking.

Interested in knowing how to cook Chop Suey? Here is a short video that can help you learn the basics:​

Aside from the differences in the way they are cooked, in understanding Chow Mein vs Chop Suey, you should also be familiar with the ingredients that will be needed.

When cooking Chow Mein, the main ingredient needed is noodles, which can be fried or steamed. To make it more flavorful, you can add chicken, shrimp, broccoli, bell pepper, celery, bean sprouts, mushroom, and oyster sauce.

With Chop Suey, on the other hand, most of the ingredients are meat and vegetables, including cabbage, bean sprouts, celery, and snow peas. Stir fried noodles can also be added, but for most people, they prefer to eat it with rice.

There are also differences between the two when it comes to their sauces. Chop Suey usually has a thicker sauce since cornstarch is usually added. For Chow Mein, on the other hand, the sauce is more liquid.

Nutritional Value

The two dishes can be both healthy and good for weight loss, especially if you choose the right ingredients. Let go of the meat and load it up with nutritious veggies.

Traditionally Chow Mein is lower in calories and fats. This is basically because Chop Suey is loaded with meat and vegetables. To make it healthier, aside from removing meat and substituting them with more vegetables, steaming noodles is a good idea compared to frying.​


In this post about Chow Mein vs Chop Suey, we discussed how the two are actually different, in spite of being two popular Chinese dishes. In a nutshell, here are the points raised above:

  • Chow Mein originated from Northern China while Chop Suey is believed to have been first served in the United States as a dish for Chinese laborers.
  • Chow Mein means fried noodles while Chop Suey means mixed pieces.
  • Noodle is a necessity in Chow Mein, while it is optional for Chop Suey. Noodle is the main ingredient for Chow Mein, and for Chop Suey, you use more vegetables and meat.
  • The sauce in Chop Suey is usually thicker compared to the more liquid sauce in Chow Mein.
  • Both Chow Mein and Chop Suey have been modified in many countries around the world to suit differences in taste.

Did you enjoy reading this post? Are there other differences that you would like to share? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 3 comments

Life is short, and this article saved vauablle time on this Earth.

Lita Watson

Thank for giving a simply definition about chow mein. Actually, Chow mein has more variations from many different countries than chop suey.


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