If you order Lo Mein in your favorite take-out or Chinese restaurants, you will be
given a dish that looks like the picture shown on the right, but if you order this dish at certain traditional Chinese restaurants (like those with fish tanks and live seafoods), you might be given a choice of “Hong Kong Style Lo Mein” or “Chicken, Beef, Pork or Shrimp Lo Mein”, so what exactly is Hong Kong Style Lo Mein?!
Chinese Take Out Shrimp Lo Mein
The word “lo” in Chinese or rather Cantonese dialogue means “stir”, "mein" means “noodles”. So “lo mein” actually means stir noodles and usually with another ingredient that gives the noodles the extra flavor. When I said stir, it literally means boil the noodles in hot water, then scoop them out, drain the water and serve it with a separate bowl of clear broth, meat or wonton or vegetable is usually placed on top of the noodles.
To eat, you would eat your noodles, then drink a spoon of broth, or eat all your noodles, then drink your broth. If the noodle is too dry, you can pour a spoon of broth to “wet” the noodle. This “lo mein” style is extremely popular in Hong Kong, it is available in any Wonton Noodle Shops. Certain shops in Hong Kong are famous for their “lo mein” where their noodles are like the Italian said “al dente”. They are very flavorful . It is hard to describe in writing, you really have to taste it to appreciate it. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water!
Hong Kong Style Wonton Lo Mein
Lo Mein served here in America is an American creation. I spoke to some retired Chinese restaurateurs here in New York and they told me back in the days, the demand for Chinese noodles was not high, there was only one factory that manufactured them for the whole New York and Boston area. The cost for noodles are expensive plus to prepare the noodles for cooking requires a lot of extra work. You first need to boil them (they comes in dried form), then you need to rinse them, then hang them dried before you can fry them. If you prepare too much, the noodles might be too dried to be fried. And as Chinese restaurant, how can you not serve fried noodles – it's a must have on the menu. So one day, a chef came up with the idea of using “spaghetti” for their noodle dishes. Since you can't fry spaghetti like the traditional noodles, he came up with the method of adding the spaghetti to a wok of sauce with meat and vegetables, then slightly stir them and serve. And since the noodles are not fried, technically you cannot call this “fried noodles”, so they called it “lo mein” or stir noodles it is.
Today, not only has the spaghetti been replaced by its look alike - “cooked egg noodles” which has the same round edge but with softer texture, it also has another cooking style – Chinese take-out where everything is cooked ahead, just pour and mix.
Only in the recent 20 years that you can actually ordered the real “Fried Noodles” (which are now called “Pan Fried” noodles to distinguish from the lo mein) in most Chinese restaurants. And if you order "lo mein" in Chinese in those restaurants, they will be asked you to clarify if you meant "Hong Kong Style Lo Mein" instead. There are actually a few who doesn't even serve the American lo mein at all, so make sure you double check before you order.
If you are interested in learning how to cook this Lo Mein, you can purchase the Chinese Take-out Noodles and Rice Cooking DVD from www.chopstickbowl.com. It is very easy to learn and you will be cooking this dish at your own kitchen in no time – I guarantee it!
And just to clarify - the top right picture is Shrimp Lo Mein, Chinese take-out style and the bottom left is Hong Kong Style Wonton Lo Mein - see the bowl of broth on the top right corner.