Chop suey or Chow Mein? A question you’re likely to have encountered if you’ve ever been to a Chinese restaurant and after being asked what you would like you responded with something as nondescript as “chicken”. Most people are too embarrassed to ask what the difference is and make a rushed decision or ask the waiter to recommend. Well, we are here to put you out of your misery. The two are different cooking styles normally applied to the same meat-based ingredient. So whether you just want to impress your friends and family next time you’re out at a Chinese restaurant or you have a burning desire to know how things would’ve gone if you’d gone for the chow mein instead of chop suey, read on.
Chow mein is considered a traditional Chinese dish and has documented history. It originates from the southern Chinese coastal province of Guangdong. Chow mein in Mandarin loosely translates to fried noodles and that roughly explains what chow mein is all about. Chow mein combines meat and vegetables with stir-fried noodles. This is incorporated into the dish as is. So generally you will have chow mein dishes served ready to eat as they are. The fried noodles are mixed with meat including pork, chicken and shrimp. You will also get vegetables mixed in or tofu for vegetarians.
Chop suey is a preparation method that is believed to have originated from American Chinese cuisine. Scholars have traced the origin of chop suey to tsap seui (mixed leftovers) which is of the Taishan dialect of Chinese which also happens to originate from Guangdong. Chop suey is often prepared with meat, eggs and vegetables but no other starch element. Chop suey can be prepared with a variety of meat including chicken, fish, beef or pork. Chop suey is most often served on or with a side of rice though can be consumed as is. Now that we are acquainted with both chow mein and chop suey, let’s take a deep dive into the differences between the two.
Well, of course, the names are different. In English, those names mean very little but in the Taishan dialect spoken in Guangdong, the names have significant meaning and give clues to the differences between the two. Chow mein is a noodle-based dish while chop suey is a mixed stir fry dish. So if the question ever comes up again, you are simply choosing between noodles (chow mein) and stir fry (chop suey). Chop suey can be served with noodles but we will see that there are some differences when we discuss this later.
As we have abundantly highlighted before the two dishes have different ingredients, well one mainly. That being noodles. Chow mein is a noodle dish, the noodles are integral to the dish while in chop suey the noodles, when included are a serving option but not integral to the dish. That said the similarities between the two dishes are plenty in terms of ingredients. The same types of meat are employed in the two namely beef, pork, chicken, fish and seafood. You will also find similar vegetables employed in the two recipes including broccoli, bean sprouts, cabbage, celery and mushrooms. So you will find both are packed with meat and vegetables.
Whilst chow mein is credited as being an authentic Chinese recipe, chop suey is credited as being popularised in Chinese American cuisine. A deeper look into the origins via the names as claimed by E. N. Anderson states that chop suey too has origins in traditional Chinese cuisine. Chop suey is derived from tsap suei (mixed vegetables) which comes from the Taishan dialect spoken in the Guangdong province which both chop suey and chow mein originate from. The Guangdong province is located on the South-eastern coast of China.
Chow mein is a complete dish in the sense that it comes with noodles included in the dish. While in modern cuisine chop suey is served with steamed rice it is a dish that is constituted of meat, vegetables and a thick gravy. Chop suey can be served with noodles, boiled as opposed to the fried noodles that are implicit in chow mein. In any case the noodles or rice are not cooked into the chop suey but served with or alongside the chow mein.
With both being fried dishes the cholesterol and fat levels in both are considered high depending on the cooking oil employed. Chow mein, however, adds noodles on top, which increase the carbohydrate content and that these noodles are fried adds more fat to the mixture. For health enthusiasts, chop suey is a preferred option. Chow mein (noodles excluded) or chop suey has a low carbohydrate composition of just around 4%. With the fried noodles included in chow mein, this carbohydrate composition goes up to 5.5%. meanwhile, chop suey when served with steamed rice the carbohydrate composition goes up to 50%. If you opt for chop suey served with boiled noodles has around 30% carbohydrates. Chop suey is a better nutritional option because you have the option of having it without any carbohydrates in most traditional methods of serving.
To put a bottom line in the discussion of chow mein vs chop suey is very difficult. Both are widely enjoyed and have similar nutritional profiles depending on how they are served. The difference between largely comes down to the presence of noodles in the dish. The discernable difference between the two comes down to how you prefer your noodles. Do you like them fried into the dish or not at all?