Chop Suey Vs. Chow Mein: What's the Difference?

BY: Andy Seifert |Aug 27, 2018

Because you'll see both dishes on menus throughout the world, trying to pick which classic Chinese-American dish you want most— chop suey vs. chow mein—can be tough decision. Of course, to end the debate, you have to know what is the difference between chow mein and chop suey, exactly. (Don't worry, we had to look this up, too.)

Read on, and we'll explain the difference, then direct you to some Chinese restaurants where you can taste the difference for yourself.

What is chop suey?

While it has roots in southern China, chop suey (pictured above) is one of the most popular kind of dishes in Americanized Chinese food. While its specific definition can vary from chef to chef, chop suey almost always includes some kind of meat (beef, chicken, pork, or seafood) paired with vegetables and sometimes an egg. After that, there are a few other distinguishing features:

  • The Base: It's typically served with rice as its base. You might occassionally see it with steamed noodles.
  • The Sauce: It's topped with a thick, starch-based gravy.
  • The Variations: There are too many to count—basically, chop suey is a kind of dish, with little differences at every Chinese restaurant you go to.
  • Is There a System of a Down Song Named After It? Yes, a 2001 song that was a big hit!

Ok, then, what is chow mein?

Chow mein (pictured above) does share some similarities with chop suey: notably, it's made with meat (chicken, beef, pork, seafood, or tofu), vegetables, and a sauce. Both are Chinese-American staples, but there are a few distinct differences. Here's how to tell if what you're eating is chow mein:

  • The Base: It's crispy stir-fried noodles. In fact, this is the easiest way to spot the difference between chow mein and chop suey. If there's rice, it's chop suey. If there are noodles, it's probably chow mein.
  • The Sauce: Soy sauce, never thickened.
  • The Variations: Sometimes, you'll see this same dish, but with steamed noodles. This is often called lo mein.
  • Is There a System of a Down Song Named After It? No, not yet.

Chop Suey vs. Chow Mein: A Summary

So, to review:

  Chop Suey Chow Mein
Sauce Thick, gravy Thin, usually soy sause
Base Usually rice Always noodles
Variations Many Basically, just one (lo mein)
Song Named
After It?
Yes No

Most Important: Where Can I Try Both?

That's easy! Find a Chinese restaurant nearest you, and decide which is the winner of the "chop suey vs. chow mein" debate. To see deals on Chinese food, click on your metropolitan area below:

New York City Los Angeles Chicago Dallas
Houston Washington, DC Miami Philadelphia
Atlanta Boston Phoenix San Francisco
Detroit Seattle Minneapolis San Diego
Tampa Denver Baltimore St. Louis
Charlotte Orlando San Antonio Portland, OR
Pittsburgh Sacramento Las Vegas Cincinnati
Kansas City Austin, TX Columbus, OH Cleveland
Indianapolis Nashville Toronto, ON Providence
Milwaukee Jacksonville Raleigh, NC New Orleans



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