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Let's say a family member asked me to try cooking lo mein for dinner, but I don't have time to stop by a big enough grocery store to get Asian noodles. I do, however, have spaghetti in the cupboard.

Are spaghetti noodles a reasonable approximation for lo mein noodles? (As far I understand it, they're both wheat-based.) What textural or flavor differences would I encounter with this substitution?

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    There's an article on Serious Eats which talking about using spaghetti as a ramen substitute with the addition of baking soda. Might also work here. seriouseats.com/2014/10/… – NRaf Feb 17 '15 at 2:09
  • I've removed several comments here; the summary is that someone thinks that this is really not a good idea. – Cascabel Jan 20 '17 at 18:45

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Round lo mein noodles look veeeeery similar to spaghetti:

Spaghetti A small pile of cooked spaghetti noodles

Lo mein A small plate of cooked lo mein noodles

The biggest difference, ingredient-wise is that dried pasta (mostly?) does not contain eggs and lo mein noodles do.

I know that at least once shopping mall food court chinese food place I've eaten from uses spaghetti for their lo mein. It's kind of obvious, but it's not bad. I feel that lo mein typically has a denser, chewier bite than spaghetti. In a pinch, spaghetti will make a tasty noodle dish. It won't quite be lo mein, though.

My advice would be to try it and see what you think. Be careful to not over-cook your spaghetti.

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    This is very useful, particularly the don't-overcook advice. At worst, we've got Asian-flavored spaghetti :) – Erica Feb 16 '15 at 19:15
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    The biggest difference isn't the egg: it's that lo mein is almost always treated with alkali salts. That drastically affects the texture, and provides a natural yellow-ish color. – ESultanik Jul 7 '15 at 13:29
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    There are many asian noodle types that are "just wheat/semolina" (sometimes with salt added in the dough, unlike italian pasta!) and lo mein noodles based on that formula are also not uncommonly found in stores... One seemingly trivial difference is the shape .. one could almost suspect that noodles that are ruler straight in dried form have some memory of that straightness, and find ways to stick together in a wok exactly when you have no time to sort the mess out... – rackandboneman Jan 24 '16 at 23:35
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I do it all the time, but I always use whole wheat spaghetti. Regular spaghetti is too mushy for Lo Mein. Also, in a regular grocery store Lo Mein is about $4 for half a pound whereas spaghetti is about $1 for a pound.

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While the other answers seem to have focused on the eggs, the biggest difference between Italian noodles and many Asian noodles (especially wheat-based noodles, like lo mein) is that the latter are often treated with alkalies like lye-water or alkali salts (potassium/sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate). This can enhance any preexisting yellow pigments in the noodles (e.g., if egg yolks are used), but more importantly it also significantly affects the texture of the cooked noodles. Whereas Italian noodles are optimized for an al dente texture, alkali noodles have a distinctively springy texture. They are simultaneously soft and doughy, yet springy and resilient. Achieving that texture is nearly impossible from non-alkali noodles. To replicate that texture, one might consider substituting another alkali noodle like lo mein's cousin, ramen, which is more readily available at most supermarkets these days.

Serious Eats has a very good article on the subject.

It is also relatively easy to make your own alkali noodles at home. You probably already have all of the ingredients necessary: baking soda, water, flour, and optionally whole eggs. Here is a good instructional video.

  • -1. Alkalies do not add yellowness, barely enhance existing pigments, red for tomatoes, green for string beans, etc ... You might want to check this out, slowly and carefully, from HAROLD McGEE nytimes.com/2010/09/15/dining/15curious.html?_r=1 – Dimitri Lovsky Jul 11 '15 at 16:20
  • @DimitriLovsky It's been a while since I read OF&C; I didn't realize how insignificant the alkalies were on color :-) I've edited my wording to reflect that. – ESultanik Jul 11 '15 at 17:00
  • Some yellow asian noodles have turmeric added. – rackandboneman Jan 24 '16 at 23:27
  • Just add a little baking natron to the cooking water and the spagetti become very similar in texture to asian noodles. – Umbranus Oct 2 '16 at 13:09
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It's almost the same thing.

Dry pasta is eggless

fresh pasta has egg

Dry Egg Noodles have egg.

You can buy egg noodle spagetti.

If you want to be vegan, then stick with regular dried spagetti and your "lo mein" will be egg free. If you want your spagetti to be more "lo mein like", learn to cook the pasta with the dried spagetti being added last and absorbing all the moisture very similarly to cooking rice.

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Plenty of Asian restaurants in the US do use spaghetti, cheaper. People don't know, and do not notice.

Fresh pasta vs. dry pasta does not mean it contains egg. Egg is just an option, rare in the US, more frequent in Europe, no matter fresh or dry. I don't know about stores in Asia.

Finding dry or fresh pasta with egg is a real challenge in the US, including in Asian grocery stores. Most contain food coloring Yellow 5 (chemical) or turmeric (natural), rarely egg powder or fresh eggs.

So many people have it wrong here! Besides, you being in South Carolina, as opposed to California or North-East, good luck finding Asian egg noodles containing egg.

  • Can you clarify why you're focusing on egg so much -- is that important to lo mein noodle flavor? I have for Asian grocery stores within a mile of my house, so sourcing isn't a problem unless I'm low on time and have to stick with what's in the pantry. – Erica Jul 6 '15 at 22:06
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    The Chinese noodles industry focuses on showing eggs or chickens on the packages, even labeling as egg noodles or lo mein noodles, while there are no trace of egg in it, hence the confusion. Finding noodles containing eggs at Asian grocery stores is as much as a challenge as regular store in the USA, not so much in EU. Egg doesn't matter too much, but useless or potentially harmful additives do. Sodium Carbonate not a problem, but Yellow 5 is omnipresent, Turmeric or Beta Caroten being preferable. Some packages are so bright yellow, they probably glow in the dark :-) – Dimitri Lovsky Jul 9 '15 at 9:21
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Asia invented noodles and everyone has been playing with the recipe for thousands of years. Here in louisiana every region and even every household has a different gumbo recipe... Noodles are kinda the same, all across Asia there are a thousand different recipes with hundreds of different noodle recipes. In short, try it out and see if you like it. Happy cooking!

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I am going to use Pappardelle (has egg) because I love the texture. They'll be boiled aldente, drained and then tossed with garlic in olive oil. I'll add some well fried Applewood bacon that has been well drained and cut up into small pieces. I also like a bit of soy sauce. It's sort of my version of an Italian/Chinese version of Lo mien. Add lots of black pepper and parmesan cheese. if you like. Bon Appetite!

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Spaghetti can definitely be used when making pan fried noodles, and they are more economical as well. First, boil the spaghetti as you normally would, being careful to not overcook the pasta. Drain and lightly dry the noodles, then fry -- it is as simple as that. Also, you can adjust the cooking time as needed in order to get the results you prefer.

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Although the Serious Eats article just mentioned previously is good overall, I believe it wrong about sodium carbonate being responsible for the Yellow color or "hue". Among other things like texture which is why it is principally used, it might fix the dye but it is not the dye. The real problem is the very difficult to avoid Yellow 5 (E102) which the article does not mention at all, while Turmeric or Beta Carotene are the natural but rare acceptable substitutes.

Back to the Spaghetti, the best way to me is to first well dry the pasta, including a quick high heat round alone in the pan before tossing with the other ingredients in the end. Lo mein is tossed, chow mein is fried, let's meet half way, while trying to avoid bucatini but try to experiment with thin spaghetti instead of thick for a change. (note: Both Bucatini and Thin spaghetti are tougher to find than thick/regular ones.)

What about the eggs? Forget about it! Keep the concern for the day you'll be making you own fresh pasta while preparing your next Italian dish or German Spaetzle.

  • -1. While some cheap noodles might add food coloring in addition, it is definitely a fact that alkalies add yellowness. researchgate.net/publication/… researchgate.net/publication/… i.imgur.com/riBZqNc.gif – ESultanik Jul 9 '15 at 10:32
  • Before quickly voting down and pointing to science oriented articles, read them more slowly/carefully. In YAN (Yellow Alkaline Noodles), Sodium carbonate (E500) is the alkaline salt, not chosen for the bright yellow color. Tartrazine (E102) is chosen as the color agent, not alkaline. If Yellow is not needed, E102 is omitted, natural shades of pale yellow will prevail. Check the bright yellow vs. light brown noodles, compare. A dozen of Asian stores around me, countless hours reading ingredients and labels made me think differently and take it with a grain of salt, pun intended :-) – Dimitri Lovsky Jul 9 '15 at 13:37
  • Well, the alkalies do enhance any existing yellow pigments, but I wasn't aware how insignificant that would be if there were no eggs used. I've reversed my down-vote. I never claimed that artificial coloring wasn't used in cheap supermarket noodles, though. – ESultanik Jul 11 '15 at 16:57
  • @ESultanik: thanks for reverting your down-vote, was unexpected, my respects to you. – Dimitri Lovsky Jul 12 '15 at 0:51
  • Tumeric is quite mainstream by now. – rackandboneman Nov 14 '17 at 23:46
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I use thin spaghetti but pan fry to crisp up with possibly some red pepper flakes and garlic. Putting sesame seeds into oil before the noodles seems to reduce sticking.

Or oven crisp with a little oil. Just plain spaghetti doesn't sound very good.

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