If you go to a typical Chinese-American restaurant, you can expect to find several classic items on the menu. Chow mein and lo mein are two of them. In addition to their similar-sounding names, these dishes are often made from the same ingredients. But you shouldn't confuse them when placing your order; according to PureWow, there is a difference between chow mein and lo mein.

In Chinese cuisine, the word mein means noodles. Chow mein roughly translates to “fried noodles,” while lo mein means “tossed noodles.” The preparation is the main thing differentiating the two meals.

To make chow mein, cooks must first par-boil the egg noodles or soak them in hot water to soften them. Next, the partially cooked noodles are pan-fried along with vegetables, protein, aromatics, and sauce. In the final product, the chewy, slightly crispy noodles are the main attraction.

Lo mein consists of many of the same components as chow mein. The noodles are still made from eggs and wheat flour, and they also get tossed with ingredients like bell peppers, bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken, and a sweet, soy-based sauce. Unlike chow mein, lo mein noodles are fully cooked in boiling water before they're tossed with the other parts of the recipe. This results in a softer, more supple noodle. Lo mein is also distinguished by having more sauce, vegetables, and protein than its fried counterpart.

American Chinese restaurants can be found throughout the U.S., but the origins of what they serve are mysterious to many customers. For example, you may not know that apricot-based duck sauce was made to appeal to Americans' sugar-loving palates. Here are more origin stories behind seemingly foreign dishes that are popular in the States.

[h/t PureWow]