What is Beef Chow Fun? An Intro to the Classic Chinese Noodle Dish

With its tender slices of beef, fresh bean sprouts, and savory soy-sesame sauce all tossed together with chewy rice noodles, beef chow fun is a beloved favorite in Chinese cuisine. This Cantonese classic has also become a staple menu item at Chinese restaurants across America. But what exactly is beef chow fun and what makes it so delicious?

Overview of Beef Chow Fun

Beef chow fun is a stir-fried noodle dish that originated in Guangdong and Hong Kong. It consists of the following main elements:

  • Thin slices of marinated flank steak or other beef
  • Wide rice noodles called “hor fun” or “ho fun”
  • Bean sprouts
  • Scallions
  • Ginger
  • Soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Sesame oil

Additional vegetables like onions or bell peppers are also sometimes added. The hallmark ingredients are the soft wide rice noodles and the sweet-savory soy-sesame sauce.

The dish is prepared in a wok at high heat, allowing the noodles to lightly char and absorb flavor from the aromatics. This cooking technique imparts “wok hei” to the noodles, lending a subtle smoky taste. The result is a flavorful noodle dish bursting with textures and flavors.

History and Origins

Beef chow fun has its roots in Guangdong province and was likely invented sometime in the early 20th century. The name “chow fun” can be translated to mean “stir-fried noodles.”

Rice noodles had become widely available in southern China by this time. Meanwhile, oyster sauce was also growing popular after being invented in Guangdong. The combination of the two yielded this tasty beef and noodle stir-fry.

The dish was popularized by Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong and Chinese restaurants abroad. It became a go-to order for Chinese takeout and banquet dinners. Beef chow fun remains beloved today by Cantonese food lovers.

The Signature Noodles

The noodles are what set beef chow fun apart from other beef noodle dishes like lo mein. Traditional chow fun uses fresh wide rice noodles called “hor fun.” These soft, chewy noodles are made from rice flour and water.

When fresh hor fun noodles are unavailable, wider dried rice noodles can be substituted. But fresh noodles are ideal for their ultra-tender texture. The thick, smooth noodles also soak up the scrumptious sauce.

Part of the appeal of beef chow fun is the broad flat noodles contrasting with the thin beef slices and crunchy bean sprouts. The varying textures come together in perfect harmony.

Signature Sauces and Flavors

While the noodles may be the star ingredient, the sauce is what brings the dish together. There are regional variations, but Cantonese chow fun is defined by its sweet, umami-rich soy sauce and sesame sauce combo.

Common sauce ingredients include:

  • Soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Shaoxing wine
  • Dark soy sauce
  • Sugar

The sauce strikes a balance between salty, sweet, nutty, and aromatic flavors that coat the noodles. A touch of rice wine lends subtle fermented notes.

When wok-tossed with the noodles, beef, and vegetables, the simple sauce transforms into a complex, addicting flavor. It’s no wonder beef chow fun is so craveable!

Texture and Mouthfeel

An important part of the beef chow fun experience is the contrasting textures of each ingredient. You get:

  • Soft, chewy rice noodles
  • Tender, thinly sliced beef
  • Crisp, crunchy bean sprouts
  • Velvety scrambled eggs or tofu
  • Crunchy scallions

With each bite, you get an appealing mix of tender, slippery noodles, pleasantly chewy beef, and bright vegetable crunch. The diverse textures come together in a symphony of mouthfeel.

Cooking Technique

To make proper beef chow fun, the right cooking technique is key. It requires a very hot wok and quick tossing motions to achieve that coveted “wok hei” flavor.

The process usually goes as follows:

  • Sear marinated beef in batches
  • Sauté aromatics like ginger and scallion
  • Toss in drained noodles to lightly char
  • Add sauce mixture and continue tossing
  • Toss in beef and sprouts
  • Finish with scallions

The constant tossing motion prevents sticking while cooking the noodles evenly. The high heat also infuses them with a subtle smokiness.

While a round-bottom wok is ideal, beef chow fun can also be made using a large non-stick skillet. Just be sure to keep the heat high.

Variations and Substitutions

There are many possible variations on beef chow fun depending on the region or chef. Some examples include:

  • Chicken or seafood instead of beef
  • Chinese broccoli or bell peppers added
  • Eggs or tofu for extra protein
  • Spicy chili sauce or chili oil added
  • Scallion pancakes on the side

As for noodles, dried rice stick noodles or fresh Chinese egg noodles can substitute for the traditional hor fun noodles. Just adjust cooking times accordingly.

How to Order Beef Chow Fun

When ordering beef chow fun at a Chinese restaurant, you may see it listed in two different ways:

  • Beef Chow Fun (Dry): The noodles and beef are stir-fried separately then served tossed together without sauce.

  • Beef Chow Fun (Wet): The noodles are stir-fried and served coated in the signature sweet soy-sesame sauce. This is the typical preparation.

So if you want those scrumptious sauced noodles, be sure to order the “wet” or sauced version of beef chow fun!

Tips for Making Beef Chow Fun at Home

Recreate those mouthwatering takeout noodles at home with these tips:

  • Use very high heat and a well-seasoned wok or non-stick pan

  • Choose fresh hor fun noodles if possible for ideal texture

  • Thinly slice beef against the grain for tenderness

  • Mix sauce ingredients in advance for organized cooking

  • Continuously toss and stir ingredients while stir-frying

  • Adjust seasoning to taste and add chili oil or hot sauce if desired

With practice, you can make restaurant-quality beef chow fun at home in minutes. Just gather the essential sauces, noodles and veggies for a fast weeknight meal.

The Verdict on Beef Chow Fun

With its satisfying mix of tastes, textures and aromas, it’s no wonder beef chow fun has been a Chinese restaurant staple for generations. The dish celebrates the simple but harmonious marriage of tender beef, hearty noodles and fresh vegetables united by a scrumptious salty-sweet sauce.

Beef chow fun is the ultimate comfort food that’s craveable, customizable, and convenient for busy home cooks. This Cantonese classic is poised to remain an enduring favorite for years to come.

Frequency of Entities:

  • Beef chow fun: 14 times
  • Chow fun: 5 times

Dad’s ADDICTIVE Beef Chow Fun (乾炒牛河)!


What is the difference between lo mein and chow fun?

Actually, the main distinction between these two popular dishes lies in how the noodles are prepared. Mein or mian is simply the Chinese word for noodles. Lo mein means “tossed noodles,” while chow mein or chao mian means “fried noodles.”

What is the difference between beef chow fun and ho fun?

There isn’t a difference between Chow Fun and Ho Fun beside the name. Chow Fun is utilized in countries that speak and write menus in English. In contrast, the same dish is referred to as Ho Fun, especially in Hong Kong or Southern China. Outside of the name, realize the two are the same.

What is another name for beef chow fun?

Beef Chow Fun, also known as Chow Hor Fun, gets its name from the town of Shahe in Guangzhou, where this distinctive style of flat rice noodles was first created. The Cantonese name for the dish is 乾炒牛河.

What is the meaning of chow fun?

Chow is stir fry. Fun is a wide noodle similar to pappardelle make from steamed rice flour. Popular is chow fun stir fry with beef, dry style, sometimes black bean is added.

Leave a Comment