One of my favourite starters at Chinese restaurants – Chinese Lettuce Wraps made with pork or chicken, loads of hidden crunchy vegetables in a tasty savoury brown sauce, bundled up in fresh lettuce. Fast to make, incredibly versatile (great to make vegetarian), San Choy Bow is arguably the ultimate “just happens to be healthy” food in the whole wide world ….. for a meal or as finger food!
San Choy Bow, Sang Choy Bow, San Choi Bao, Sung Choi Bau and every possible combination of these words. There is every chance that this recipe is the most misspelt recipe ever. In fact, I don’t even know what the “right” spelling is, but “San Choy Bow” seems to be the most common. My local takeout place spells it “Sang Choy Bow”. Kylie Kwong spells it Sung Choi Bao”. Golden Century restaurant (a popular Chinese restaurant in Chinatown in Sydney) spells it “San Choy Bow”.
If there is anyone who knows what the proper spelling is – do tell!!!!
I may not know how to spell it, but I DO know for sure that you will love it. ☺️
It all comes down to the sauce. It takes more than just a splash of soy sauce to make a truly delish San Choy Bow. Get the sauce right and you can pretty much put any vegetable in it. And it is one of those rare recipes that is genuinely great made entirely vegetarian. I would just as happily scoff down a meat free version of this as I would a traditional pork version.
Oh wait! I know I say that you can put almost anything into it but there is one thing that I really urge you to use: Water Chestnuts. It doesn’t have a strong flavour, but the unique thing about Water chestnuts is the texture. Even canned, it is crunchy and a bit juicy and it’s a quintessential part of the Chinese Lettuce Wrap experience. ☺️ Nowadays in Australia, they are found in both the Asian section and canned vegetable section of supermarkets.
I’m yet to find a reliable resource that specifies exactly what should go into a San Choy Bow. I don’t think there are definitive rules, but the common ingredients I see at Chinese restaurants (classic local takeout places and modern posh ones) are pork, water chestnuts and onion. After this, things get a bit blurred. I’d say that baby corn, shiitake or other mushrooms and carrots are almost always in the filling. Then sometimes there are bean sprouts. And those that border more towards “Western” Chinese have all sorts of other vegetables in it, like normal corn, capsicum etc.
So I’ve made a version that is akin to what Chinese restaurants here in Australia serve. It’s basically entirely brown – no pops of colour. While it’s not typically served with peanuts or shallots/scallions on top, I really love the extra something-something this adds. 🙂
Oh! The one other little thing I did differently in this recipe – I used baby lettuce rather than iceberg lettuce which is the traditional lettuce used. Reason being that with iceberg lettuce, the size of the leaves varies drastically in a single head and I often find myself struggling to get enough of the right size leaves from one head for one batch of filling. Which sounds really odd I know, but actually, after peeling the outer leaves (the first few always too floppy to use), you get a few layers of lettuce perfect for the San Choy Bow. But then the leaves become mainly super crunchy white stem part with little green leafy bits, and these are too stiff to use as wraps.
However, the baby lettuce I used (Little Gem Lettuce I found at Woolworths) are perfect! Plus, no trimming required and you can use almost all the leaves. ?? But really, any lettuce leaves that are of a sufficient size and shape to use as a wrap will work a treat.
So tell me. What do YOU call these Chinese Lettuce Wraps and how to you spell it? San Choy Bow, Sang Choy Bow, San Choi Bao, Sung Choi Bau – or any combination thereof? Or something different? Check your local Chinese take out menu! ?
Happy weekend! – Nagi x
- 1 1/4 tsp cornflour / cornstarch
- 3 tbsp water, separated
- 1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce (Note 1)
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce (Note 1)
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (Note 2)
- 1 tsp white sugar (can omit)
- 1 tbsp peanut oil
- 1 clove large garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp ginger, minced
- 300g / 10oz pork mince (ground pork) (Note 3)
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 1 small carrot, finely chopped
- 100g/ 3.5oz canned water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped (Note 4)
- 5 baby corn, canned or fresh, finely chopped (Note 4)
- 5 mushrooms, finely chopped(shiitake is best, I used Swiss Brown)
- 8 leaves large or 16 - 20 small lettuce (Note 5)
- Crushed peanuts
- Finely sliced scallions / shallots
Mix cornflour with 1 tbsp water until lump free. Then add remaining Sauce ingredients and mix.
Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add garlic and ginger, give it a quick stir then add onion.
Cook for 1 minute then add pork. Cook pork until it turns white.
Add all the vegetables. Cook for 2 minutes until the carrot is softened and pork is cooked through.
Add Sauce and cook for 1 1/2 minutes or until it thickens and glossy, coating the Filling.
Transfer Filling into serving bowl. Lay out lettuce leaves, peanuts and scallions on the side.
To serve, spoon some Filling into a lettuce leaf. Top with peanuts and scallions, bundle it up and enjoy!
1. The light soy sauce adds the salt and the dark soy sauce adds a touch of colour. You can sub the dark soy with more light soy sauce, or just sub both the light and dark with ordinary soy sauce. The filling will just be a bit lighter in colour. Don't just use all dark soy sauce - flavour is way too strong - or with a thick sweet soy sauce like kecap manis.
2. Can sub with dry sherry or chicken broth.
3. Also great with chicken but I prefer pork because it's not as lean and has slightly more flavour. Chinese restaurants typically use pork. Never seen it with beef or lamb! Can also sub with 2 1/2 cups of chopped veggies of choice.
4. See in post for a photo of water chestnuts. These are a key ingredient in San Choy Bow as served at Chinese restaurants here in Australia. They have a natural light flavour, but it's the texture that is unique - a fresh crunchiness.
Nowadays these are sold in both the Asian and canned vegetable section of major supermarkets.
5. Typically served using iceberg lettuce leaves which are cut into neat rounds so they are all the same size, washed then crisped up in the fridge. I find that most of the leaves on iceberg lettuce are sometimes too crispy (i.e. more white stem part than green leafy part) and they tear easily. So in order to get enough good leaves to use for 1 batch of San Choy Bow, you need more than 1 head. Which to me is a pain. So I prefer using other types of lettuce leaves, especially baby ones which are naturally the perfect size! I used Baby Gem Lettuce which come in twin packs at Woolworths.
6. I use 3/4 cup of each vegetable (inc onion) so in total I use 2 1/2 cups of chopped vegetables. You can substitute with whatever chopped vegetables you want, though I urge you to stick with the onion.
The meat can be substituted with 2 1/2 cups of any vegetable or chopped firm tofu. For a super quick version, make this with pork + frozen diced vegetables. Works a treat!
This recipe makes enough for 3 as a main (4 if it's 2 adults and 2 kids) or around 6 as a starter.
7. Nutrition per serving, assuming 4 servings. This is a fantastic healthy dinner!
San Choy Bow (Chinese Lettuce Cups) recipe video!
San Choy Bow (Chinese Lettuce Cups) nutrition per serving, assuming 4 servings.
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