One of my favourite Chinese starters – Lettuce Wraps with pork or chicken, loads of hidden crunchy vegetables in a tasty savoury brown sauce, bundled up in fresh lettuce. Also known as San Choy Bow, it’s arguably the ultimate “just happens to be healthy” food in the whole wide world …..
San Choy Bow – Chinese Lettuce Wraps
The Chinese name for Lettuce Wraps is San Choy Bow which is how it’s written in menus at Chinese restaurants here in Sydney, though the spelling varies widely from place to place and I’m yet to find a definitive answer for what the proper spelling is.
I may not know how to spell it, but I do know you’re going to love them!!
How to make Lettuce Wraps
Lettuce wraps are made with ground / mince meat and vegetable filling with a savoury Chinese sauce spooned into lettuce cups, then wrapped into a roll shape to eat.
For a great Lettuce Wrap, it all comes down to the sauce. It takes more than just a splash of soy sauce to make a truly delish Lettuce Wrap.
Get the sauce right and you can pretty much put anything into the filling. 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.
What goes in a Lettuce Wrap filling
I don’t think there are definitive rules for what goes in Lettuce Wraps, but the common ingredients I see at Chinese restaurants are:
- pork (chicken and turkey are ideal subs)
- water chestnuts
After this, things get a bit blurred. Other common ingredients which I’ve included in my recipe are:
- Baby corn
- Shiitake or other mushrooms
And those that border more towards “Western” Chinese have all sorts of other vegetables in it, like normal corn, capsicum etc.
Make it real with water chestnuts!
If you can find them, 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 (Woolies, Coles etc).
Lettuce wraps are a fantastic quick and easy meal that also happens to be healthy. In Chinese restaurants, it’s served with crisp Iceberg Lettuce which tends to crack when folded. For a more practical option, use soft lettuce leaves like Butter Lettuce or Bib Lettuce (US).
Enjoy!– Nagi x
More quick and easy Chinese restaurant favourites
- Chinese Chicken and Corn Soup
- Chop Suey (Chicken Stir Fry)
- Chow Mein
- Cashew Chicken
- Beef and Broccoli
- Browse all Chinese restaurant recipes
San Choy Bow
WATCH HOW TO MAKE IT
San Choy Bow (Chinese Lettuce Cups) recipe video!
San Choy Bow (Chinese Lettuce Wraps)
- 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 (or sub Mirin or dry sherry, Note 2)
- 1 tsp white sugar (can omit)
Filling (Note 6)
- 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, preferably soft (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!
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