Healthy, done in under 30min, budget-friendly, super flavourful and perfectly refreshing! San choy bow are also great appetisers - ideal for impressive entertaining or just a yummy mid-afternoon snack. For a low carb and delicious meal, pair this with some Vietnamese rice paper rolls - easy and interactive dinner for the family.
You might think.. what does san choy bow even mean? Well, it's Cantonese and 'san choy' translates to lettuce and 'bow' translates to bun or wrap. This is why this recipe's other name is lettuce wraps!
Also, turns out, there are soooo many different ways of spelling this dish. I've seen other variations such as san choi bao, san choy bau and so on. Nonetheless, the Chinese restaurants here in Sydney spells it as san choy bow so I'll go with that.
- Oyster sauce is a commonly used Chinese condiment that adds a savoury (or umami) flavour to dishes. More on oyster sauce below.
- Soy sauce also adds the beloved umami flavour into this dish. It is much saltier than the oyster sauce, which adds another layer of flavour.
- Shaoxing wine is a Chinese cooking wine (really good quality ones can be consumed as a beverage) that is made with fermented rice. Similar to cooking with red or white wine, Shaoxing wine adds depth and aroma to a dish. You can find rice wine, oyster sauce and soy sauce at most supermarkets otherwise, your local Asian grocery store will definitely have them in stock!
- Cornstarch/cornflour is super important here! This will magically thicken the tasty sauce so that it catches onto all the fillings and makes every bite delicious.
- Baby gem lettuce/little gem lettuce is perfect to hold the filling. Iceberg lettuce is my choice #2.
- Chilli is optional but does add a lovely heat to this dish.
- Pork mince feel free to swap pork mince out for chicken mince, turkey mince or even finely diced firm tofu! Tofu is a great vegetarian alternative and since it's quite bland on its own, it will just take on the great flavours of the other ingredients.
- Carrots and green beans works really well with Asian lettuce wraps. You can also add in some diced mushrooms or water chestnuts for extra flavour and vegetable variety!
Step by step instructions
This pork san choy bow or pork lettuce wraps is super easy to make!
To start, finely chop onions, garlic and chilli. Add oil in a large frying pan or skillet over medium high heat. Cook onions, garlic and chilli for about 3 or so minutes. Ps If you're out of brown onions, you can use green onions (spring onions) instead!
Now push the onions mixture to the rims of the pan to make room for the pork mince. Stir fry pork on high heat until brown but not yet cooked through. Cooking meats on high heat helps the surface to brown and caramelise. This transforms the meat and adds depth of flavour!
Splash in shaoxing wine and allow the wine to evaporate. The wine will help further enhance the flavour profile.
Then, add in finely diced green beans and carrots. Tip: to save time and effort, use grated carrots instead! Grating takes just seconds!
Season the veg and mince mixture with oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar and pepper. Mix well and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes without a lid.
To finish off, make a quick thickening sauce. Simply combine cornstarch, soy sauce and cold water in a small bowl and mix well. Add it to the pan and stir through on low heat for about 1 - 2 minutes. You'll find the sauce will thicken slightly quite quickly.
To serve, fill lettuce cups with the pork and vegetable filling and enjoy! Make sure to wash and pat dry the lettuce leaves before using!
That's it! Quick and easy dinner done in under 30 minutes.
Best lettuce to use for san choy bow (lettuce wraps)
Baby gem lettuce or little gem lettuce I find is the most ideal lettuce for this. They're basically just baby romaine lettuce. As you can see from the images, they're the perfect size to hold the delicious filling and its sauce really well.
Iceberg lettuce works great too as it gives a great crunch and I find, juicier. However, there's a little more work involved in using iceberg lettuce. You'd have to trim the edges (so that they don't flop everywhere) or requires tearing in half if the leaves are particularly big.
All in all, both are great to use for this flavourful recipe!
If having this as a side, complete your meal with this seriously delicious and simple chicken noodle stir fry! A healthy and nutritious meal that will not disappoint.
Tips for making this perfect every time!
- Pat dry the lettuce before serving. This is very important for two reasons: makes sure that you're hands are not dripping with water as you're about to take your first bite. Second, each bite will be super flavoursome and not diluted by the excess water.
- Use lettuce (whether you're using baby gem or iceberg) that doesn't have holes. You don't want the delicious sauce or filling to fall out! A little tear on the outer rims is okay.
- Definitely thicken the sauce by using a cornflour/cornstarch mixture. Without this, the sauce will be dripping everywhere no matter how intact or sealed your lettuce leaves are!
- Cut the beans and carrots to a similar size as pork mince. This will guarantee optimal munching experience. 😉 And of course, uniform size means everything will cook evenly.
Good to know (FAQs)
As mentioned above, baby romaine lettuce! Also known as baby gem lettuce. They're the perfect shape for entertaining worthy, appetiser sized san choy bow!
Easy! Submerge the lettuce in cold tap water for about 30 minutes will do the trick! If you've got some ice cubes, chuck them in too but no need to fuss if you don't have any. Cold tap water works just as well.
China of course!
In this recipe, cornstarch, soy sauce, oyster sauce, shaoxing wine, sugar and pepper are used!
Absolutely! Well, only the filling part. You don't want to freeze lettuce. They'll go all soggy and the beloved crunch factor will be gone. So don't do it!
Meal prep it!
The pork and veggies filling keep well in the freezer for up to 3 months. Make an extra batch and store it in the freezer for a lazy day. You'll be glad you did! By the way, these fillings are super versatile! They taste delicious with a bowl of steaming rice or as topping for noodles too! Give that a try next time. It's super comforting and come on.. comfort foods are the best! Better yet, healthy comfort foods!
Made this recipe? Let me know your thoughts or questions by dropping a note in the comments section below! I'd love to hear from you 🙂
Happy cooking! - Gen
San choy bow (lettuce wraps)
- 3 baby gem lettuce (little gem lettuce) or iceberg lettuce (note 1)
- optional: garnish with spring onion/scallions to serve finely sliced
Pork and vegetable filling
- 500 g /1.1lbs pork mince (ground pork) substitute: chicken mince or firm tofu
- 1 onion finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic large, minced
- 1 carrot large, finely diced or grated
- 150 g /5.3oz green beans finely diced, roughly 1.5 cups
- 1 tablespoon oil sunflower or olive oil are fine
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon shaoxing wine substitute: mirin
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon dark brown sugar
- 1 fresh chilli finely diced, any kind, birdseye for extra heat
- 1 tablespoon cornflour/cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon soy sauce
- ¾ cup cold water (note 2)
- Saute onions, garlic and chilli with oil in a large non-stick pan or skillet. Cook medium-high heat until onion sweats and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.
- Push onions to the rims of the pan, add pork mince and saute for about 2 minutes on high heat or until meat is brown but not cooked through. (note 3)
- Mix shaoxing wine into the pan and allow the wine to evaporate. This will take about 1 minute.
- Add carrots, beans, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, pepper. Mix and cook on low heat for 10 minutes, no lid.
- Combine thickening mixture ingredients in a bowl, mix well and pour into the pan. Stir the pork and vegetables for 1-2 minutes on low heat.
- To assemble the san choy bow, scoop 1 heaped tablespoon of filling into 1 baby gem lettuce leaf and (optional) top with finely sliced spring onion/scallions and fresh chilli. Repeat for remainder filling.
- Serve immediately!
Other great Asian recipes to make!
- Chinese sausage fried rice - packed with flavour and too good to miss
- Chicken and corn soup - wayyy better than what you get from Chinese takeouts. This homemade version is what you want!
- Chinese broccoli (gai lan) with shiitake mushrooms - Chinese restaurant or yum cha (dim sum) favourite but BETTER!
- Easy pork wontons - super quick, super easy
- Pan-fried dumplings - juicy filling, crispy bottoms