San choy bow are super easy and tasty Chinese lettuce wraps that take only a few minutes to prep and cook. They are great as part of a selection of dishes, such as for Lunar New Year, as well as to snack on for lunch.
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The Lunar New Year is one of, if not the most important, celebration in China as well as other Southeast Asian communities such as Korea and Vietnam (where it is called Tet).
In China, celebrations usually go from the evening before the New Year to the 15th day of the first lunar month which is the lantern festival. Many people travel across the country to celebrate with family.
Of course, it is not always possible to travel, especially for those overseas. But celebrations can still happen. I know amongst Chinese friends, even if they weren’t with family, they would always celebrate it in some way, whether joining local celebrations or making traditional foods.
Chinatowns across the world are decorated with lanterns, garlands and more. Many places have parades, particularly with lion dances, as I remember seeing when I lived in London which competes with San Francisco for the largest celebration outside of China.
For many internal migrant workers in China, it’s about the only time they get any real time off to be able to travel back to where they are from. As a result, that first evening is usually known as a reunion dinner.
Lunar New Year foods
Many of the foods eaten are symbolic for the year ahead, either through name or shape. For example spring rolls are golden, and symbolic of prosperity, while longevity noodles symbolize longevity and happiness.
While san choy bow (also written as sang choy bao) are sometimes part of the New Year celebrations, they are certainly way too good to limit when you eat them. They're low carb, quick and easy to make. Plus you can make extra of the meat filling, freeze it then defrost and warm it when you need it.
How to make san choy bow
These are really easy to make, as all you do is separate out some lettuce leaves, and chop a couple ingredients before a really quick cook up of the meat with some tasty seasonings.
Top tip: adapt to taste
You most typically use pork, and at least water chestnuts for contrasting texture. I also added shitake here as they're always a good idea to me. But, you can adapt to taste, such as ground turkey to be lower in fat, or using different vegetables (you could add carrot and/or pepper, for example).
There's really not too much to it, but the result is delicious. While it’s traditionally an appetizer, you can also serve any leftover meat filling with rice or noodles as a main.
These San Choy Bow, Chinese lettuce wraps, are incredibly quick and easy to make, and a fun food to eat. Great for a party, great for meal prep, the filling is a flavorful mix you'll be making again and again.
Try these other easy Chinese favorites:
- Shrimp shumai
- Scallion pancakes
- Sticky red braised pork belly (hong shao rou)
- Plus get more Chinese recipes in the archives.
San choy bow, Chinese lettuce wraps
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- ½ tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
For rest of dish
- 2 oz water chestnuts strained weight, approx ½ can
- ½ onion small
- 1 spring onion scallions
- ½ tablespoon fresh ginger grated/minced
- 1 clove garlic grated/minced
- 1 oz shitake mshrooms (optional)
- 1 iceberg lettuce small, may not use all
- 2 teaspoon vegetable oil
- ½ lb ground pork pork mince, or can substitute with chicken or turkey
- In a small bowl, mix together the oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside for later.
- Drain the water chestnuts and chop the slices into small pieces. Dice the onion relatively finely and slice the spring onion/scallion. Have your grated or minced ginger and garlic ready to go as well. Break off pieces of lettuce to make cups (they can be whole, smaller leaves or parts of big leaves - you just want them a good size and shape to hold the meat and eat from). You’ll need approx 12 or maybe more to use all the filling. Chop the shitake relatively small, if using.
- Warm the vegetable oil in a wok or skillet/frying pan then add the onion and cook for a minute or two before adding the ginger and garlic. Cook for a couple minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion is softened.
- Add the ground pork and cook for approx 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until the meat is cooked through. Add the shitake mushrooms, if using, and cook a minute or two more. Add the water chestnuts and mix through.
- Add the sauce you mixed earlier and cook a minute as you mix it through then remove from heat. Spoon the mixture into your lettuce cups and top with the chopped spring onions then serve.
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This post was first shared in December 2017 and has been updated, primarily with new photos and video.