RECIPE: Fusion-ish San Choy Bao

I normally don't write recipes, but I do love to cook often, and I love to write, so I thought I might combine the two. Lets see how this goes.

San Choy Bao is a favourite of mine - I remember eating it as a child, and enjoyed the messiness of the little lettuce-wrapped parcels. This is a traditional Vietnamese dish, however as with a lot of what I cook it takes on a Japanese bent here, replacing sherry with sake, and switching up from the usually sweeter and lighter soy to Japanese soy, which is a bit more savoury.

This dish is relatively cheap - I bought everything from the supermarket for around $40 AUD - and feeds a lot of people. It's also quick and fun to make, as well as tasting great for very little work. Just cut everything up and add it in stages. No fancy techniques go into San Choy Bao, so anyone should be able to do it regardless of cooking skill.

I don't have a picture from last night, as I didn't have the foresight to take one. I also don't know the legality of posting someone else's picture here, so I'll just Google it for you.

Preparation Time: ~15 minutes.
Cooking Time: ~30 minutes.
Serves: 6-8*.

* I made this for dinner last night and fed 6; our house is a little odd, however, so this could probably feed more if you have small eaters.


For Frying
2 tbs peanut oil
500g chicken mince
500g pork mince
1 small red chilli, finely diced and deseeded
2 heaped tsp minced garlic (I prefer pre-minced for dishes like this, as they have more juice)
2 handfuls oyster mushrooms, finely diced
6 shallots, finely sliced
2 cans water chestnuts (about 500g), finely diced
1 can bamboo shoots (about 250g), finely diced
3 tbs soy sauce
3 tbs oyster sauce

6 tbs hoisin sauce
2 tbs Japanese soy sauce
2 tbs oyster sauce
2 tbs sweet chilli sauce
4 tbs sake

To Serve
Lettuce cups
Tortilla wraps
3 cups uncooked rice

  1. In a large covered pan on medium-to-high heat, fry the oil, chilli and garlic until fragrant. Add in the chicken and pork mince, breaking it up and combining it. Cover with lid to keep moisture. Lift the lid and stir every minute or so to make it an even browning.
  2. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside. Alongside, cook the rice in your preferred method (I advise using a rice cooker so that you don't have to keep an eye on it throughout).
  3. Once the mince is browned, add the sauce, and the mushrooms, shallots, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots. Cover again for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir throughly and add the remaining soy sauce and oyster sauce. Let this fry off a little, and serve hot.

Traditionally, San Choy Bao is eaten without rice, wrapped in a small lettuce leaf and eaten whole. Personally, I prefer to eat it like a lettuce taco, topping it with rice (which also makes the meat go further, and makes it less salty). Some, my housemates included, prefer to eat it in a tortilla wrap with the lettuce on the inside like a burrito. Each to their own.

I advise you to set the table with the meat, lettuce, rice and wraps in the centre so that your guests can pick and choose how they want to make it themselves. You might also want to serve either red wine or spirits alongside this dish, as the deeper flavours will go well with the umami of the white meats and mushrooms.

Alternatives and Notes to the Picky Eater:

Normally San Choy Bao is made with a dry cooking sherry, or Chinese cooking wine. I chose sake, because I prefer the taste and I think it goes exceptionally well with chicken. However, if you want a richer flavour, try the original way the second time around, and let me know your thoughts on the differences!

If you're one to baulk at chilli, have no fear. My housemates (who loved this) dislike and don't tolerate chilli... They didn't comment on its inclusion, or complain that it was too hot, so you should be fine. If you like it hot, however, please add more (I would say no more than 4x the amount shown above, but you should know the tastes of your household to judge).

Lastly, you can also add in finely shredded cabbage and diced bean sprouts to increase the vegetables in this dish. If you do add these, give them the same proportions as the bamboo shoots size-(not weight-)wise.