Chinese cuisine is the inspiration for a million stir fries in Australian homes every night, and it’s also the source of a favourite fakeaway option: San Choy Bau (which research shows is spelled at least four different ways on ‘authentic’ Chinese recipes so I am going with the one I like best).

As far as kids and family food go, San Choy Bau shares a lot with the ever popular taco dinner night. Instead of tortilla shells you use lettuce leaves, but the fun of making a hand held meal is pretty much the same.

San Choy Bau is generally quite mild, but easy to spice up. Don’t forget to taste the mince mix before you serve it – or ask a child for their opinion. You can add fresh chillies or chilli sauce to the table, as well as putting out some soy sauce and anything else your family loves (my niece would totally add BBQ sauce to hers and as long as she’s eating the lettuce too, I’m ok with that!).

This will serve two adults and three children. The water chestnuts can be left out but add a nice light crunch in the texture of the mince.

Kids in the kitchen tips

  • Break off large lettuce leaves, wash and pat dry with paper towel or clean tea towel.
  • Trim floppy outer edges off large leaves.
  • Measure out sauces.
  • Arrange ingredients in small bowls (mise en place).
  • Set the table with additional toppings and sauces.


San choy bau

Bec Lloyd
Chinese mince in lettuce leaves - or San Choy Bau - is as much fun as Taco Tuesday, but arguably slightly healthier and a bit less effort!
Course Main Course
Cuisine Chinese, Fakeaway


  • cutting board
  • Wok or large fry pan
  • small bowls to hold ingredients for cooking & serving
  • clean tea towel or salad spinner
  • scissors (for lettuce)


The Mince

  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 500 g pork, chicken, beef or mushroom mince (ground meat)
  • 1 tin water chestnuts drained and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed (or 1 heaped tsp from jar)
  • 2-3 cm ginger, grated (or 1-2 tbsp from jar)

Sauce for mince

  • 2 tbsp kecap manis thick, sweetish, soy
  • 1 tbsp light or dark soy sauce
  • ¼ cup oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp lime juice about half a fresh lime
  • 1-2 tbsp arrowroot or cornflour

To serve (adjust for your family's tastes)

  • 1-2 large iceberg lettuce See Notes about alternative
  • 1-2 carrots, grated optional but a good way to boost vege content
  • 2 stalks spring onions, sliced on diagonal
  • ½ cup chopped roasted peanuts
  • 1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1 long red chilli, sliced on diagonal
  • sauces your family likes - eg soy, sweet chilli (yes, even BBQ!)
  • ½ bunch coriander leaves, picked or chopped
  • ½ cup fried shallots (buy or make)
  • lime wedges slice up the leftover lime from sauce mix


  • Wash, dry and trim any ragged or floppy edges from your lettuce leaves to make cup shapes and pile them on a platter or in a salad bowl at the table.
  • In a small bowl combine the sauce mix ingredients (lime juice, oyster sauce, kecap manis and sesame oil). Place it close to the stovetop.
  • In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil then add the mince, water chestnuts, garlic and ginger all at once and cook on high about two minutes until you can smell the garlic and ginger.
  • Reduce heat to medium and add all the sauce to the pork mince, stirring through and watching for it to thicken.

Thickening (if needed)

  • If the mix seems too runny to sit well in lettuce cups, follow this step:
  • Remove a few spoons of the sauce and add to a small bowl with a tablespoon of cornflour or arrowroot in it, stirring quickly with fork or small whisk to crush most lumps. Return the slurry to the pan and mix well - it should thicken on heating but repeat this step again if still too runny.

To serve

  • Serve everything alongside the garnishes and any leftover sauce. Have plenty of tongs and spoons at the table to make it easy for everyone to reach what they need.
  • Spoon mince and garnishes into your lettuce cup, fold over the edges and eat as a roll.


  • Arrowroot is found in the baking section of supermarket shelves and is best known amount Australians as the name of a plain oval biscuit your mum might have buttered for recess at school! It's easier to use for thickening than cornflour as it seems to make fewer lumps. Give it a try!
  • If your family needs carbs for this to feel like a full meal, serve rice on the side or soak rice vermicelli noodles according to the packet and then chop roughly with scissors into shorter lengths - these can also be spooned into lettuce cups with the mince mix. 
  • There are times during the year when iceberg lettuces are suddenly expensive and poor quality. If they've been in cold storage for a while the leaves can be bitter and too tightly packed to work well as lettuce cups. You can try substituting with long leafed cos or soft leaf lettuce but it does make holding it together a lot harder. If you really want to make it but the icebergs are rubbish, this mix works beautifully in rice paper rolls.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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