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 jobs

  • 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.
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San choy bau

  • Author: Bec Lloyd


Chinese mince in lettuce leaves – or San Choy Bau – is as much fun as Taco Tuesday, but arguably less effort!



To serve

  • 1 large iceberg lettuce, or two smaller ones 

Optional toppings

  • ½ cup chopped roasted peanuts 
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 1 cucumber thinly sliced 
  • ½ bunch chopped coriander leaves
  • ½ cup fried shallots

The sauce mix

  • 2 tablespoons kecap manis (thick, sweet soy)
  • ¼ cup oyster sauce
  • 2  teaspoons lime juice 
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Optional – have some arrowroot powder or cornflour ready to thicken the sauce if necessary.

Main ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil 
  • 500g pork, chicken, beef or mushroom mince
  • small tin water chestnuts, drained and diced 
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 23cm of ginger, grated (or 23 tablespoons of crushed ginger from jar)


  1. 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.
  2. In a small bowl combine the sauce mix ingredients (lime juice, oyster sauce, kecap manis and sesame oil). Place it close to the stovetop.
  3. 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.
  4. Reduce heat to medium and add all the sauce to the pork mince, stirring through and watching for it to thicken. If the mix is too runny remove a few spoons of the sauce and add to a small bowl with a tablespoon of cornflour or arrowroot in it, stirring quickly to crush lumps. Return this slurry to the pan and mix well – it should thicken on heating.
  5. 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.
  6. Spoon mince and garnishes into your lettuce cup, fold over the edges and eat as a roll.


If you need some carbs for it to feel like a full meal, serve some rice on the side or soak rice vermicelli noodles according to the packet and then chop roughly with scissors into shorter lengths – these can be spooned into lettuce cups as a side. 

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