The deliciousness that is san choy bow has mysterious origins. It doesn’t have a wikipedia page, anyway. But the legend of this simple Chinese dish has been passed down through generations of eaters who want to have their meal and eat the serving dish, too. Regardless of how you take the spelling of your san choy/choi bow/bao, we’ve found the best lettuce-cup creations in our fair city.
Who said you can’t play with your food before you eat it? The masterminds at Oriental Teahouse have realised this and released the kid in all of us, serving their san choy bow as deconstructed elements for us to assemble at our leisure. (And yes, the sum of the san choy bow is infinitely greater than its parts.) By the way, the chicken san choy bow is served with plum sauce. Even the memory of its spicy sweetness makes our heart race.
Rice Queen was our warm oasis on a night of gale-force winds. The room, while full, never felt crowded (a deal-breaker for the introverted among us). And the food? Fit for a queen! The san choy bow here is a mix of stir-fried tofu, water chestnuts, mushrooms and snakebeans. We added duck just for funsies, but it’s a complete dish without it anyway. Errbody can fawn over this lettuce cup of goodness.
Located just off Bourke Street in the Paris End of the city, Flower Drum is the perfect place for a snazzy dinner before a live show (you know, those old-fashioned ensembles that are like movies but not). Admittedly, from the lane, the restaurant looks closed and sad. But we’ll let you in on a secret… It’s to keep the ruffians out. And the dress code is a second line of defence against the wandering inebriated. So because the clientele is of the upmarket variety, the san choy bow (and entire menu) is a little more expensive than the rest of this list. But if your night is meant to be a lavish one, there’s no other san choy bow that can do it for you. You can eat it with your pinky in the air.
If you’re looking for a cool, open space rather than the cosy closeness that can be had at Rice Queen, David is the one for you. The first dish on the menu is ‘Mama Zhou’s san choi bao' and my God, it’s first for a reason. I had a vegetarian serve. And a chicken serve. I decided to share the seafood serve out of the legitimate fear of being rolled out of there like Violet Beauregarde. I suggest taking a friend for food distribution and moral support. Fun fact: The mastermind who owns David’s (David Zhou) has spread his genius seed over four of the Oriental Teahouses in Melbourne. You don’t have to go far to bask in his glorious food creations.
If there are any naysayers out there who adamantly refuse to believe that Charlie Dumpling’s grilled skewers in lettuce wraps are actually a form of san choy bow, you can sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done. Everyone else - order the barramundi skewers. I have no idea how a fish can taste so incredible, seriously. If you’re of the vegetarian persuasion, the baby sweetcorn skewer is just as tasty, and even more refreshing than its fishy brother.
For those of us who can’t reach the CBD for Chinese goodness, there’s the Silky Apple on High Street. Great for a group of travelling foodies, this san choy bow is served by the fours, of either vegetarian, chicken, pork or scrumptious seafood styles. We ordered ours like yum cha and tried a little bit of everything. These pocket-sized* delights kept us going back for more. *Serving suggestion: Please don’t put the san choy bow in any sort of pocket.
Home of the hilarious menu is Benjamin’s Kitchen, including the Son In Law Egg and the Crap Bun (not actually crap); but also home to the ‘san choi bao' with more ingredients than the aforementioned bow cups. I am Pavlov’s dog remembering this concoction, of chicken mince, that smokey and pungent Chinese sausage, spring onion and bamboo shoots. Benjamin’s Kitchen is a takeaway restaurant too, so gather your group as there is a minimum order charge for delivery.
Pacific Seafood BBQ House
I don’t know about you but all this talk about food has made me hungry and tired, so I need fast, filling and flavoursome takeaway before I veg out and scour Netflix for something new to watch (why you finish, Suits). Pacific Seafood BBQ House is awesome for this, and their san choy bow is cheap as chips, too (but they don’t sell chips, so don’t get excited). Like the san choy bow found in Silky Apple, these moreish morsels invite the ‘one of everything, please!’ purchasing style, so the chicken, pork, duck, seafood, and vegetarian creations can all get equal love.
Image credit: The Flower Drum