This is a recipe inspired by a Malaysian Chinese restaurant which used to be in Deptford called Kaya House. Ambrose, its genial owner, ran this place with his family, where you were made to feel very at home. Even if your visits were months apart, your name and preferences were somehow remembered and respected.
The Kaya House San Choi Bau was a vegetarian dish of incredible flavour, balance and wonder. It had some unexpected ingredients, such as pickled cabbage. The stir fried, saucy, tiny vegetable chunks were intended to be spooned into a salad leaf, which was folded around the filling to give a perfect little morsel of food, to be eaten by hand. Somehow, they managed to serve the dish with perfectly round leaves of iceberg lettuce.
There are other San Choi Bau recipes, involving either pork or tofu. I am sure they are delicious. But I wanted to attempt a recreation at the Kaya House dish. I loved that place so much, when I left a job I had in Deptford, I had my leaving do there. Unfortunately, Kaya House closed, taking the secrets of their San Choi Bau recipe with them. This recipe gets close, but until Ambrose and family open a new restaurant, is the best I’m going to get. I don't pretend it is authentic, so any feedback from people familiar with Malaysian Chinese cooking would be appreciated!
Snig's Veggie San Choi Bau
A wok (I used a carbon steel seasoned wok, but you can use any wok you like)
Various bowls and plates for ingredients
1 carrot, peeled and diced very finely (between 5mm and 7mm)
6 baby corn, diced very finely (between 5mm and 7mm)
5 mushrooms, diced very finely (between 5mm and 7mm)
3 shallots, peeled, halved then sliced very finely (3-5mm) into half moons
1 pepper (any colour), diced very finely (between 5mm and 7mm)
Bamboo shoots (half a can, drained and rinsed), diced very finely (between 5mm and 7mm)
Petits pois (half a mug of frozen)
2 birds eye (red) chillis, deseeded and diced as small as you can cut them
1” (2.5cm) piece of ginger, peeled, diced as small as you can cut them
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
2 tbsp groundnut oil
1 romaine lettuce or a couple of little gem lettuces, washed and whole leaves removed
For the sauce:
1 tbsp Shaosing rice wine or Sake
3 tbsp Hoi sin sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
1 lime, juiced
1. Prepare all the ingredients in advance, as when you start cooking there will not be enough time. Cooking will take place quickly. Either keep the vegetables separately, or put them on plates (or in bowls in the order they are added). Put the prepared chilli, garlic and ginger in a small bowl to one side. Put the sauce ingredients in a mug, and whisk together with a fork until mixed up.
2. Heat oil in a wok, until very hot or smoking.
3. Begin by stir frying the carrots and baby corn together. Stir or toss the wok to keep them moving and cook for 1 minute or maybe 2. Turn the heat down if necessary, but try to keep the wok hot.
4. Add the chilli, ginger and garlic. Stir/toss for 30 seconds, making sure you do not burn the garlic.
5. Now add the mushrooms, shallots, and pepper. Stir fry or toss for 2 minutes.
6. Add the petit pois, stir fry or toss for 1 minute.
7. Add the sauce ingredients, ensuring the wok is on a high heat. Mix thoroughly, coating all of the vegetables.
8. Allow the sauce to boil and thicken. Cook in all for about 3 minutes.
9. Serve immediately in a large bowl with a spoon and the romaine leaves on a separate plate.
9. Spoon the vegetable mix into your leaf, roll ever so slightly and enjoy!