I'm currently travelling in Laos where my favourite local dish is called "larb" or "laap" (ລາບ in Lao, ลาบ in Thai).

When I described it to my Australian friend he said it sounded like a dish that was one of his favourites called "San Choi Bow" and described it as "either a southern Chinese or Vietnamese word for the spicy mince in a lettuce leaf".

I've been hunting on Wikipedia and there appears to be no English article though I have now found a Chinese Wikipedia article and the term does show up in a couple of articles on the English Wikipedia. There is lots of information on the Internet, I noticed especially from Australia. But the information is contradictory. Two Yahoo Answers questions about its origins give different answers with no further details: China, Thailand.

There's at least seven other spellings I could find, all combinations of "san" vs. "sang", "choi" vs. "choy", and "bau" vs. "bow".

To me this looks like Chinese but I couldn't find the Chinese characters and even if the dish has a Chinese name that doesn't mean it wasn't originally from a neighbouring country.

Could it be that "larb" is a Southeast Asian version of "sang choi bow" or is "sang choi bow" a Chinese name for their version of "larb"?

Sang choi bow, from the Chinese Wikipedia:
sang choi bow

Squid larb in Thailand:
Thai larb
Pork laap in Laos:
Lao laap

  • I've just arrived in southern Yunnan province from Laos and though I'm having terrible internet problems preventing me from further research, I have found that doing an image search for "Yunnan cuisine" reveals numerous images that look like either or both of larb and/or sang choi bow! Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 10:33
  • Is it Mar haw in Thai? Or galloping horses?
    – user26538
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 17:36
  • @SusanHillyard: It doesn't seem to be ม้าห้อ from the pictures I can find on Google Images, but it doesn't have a Wikipedia article or such and I've never encountered it myself. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 4:29

7 Answers 7


Probably Hong Kong.

It is written in Chinese as "生菜包", which in Pinyin is "shēngcài bāo", noticeably different to any of its usual spellings in English.
However, in Cantonese it is saang1 coi3 baau1. Much closer to the English spellings and pronunciation. Cantonese is mainly spoken in Hong Kong, a great culinary exporter and major influence on "Chinese food" in the west.

生菜 means "lettuce" and means "wrap", etc.

It does in fact have a Wikipedia article, but only on the Chinese Wikipedia. The article is very short and Google Translate does not handle it well. I will include the Chinese text here in case any readers who can read Chinese can find something of the dish's origin or history:








Of course it's still possible the dish originated outside Hong Kong, the name is very literal and isn't necessarily the original name of the dish. But it is clear it came to the English speaking world by way of Hong Kong.

  • 1
    This is an old question which just got pushed onto the front page for some reason. However, the Chinese text says that it was invented in Guangdong/Canton, which is not far from Hong Kong :)
    – xuq01
    Commented Jan 8, 2022 at 15:38

I can't give you exact origin of sang choi bow but it is certainly not from Thailand or any of its neighbouring countries. I found an article, the author has Chinese/Cantonese Singapore origin and she said she never taste similar dish back in her home country either.

In Australia sang choi bow usually made from minced pork or chicken, stir fried with onion, shallot and various other vegetables, seasoned with soy sauce, oyster sauce and served with lettuce leaves. It is a common option for entrée (appetizer) in Thai, Veitnamese or Chinese restaurants. The dish also served as a second course for pecking duck (made from left-over meat). Different restaurant would have different variation of the dish. The only thing they have in common is, it will always come with lettuce.

I could remember having similar dish from Chinese restaurants in Bangkok. It was also prepared out of left-over meat from peking duck but they never served it with lettuce.

Sang choi bow is waaaaaay different to larb though. Larb is more or less a salad. In fact larb beef in Australia is usually called Thai beef salad, although restaurants normally use sliced grilled beef instead of cooked minced meat.

Larb also seasoned with fish sauce, chilli, and lime juice, never with soy or oyster sauce.


Laab in Thai language is Verb mean to chop meat. We have Northern Laab and North-eastern Laab which the way to seasoning and taste are difference. From your picture Squid larb is north-eastern style seasoning with dried chili, lime juice, roasted sticky rice, fish sauce, sugar. It's taste is sour come first then salty with a little sweet. It's normally spicy because Thai people put a lot of dried chili in it and they also add herbs: culantro, shallot, spring onion, mint leaf.


Sang Choi Bow was originated from Guangzhou, China. As Sangchoi is lettuce in Chinese, and it pronounced similar like "To get rich" in Chinese.

  • Sounds similar in Chinese? Just in Cantonese you mean, or also in Mandarin? (Or in both?) Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 7:39
  • sounds similar in both Cantonese and Mandarin.
    – Mrs.Mok
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 6:41
  • Ah it must just be the western ear that makes the English name not sound like the Mandarin pronunciation to us then ... Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 6:42
  • 1
    Yes it's very usual (but not universal) for Chinese food terms in English to come from Hong Kong / Cantonese. Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 7:13
  • 1
    This occurred quite bit in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, as people from Southern China (where the dialects are more similar to or is Cantonese). The new immigrants brought their local foods with them and over time it blends in or adapts to their new environment as if it were always there - and to tourists it is even harder to see the difference.
    – J Crosby
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 17:41

I was also led to believe it originated in Guangzhou. I moved to Guangzhou in 2019 and to my surprise I could not find it anywhere. I've been to many restaurants here and it is never on the menu. I asked my Cantonese Ayi to make it and she had no idea what it was, she'd never heard of it! I showed her photos and she declared it was not a Cantonese dish. Could it be a uniquely Chinese Australian dish? it's very popular there, is it possible early Cantonese immigrants invented it in Australia?


I have to disagree with all the answers above which say that it doesn't originate in Canton/Guangzhou, or anywhere in Guangdong Province. As a matter of fact, it very likely did. At least I have ordered it in many Cantonese restaurants in Guangdong, but usually not under the name sang choi bowl.

If I recall correctly, usually it's called something like 小炒皇 siu chow wong, which translates to something like "emperor stir-fry". It might be served with or without lettuce wraps, with the lettuce being perhaps a more recent addition. So it't probably unsurprising that more elderly Cantonese people have not seen this dish.

Moreover, traditional Cantonese siu chow don't really look like South East Asian larb. The famous Hoishan (Taishan) siu chow, for example, usually contains dried shrimp/Mantis shrimp, cauliflower, Cantonese sausage, leeks etc., so it really looks nothing like the minced meat-based SE Asian larb. This might be another source of confusion.

Source: I'm Cantonese.


Mrs.Mok commented that "As Sangchoi is lettuce in Chinese, and it pronounced similar like "To get rich" in Chinese." Sometimes the last word of the name of the dish is spelled "bao", which I read means "bun". That made me wonder if the name sangchoi bao might mean lettuce bun, ie using a lettuce leaf to make a bun to enclose the meat or other mixture.

  • 包 basically means package/packet/wrap/bundle etc and the classic Chinese bun is the baozi steamed bun, typically with pork inside, 包子. So it's more that 'bun' is one kind of packaged or wrapped thing. Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 5:04

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