Shanghainese lion’s head meatballs are one of my dad’s favourite foods, and this recipe was originally my great-grandmother’s, on his side. My dad missed these so much when our family moved [to the United States] that he learned to cook just to make them – they’re that good. The meatballs are first fried briefly, then steamed for longer over an impossibly tall pile of bok choy, so that the oil and juices from the meatballs lend a savoury-sweetness to the bok choy underneath as it cooks down.

It’s almost hard to call them ‘meatballs’ because that connotes spaghetti and boldly herbed, strong-textured balls of ground [minced] beef – this isn’t that. This is soft and comforting home-style food the kind that feels like your grandmother’s hug.






Skill level

Average: 3.6 (59 votes)


  • 500 g minced (ground) pork
  • 2-3 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing), mirin or sake
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 spring onion (scallion), chopped finely
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger
  • ¼ cup green bean starch (see Note)
  • 3 eggs, beaten (see Note)
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) canola oil
  • 500 g bok choy, stems trimmed (see Note)
  • steamed rice, to serve

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Place the pork, sugar, salt, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, spring onion and ginger in a large bowl and mash vigorously until well blended. I just use my hands.

Add the starch and mix with a fork (I suggest withdrawing the hands-on approach at this point, because the starch makes it quite sticky).

Add the eggs, mixing again to incorporate. The mixture will seem extremely liquid at first – just continue to mix and the egg will gradually absorb into the pork, leaving a thick, porridge-like mixture.

Pour the oil into a large wok, or enough to coat the bottom with about 1 cm of oil. Turn the heat to medium and give the oil a few minutes to warm up.

Using a 60 ml (¼-cup) measuring cup or a large ice-cream scoop, drop balls of the pork mixture into the wok in a single layer. Let sizzle for 2-3 minutes or until browned, then flip over and cook the other side. Once the meatballs are browned on both sides (they don't need to be cooked through), remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. You will likely have to fry in 2 batches, depending on the size of your wok.

Once all the meatballs are fried, wash and clean the bok choy. Remove stalks and stems from the base, and use to line the bottom of a large saucepan. You can sprinkle the bok choy with a bit of salt if you like, though I found the leaves had enough flavour with the juice from the meatballs. Either way, place the meatballs on top of the bok choy and turn the heat to medium-low. Cover and let steam for 30-40 minutes or until the bok choy leaves have wilted and the stems are tender. If the mixture begins to splatter too much, turn the heat down to low.

When done, serve hot with rice!



• If you can’t find green bean starch (also known as mung bean starch), available from Asian food shops, cornflour will work just fine.

• If you want rounder and firmer meatballs that you can shape with your hands, use 2 eggs instead of 3. I thought 3 eggs yielded meatballs that were lovely and tender.

• Use baby bok choy if you can find it. Or use regular bok choy, which is just fine.


Recipe from Two Red Bowls by Cynthia C., with photographs by Cynthia C.