Lion’s Head Stew (Shi Zi Tou)

Hailing from Shangai, this dish is thus named because of how it resembles one when the cabbage surrounds the large meat balls.  My mother used to cook this a lot when I was a kid, and I haven’t had it in a long time.  So after waking up to 2 feet of fresh fallen snow, today was the best kind of day for this chinese comfort dish.  it is commonly served with glass noodles, but I chose to exclude them.  For noodles, just prepare them separately and add them to the stew while it simmers.

the result belies the simplicity of preparation and cooking



1 lb of lean ground pork

2 tbsp of soy sauce

1 tbsp of xiao xing wine

1 tsp of salt

2 chopped green onions

1 tbsp of chopped ginger

2 tbsp of corn starch


1 medium head of nappa cabbage; stems separated from leaves an cut into thirds

2 tbsp of oil

2 tbsp of dark soy sauce

2 cups of chicken broth

1 cup of water

water to cover


  1. chop ground pork until it has reached a chunky consistency, make sure not to chop it to mushiness though!
  2. mix with soy sauce, wine, salt, green onions and chopped ginger.  mix with a pair of chopsticks several times until the meat firms up
  3. make large meat balls an roll them in the corn starch. lightly coat them all the way around.
  4. heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a heavy cast iron pot over medium high heat. when the pot is hot enough that sprinkling water results in oil popping, put the meatballs in and brown them.  remove and set aside
  5. in the same pot, add 1 tbsp of oil and add the cabbage stems. stir fry until the cabbage is wilted.
  6. add the chicken broth, 1 cup of water, and soy sauce. cover pot and bring to a boil.
  7. put the meat balls on top, trying to make sure they rest on the cabbage stems, and add enough water to submerge them.  cover the meat balls with the remaining cabbage leaves, lower heat to a simmer and cover.
  8. cook until the meat balls are done and the cabbage leaves are wilted
  9. make a bed from the cabbage stems, place the meat balls on top, surround with leaves and serve with rice.

the “soup” and pork juices get soaked right up by the nappa cabbage, making them have a savory crunch.  you’ll be left with a lot of extra soup, usually restaurants don’t serve the dish with a lot of it and typically its left remaining in the pot, but there was just so much meaty flavor in it, i could’t just toss it.  store it and mix with rice and all that excess nappa cabbage (if you happen to have any!) and you’ve got yourself another couple of meals!


3 thoughts on “Lion’s Head Stew (Shi Zi Tou)

  1. Every time I’ve had this in China (whether Beijing, Xi’an, or Shanghai), its been served in broth almost covering the Shizitou–usually a single ball–completely. My hosts seemed to value the broth as much, if not more, than the dumpling. Also, I feel that the meat was never browned at all. Perhaps boiled or steamed, but i rarely find Chinese cuisines to value the caramelization of food. However, it would surely add a deeper dimension to the flavor of this dish. Can’t wait to try this!

    from mtl w/ hugs,


  2. yah, i think it is a non traditional way of preparing, its actually my mom’s recipe, the way i would eat it when i was younger, and shes from shandong, so maybe its a bit different there?
    tell me how it comes out!

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