Three Cups Chicken or Sanbeiji (三杯鸡)



“Sanbeiji (simplified Chinese: 三杯鸡; traditional Chinese: 三杯雞; pinyin: sān bēi jī; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: sam-poe-ke; literally: “three-cup chicken”) is a popular chicken dish in Chinese cuisine. The dish originates from the Jiangxi province of southern China, is a specialty of Ningdu, and has become especially popular in Taiwan. The dish derives its name from the three cups of sauces required. For each chicken, a cup each of soy sauce, rice wine (usually mijiu although it may be mixed with Shaoxing jiu), and sesame oil are added. Lin Shangquan, a famous chef in Taiwan, believes that the traditional recipe called for a cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar, with added ginger, garlic, and basil. The chicken, together with the sauces, is cooked in an earthenware pot on high heat for ten minutes, then on low heat to allow the sauces to be absorbed by the meat. The dish is usually served in its cooking pot when the sauce has 80-90% reduced. Sanbeiji is served with no sauce; the dish is cooked until all the sauce evaporates and is absorbed by the chicken”. (Source:


This is a famous Taiwanese dish that I flopped a few times… I was always mislead by the belief that it is one chicken will need one cup of soya sauce , one cup of wine and one cup of sesame oil. It is my fault and was interpreted based on my wild imagination. Based on these literal interpretation, what I got is an extremely dark, salty and oily chicken… Not only unappetizing, the meat is overly soft by the time all the sauces thicken…


I have therefore decided to locate a recipe . I subsequently learnt that though the name suggested to be in that ratio, it does not work that way  due to current health trends. In addition, as every brand of soya sauce will taste and look differently,  some form of chef judgement is therefore needed.


I stumbled across a Taiwanese recipe which convinced me that I shall try his or her recipe.. At least what he or she presented capture my attention and the meat looked tender, glossy, tasty and beautiful.. I  decided to give a try after I saw some Thai basil leaves being sold in the market.


Thai basil leaves is the main ingredient that differentiate this dish with other similar dishes. Without these prime ingredient, the dish will not qualify to be called three cups chicken. It will be just normal sesame oil chicken. Per Wikipedia:


“Thai basil (Thai: โหระพา, rtgs: horapha, ISO: h̄oraphā, pronounced [hǒː.rá(ʔ).pʰāː]; Vietnamese: húng quế) is a type of basil native to Southeast Asia that has been cultivated to provide distinctive traits. Widely used throughout Southeast Asia, its flavor, described asanise– and licorice-like and slightly spicy, is more stable under high or extended cooking temperatures than that of sweet basil. Thai basil has small, narrow leaves, purple stems, and pink-purple flowers.”



Recipe adapted from: [零失敗食譜] 三杯雞作法!!!

Servings: About 3-4 adults


  • 500 grams of chicken meat (cut into small pieces)*
  • 4 stalks of Thai basil
  • 8 cloves of garlics
  • 8 slices of ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of rock sugar or maltose
  • 3 tablespoons of dark soya sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of Chinese rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil


  • I have used about 8 chicken mid wings and 2 deboned chicken drumsticks. Chicken meat are supposed to cut into small chunks of about 3cm x 3 cm
  • Maltose can be used to enhance the colour and flavour



PicMonkey Collage1

  • In a non stick pan, pan fried the chicken under medium heat until the exterior are golden brown. There is no need to cook the chicken and the main purpose of this step is to preserve the outlook of the chicken after cooking. Dish up and set aside.

PicMonkey Collage2

  • In the same frying pan and using high heat, add the sesame oil follow by the garlic and ginger. Sauté until fragrance. Add in the maltose or rock sugar, stir fry until sugar melts. Add the pan fried chicken, stir fry 1-2 minutes until flavour incorporated, add the rice wine and dark soya sauce. Bring to boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat to medium. Let it simmer until the sauce thickens.  Give a quick stir once in a while. Before dishing up for serving, add the Thai basil leaves , stir until well mixed. Best served hot with a plate of steaming white rice or white porridge.


  • Traditionally, this dish is braised in clay pot but for convenience sake, I have used non stick pan for the preparation.

  • For rock sugar, you may need to pound the sugar into powder if it is too large piece.such that it is easier to melt. If you have maltose, it will be a better choice to provide colour and sweetness.

  • Generally, the dish shall not have too much gravy or sauces left. It is supposed to be rather dry. However, if you prefer, you can add more rice wine or water to have gravy to go with the rice.  If you find that the dish is too salty, just dilute with some more rice wine.



Hmmm, though the dish is said to be originated in Jiangxi, China, why is Thai basil being used? Is it really because of the Taiwanese chef that introduce the herbs to the dish? Whatever the reasons, it is really a nice dish that both children and adult will like. Please do not make the same mistake as me , the literal interpretation of the cuisine name will not be able to produce this tasty dish, it will be overly oily and salty for current taste buds.. Lastly, you can always used the same recipes for other meat like pork belly .


Hope you like the post today. Cheers and have a nice day.



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  • If you are a Pinterest user and you are interested to have more recipes, you can join or follow this Pinterest Board set up by me  where there are more than 2600 recipes worldwide and pinned by various bloggers: FOOD BLOGGERS AND FOODIES UNITED PINTEREST BOARD.


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