Vietnamese Braised Pork & eggs in caramel – Thit Heo Kho Trung Flashbacks from my mom’s kitchen

by on February 15, 2009

vietnamese-braised-pork-eggs-recipe

If I could name one of the many comfort foods in Vietnamese cuisine that brings back warm, delicious memories to all my Viet friends and family, it would be this dish: Thit heo kho trung, braised pork belly (or shoulder/butt) with boiled eggs. It’s the comfort of pork slowly cooked in sweet caramel, till the the soft meat becomes rich and flavorful that makes all of us salivate with homesickness when we’re far away from home. To complete the dish, add some boiled eggs to braise amongst this amazing pot of pork comfort, and some warm jasmine rice with some cool, crunchy, pickled mustard greens for contrast and texture.

Thit heo kho trung is one of the many classic examples of Vietnamese home-cooking at it’s best. This humble Vietnamese braised caramel pork dish speaks volumes to me about who I am and the simple dishes in life that I need to keep me satisfied, sane and happy.

Every morning, at 6 am, Mom would be busy at the stove, starting her morning routine of cooking for her household of hungry kids and my foodie father. We’d wake up to this warm pot of slow, simmering goodness and it was a wake up call that that filled the house with braised love. My always multi-tasking Mom would get the little twins ready for school with her left hand, while feeding the rest of us with her right hand.

She’s an ambidextrous, culinary fool. You would have to watch her genius to believe everything that I say.

With a shoe in one hand and a soup ladle in the other, Mom dished out bowls of hot rice, topped with her braised, melt in your mouth pork. We’d shovel the rice, and braised pork in our mouths, then take a bite of the caramelized boiled eggs and pickled mustard greens. It was a breakfast of champions that fueled us out the door for another day of school.

As children, we didn’t always treasure all the hours of home cooked goodness for three meals a day.

Eating thit heo kho trung all the time as a kid became mundane and sometimes us kids just wanted our big mac and fries, ya know?  Growing up with homemade chow at home, but with the tempting sights of pizza, hamburgers and fried chicken all around us was challenging. Those processed fast food delicacies always made us yearn for the exotic American foods that existed outside my mother’s kitchen.

Eventually,  home cooked meals that my mom slaved over every morning became dull.  I know that sounds sacrilegious to the culinary world, but I suppose when you’re growing up as a low income, ethnic kid like myself, fast food was considered “gourmet”.

vietnamese-braised-pork-eggs-recipe

As kids we wanted American bacon, sausage and pancakes that Ronald McDonald served at his restaurant.  Even if he was just a clown, he made me happy with his big red lips, jolly face and fabulous cheeseburgers.

As we grew up, moved out and went away to experience the independence and debt that came with adulthood, the days of longing for pizza and burgers slowly disappeared. The freedom of not having parents around meant that home cooked meals by Mom became a scarcity. There’s always that trade-off. It was the thoughts of those mornings with hot rice and Mom’s braised pork belly that we yearned for when we walked back through her door.

She would  snicker with her motherly pride and always know that it was because of her hot rice dishes that we couldn’t be far from home for too long.

Mom always says that no matter where we go or what we eat, nothing brings us back to the comforts of home like a meal of hot rice, a little meat/fish and some greens. Vietnamese braised pork and eggs is a perfect example of those childhood memories that I eventually fall back on. This is the power of humble, home cooking.

-Diane

vietnamese-braised-pork-eggs recipe

Vietnamese braised pork & eggs in caramel Recipe - Thit Heo Kho Trung

Yield: 4 servings.

Total Time: 2 hours

To make this dish, we'll use different cuts of pork depending on our mood. When we're feeling more generous with ourselves or  don't give a crap about our cholesterol, we'll go for the gusto with choose a whole slab of beautiful pork belly: fat, skin and all. Lately, Mom has been using pork shoulder/butt more often because she feels that we don't need all that fat anymore. She could be right. We really should listen to her.

Normally using regular sugar for the Vietnamese caramel sauce and small chicken eggs , but as of late, we've been enjoying the flavorful benefits of palm sugar and the indulgence of quail eggs. Either will work well, choose your delicious poison. To add that texture of pickled crunch that I mentioned earlier, Vietnamese pickled mustard greens is usually added as an accompaniment to balance the rich, braised pork and eggs. If you don't have the traditional pickled mustard greens, eating some sliced raw cucumbers or tomatoes will add the same delicious effect. Many of my aunties eat fresh slices of cucumbers to heighten the flavors of the braised pork. I'll be posting the recipe for the pickled mustard greens soon

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs pork belly cut in 1" cubes, or pork shoulder/butt for less fat
  • about 6-8 small eggs, boiled and peeled
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
  • @ 1.5 cup water (start with 1 cup first, add more if needed)
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste

For the Vietnamese caramel sauce (nuoc mau) : Photo tutorial HERE.

  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons water

Directions:

  1. In small heavy bottom pan, combine sugar and water. On medium heat, allow sugar to melt. Stir occasionally to help sugar and water to combine evenly. Once the sugar melts completely, the mixture will slowly start to turn a golden brown color. Continue swirling the pan until the caramel becomes a light brown color. Immediately remove from heat and put aside.
  2. In another, large heavy bottom sauce pan, heat over medium heat. After the pan warms, add oil and garlic. Stir until garlic becomes light brown and fragrant.
  3. Add pork and cook for about 10 minutes. Add fish sauce .
  4. Slowly pour about 3 Tablespoons of the caramel into the pan first. The more caramel added to the braise, the sweeter the pork. Add additional or less caramel to your personal taste.
  5. Allow pork to cook in caramel for about 5 more minutes, until pork becomes cooked around the edges. Then add water and turn heat to low. Continue braising the pork for about 1 hour, or until meat is tender. About 15 minutes before the meat is finished, add the boiled eggs. Be careful when tossing the eggs to the pork to avoid breaking the eggs.
  6. Serve with warm rice or noodles.  Make sure you top it all off with some of the braised sauce!
Recipe Source: WhiteOnRiceCouple.com.

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{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

1 sue bette February 16, 2009 at 2:47 am

Beautiful post. I was just talking to a friend about the power of Ronald McDonald & toys – marketing genius. This looks like a lovely recipe, I’ve got a pork belly in the freezer that is looking for a home so I might have to brush up on my caramel skills!

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2 Veron February 16, 2009 at 6:58 am

oh my god, I can’t wait to try this. This is almost similar to a cambodian dish that I like except it is caramelized with sugar and soy.

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3 Lan February 16, 2009 at 7:36 am

i love love love love thi kho. and you’re so right. eatting it at home, my grandmother’s or mother’s version, was so dull. then all of a sudden, when i moved out and realized that this dish is NOT served at vietnamese restaurants, it being too rustic and HOME-y, it made me want to kick myself for not appreciating it more growing up. and even tho i’ve made this on my own, it’s just not the same as mom’s. your pictures remind me that i need to take it back to basics. looking foward to your pickled mustard greens recipe.

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4 Jularat February 16, 2009 at 7:44 am
5 Jularat February 16, 2009 at 7:48 am

Y U M..
I cooked one menu like this.
In Thailand we call “Khai Pa Loh”

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6 Quyen February 16, 2009 at 9:07 am

this is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, but I have never tried making it myself. Thanks for the photo tutorial, I will definitely try it at home soon. I appreciate my mom (and her cooking) so much more now that I live hundreds of miles away.

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7 Phoo-d February 16, 2009 at 9:34 am

This is a very interesting combination of flavors for me. I can’t say I’ve encountered the juxtaposition of caramel, pork, and pickled greens before but it sounds both intriguing and delicious.
Phoo-D

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8 nikkipolani February 16, 2009 at 10:56 am

Yuuuuum – and such good memories of tender chunks of flavorful pork. Hey, I heard you guys on KCRW the other morning ;-)

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9 matt wright February 16, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Pork Belly!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OK.. I am an addict. Guys, this looks awesome. Great food, great photography. I have never had pork belly and eggs before (bacon and eggs sure though..), and can see that it would totally work – and caramel! I am buying a plane ticket right now in a hope to snag some leftovers!!

Love the story too – totally relate to it. I grew up on really good home-cooked food, and wanted to try something different. It didn’t take too long to realize just what crap food is out there when you leave home!!

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10 Chez US February 16, 2009 at 4:40 pm

We are on our way over!!!! I have been dying to cook up some Pork &/or Pork Belly &/or Pork Fat for a couple weeks now. I will have to put that ingredient on our menu. To think I can combine it with caramel sauce …. yum! The meat would be good coated with that sauce & then grilled until crispy, do you think? Thanks for a great recipe and a very comforting story!

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11 helen February 16, 2009 at 7:42 pm

My mother makes something similar – soy sauce instead of fish sauce, and an additional star anise or two. It really is comfort food at its best. When I’m sick, all I want is a bit of that braising liquid on some plain congee.

I am going to call my mother now.

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12 Hélène February 16, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Love reading this and I learned about a new dish. I like the fact that we are discovering your comfort food. So different than ours.

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13 cb February 16, 2009 at 8:58 pm

I love this kind of thit kho! Mmmm… I was actually craving this dish last week so I had to go a latin meat market here in San Antonio, TX to buy a slab of pork belly (regular grocery stores obviously do not have it!).
I actually make my dish with coconut soda (the ubiquitous green can) as well. This is definitely vietnamese comfort food!

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14 Bill January 29, 2010 at 7:23 am

What Latin Meat Market in San Antonio has pork bellies?

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15 White on Rice Couple January 29, 2010 at 7:49 am

Don’t know since we’ve yet to go to San Antonio. However nearly all of the Latin markets around us in Southern California sell pork belly. If someone familiar with San Antonio could answer, that would be very helpful.

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16 Laura February 16, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Found your website by looking up Vietnamese braised pork with egg, something my mom made for us growing up. I miss her cooking! Can’t wait to make it. I’m excited! Thanks for sharing your lovely recipes. Looks great!

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17 Gastronomer February 16, 2009 at 9:56 pm

A beauteous execution of my all-time favorite Vietnamese dish. Thit kho reminds me of home too.

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18 The Duo Dishes February 16, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Fabulous pictures! Of course this is a new dish for us. Never seen anything like it. Sounds so interesting.

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19 Jude February 16, 2009 at 11:07 pm

I consider myself lucky to live in a city that serves so many great versions of this dish. Amazing stuff.

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20 _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver February 16, 2009 at 11:19 pm

We have a similar family favorite: pork is braised in soy sauce and water, twith a touch of sugar. And perhaps my mother adds a few more Chinese touches like a splash of shao xing wine and a tiny bit of sesame oil. And yes, the hardboiled eggs go into the braise too!

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21 Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food. February 17, 2009 at 11:22 am

Oh, boy, I have tears in my eyes. Seriously.
My mom hardly ever cooked. And when she did, it was not with joy.
I am now trying to compensate for my childhood and do what I always dreamt of having – a family dinner every night, great home-made food, cooked with lots of love.
I have little kids. Typical picky eaters (weren’t we all?!). Challenge me all the time – today they like this, tomorrow they won’t… But your story strengthens my belief that when they grow up they will appreciate what I’m working hard to do for our family every day.
Thanks!
Nurit

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22 Paula Maack February 17, 2009 at 4:36 pm

This looks absolutely fantastic!
What a hearty, wholesome breakfast to have the luxury to wake up to. This looks like it would make a great bento lunch, even. Yum!
Thanks for sharing the great story about your ambidextrous mom. What a great image!
Cheers,
~ Paula

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23 Linda February 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm

this post makes me all nostalgic. I love kho, but mum usually substitutes the chicken eggs for quail eggs.

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24 Amy February 17, 2009 at 6:28 pm

I grew up w/ pork belly as well (Taiwanese)…Needless to say as I’m growing older I’m appreciating the dishes a lot more….esp the pork belly.

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25 natalie February 17, 2009 at 6:50 pm

yum…this is def by far one of my favorites when i want some vietnamese soul food!! :) and totally perfect with the pickled mustard! i’m really craving this now, and will prob make it again this week!!!

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26 Passionate Eater February 17, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Delicious! My Dad uses star anise and coconut juice in his recipe for thit heo kho trung, but this version looks incredible!

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27 White on Rice Couple October 17, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Passionate Eater- Yes, love the coconut juice too! Your Dad definitely knows his way around the kitchen!

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28 Feli February 17, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I’ve been cooking this dish for a while, and I use coconut juice instead of water just to add a bit of sweetness. I adore this dish :) It feels like home!

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29 Manggy February 18, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Aww, that warmed my heart quite a bit :) Happy (advanced, by a lot!) mothers’ day! Now, why would she have a shoe in one hand?! Just curious!
Pork in caramel sounds fantastic. I know it’s probably nothing like the stew we had at the izakaya but my mind is going there. Drooool!

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30 Cynthia February 18, 2009 at 6:38 pm

I’m going to try this braised pork.

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31 julie February 19, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Aw Diane! I just got the craziest urge to book a flight home to eat some of mom’s home cooking. This story was touching and I so related. I even remember being embarrassed of some of the “weird” things my mom would make me eat, though I now crave these things.

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32 Darian February 19, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Ahhh..this is one of my favorite dishes. This is also my comfort food that my mom makes.

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33 dave February 20, 2009 at 2:12 pm

AMAZING!!!! My friend’s mom used to make this all the time and it was delicious! I’ll have to try this sometime, thanks for the post!

I was also very curious about how to make the caramel sauce as I think it gets used in a lot of different dishes. I’d heard something about a pan, heating it to high temperatures, then sticking it in a water bath or something but this way sounds much better :)

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34 susan February 21, 2009 at 1:38 am

oh my goodness diane, this looks and sounds so good. wish i could have a bowl of it right now! being korean, i loooove pork belly and pork. i’ll have to make this very soon.

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35 Colleen Otsuka February 21, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Oh my gosh! Thank you for sharing this recipe with everyone..I have been looking for this recipe for quite some time now! Be well!

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36 susan February 27, 2009 at 4:06 pm

hi diane,
i made this today and it was sooo delicious! i think i reached my pork belly quota for the month. :) thanks for the recipe. it’s going to be a regular.

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37 White on Rice Couple October 17, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Susan- glad to you like it! Definitely let it be a regular thing and live it up!

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38 Kevin March 2, 2009 at 9:15 pm

That pork looks tasty!

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39 Laura March 7, 2009 at 9:04 pm

I forgot to add that when my Mom prepared this dish, she added bamboo. The larger pieces. soooo good! I’m visiting her in June and can’t wait to have her make it. She’s the best cook.

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40 Andrew Tieu April 7, 2009 at 4:12 am

Wow! Just what I was searching for…

You hit the nail on the head with this! I stumbled upon this site because I was home sick and wanted to attempt to cook this meal which my mum always cooked when I was at home. This is awesome!

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41 Marc June 19, 2009 at 8:27 am

What a wonderful post! I came across your site in search of reviews, writings and anything on Bun Bo Hue and saw this post. It succintly speaks of my experience growing up in a Vietnamese household and sometimes now, looking back, yearning for the foods mom made readily available at home.

I am currently in Iraq and miss her food like crazy. At least back in the States, I could fly home to get some of Mom’s cooking.

Although I am not sure I’ve heard of the pickled mustard green.

You know what I liked to do as a kid? Pour the juices from the caramelized pork and eggs in with my rice, and sort of mash my eggs. I was a strange kid. Probably still am.

Thanks for a wonderful site!

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42 White on Rice Couple October 17, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Marc- Thanks for commenting and good luck to you in Iraq. Be safe, you make us very proud.

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43 Amanda June 20, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Aww I’m so glad you posted this recipe! I’ve been away at school for the past four years and I hardly ever go back home, so I never get any of my mom’s home cooked meals – unless she freezes it for me and I bring it back with me – which never really tastes the same. I can’t wait to try out this recipe, and make it for my mom next time I go home, she’ll be shocked. (She’ll probably also say that I’m doing it all wrong too.)

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44 Hungry Huy October 21, 2009 at 2:33 am

Very nice, I dig your photos! The one I make does not have garlic–that sounds like it would another nice layer of flavor to add to this dish.

I’m trying to learn how to make the pickled mustard greens too, so if you have a tip to share… :)
keep up the good work

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45 Mia Buchignani January 18, 2010 at 4:37 am

Growing up in a Tawainese household, my Grandmother would make something very similar. I live in the Middle East now for work and since pork is prohibited, do you think this recipe might work with boneless beef shortribs (closest texture/mouth feel I can think of to pork belly)? Please let me know. I’m a big follower of your blog!

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46 White on Rice Couple February 14, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Mia- the recipe could possibly go with beef shortribs, why not? Let us know how it works out!

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47 mylien March 4, 2010 at 11:55 am

This was one of my favorite foods as a kid! I’m so glad you have a recipe!

How many people does this recipe serve?

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48 White on Rice Couple March 4, 2010 at 1:20 pm

We’d say about 4-6 people, given the way our friends all devour it. It depends how many other dishes you are serving along side it as well.

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49 Anne April 1, 2010 at 3:12 am

Hello from Texas! I happened upon your site and adore the dishes! There’s nothing so yummy as these soaked eggs with the sauce on rice. Scrumptious!!

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50 hectic April 20, 2010 at 8:44 am

my mom will make this every year on my birthday, bad days, and pretty much any time i ask. i don’t however take advantage. i am the only one of three kids that will eat this. comfort food.

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51 hector June 7, 2010 at 12:30 pm

i have started making more and more vietnamese dishes. my mom lives 30 miles away and is always busy. visiting has been tough. she is now afraid that since i am learning to cook my childhood favorites that i wont come over as often as i do. i surprised her last week and took the ingredients to make this to her house. she said it was better then hers but i think she was being nice. a few more tweaks and it will come close to hers. thanks so much for this. now we are texting all day every day about different dishes.

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52 Tracy July 14, 2010 at 6:16 am

Gave me goosebumps. My mom would make the same dish all the time for by brother and I. I am now 37 and when grandma comes to visit, this one of the dishes that she makes for all the grandkids and everyone loves it!!

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53 Downtown Foodie April 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Mmm, I just made the Cambodian version of this this afternoon. It’s one of my favorites!

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54 Anna Truong September 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm

THANK YOU. Really. I really have to thank you for this recipe! My mom dropped me off at my apartment about a week ago with tons of frozen meat and I’ve been craving something home-cooked. Living away from home for school really sucks. Not only do I have to worry about studying and having a social life, but I also have to worry about preparing food! Usually.. It’s something frozen too.

When I think of my mom’s cooking, I definitely think of this recipe! It’s so deliciously comforting especially when I get to break the yolk and mix it with my rice! Totally going to try this recipe tonight. I was afraid I wasn’t going to find a recipe because I can’t write Vietnamese at all! Anyways, just wanted to convey my gratitude!

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55 CKDD September 19, 2011 at 7:17 pm

I love the way you write about food! It makes me want to try everything on this site I and have already tackled a few recipes. I’m just wondering;
My pork belly always seems to come out tough. What am I doing wrong?

Thanks!

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56 White on Rice Couple October 24, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Sorry for the late reply. Usually if pork belly is braised or stewed for too short of a time or over too high of a heat, it will be tougher. Sometimes it is also due to the quality of the meat. I’d start with cooking it at a little lower temp and for longer and see if that helps. Good luck.

T

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57 Phuong August 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm

What a great post! I just made this amazing dish today for myself and was homesick real bad reading this post of yours. Nothing’s like mum’s cooking and I agree with you, this is definitely one of those comfort food dishes that bring out the Vietnamese home-cooking at its best. Thank you!

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58 Jacob Keating October 31, 2013 at 9:12 pm

I used to enjoy this dish at my Vietnamese friends’ homes. They taught me to make it, and it is great. One thing I do is make a large amount of the caramel and store it in a glass jar. That way, whenever I want pork and eggs, the caramel is already done. Be sure to make some pickled bean sprouts to go with this dish. Also, combine some fish sauce (Three Crabs is the best brand) and some Sriracha in a bowl to use as a dipping sauce. You take a bit of the egg, a bit of the pork, a bit of the pickled veggies, and dip it in the sauce. It’s awesome.
Happy Eats, everyone!

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59 Nancy July 7, 2014 at 8:08 pm

I love your blog and recipe! I am too Vietnamese and days have out numbered that I miss my parents home cooked meal! Growing up I love American food and my sisters used to bug my dad to take is to mcdonalds after church. I live alone and away from my family. This recipe is so easy to make and it will simply give me that child hood memory if goodness. :)

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