Vietnamese Caramel Braised Pork Belly Banh Mi – Nail Shop Eats #4
This Vietnamese pork banh mi recipe and story was originally published in 2010 and re-shared in 2021 with new photos and a video. My mother has retired from her the nail shop and is now cooking full time to her hearts desire.
The leaning tower of Vietnamese pork banh mi: not for the light hearted
I’m not a comedian, nor was I trying to be one when I spoke frankly about my mother’s Nail shop cooking escapades. Like I’ve always said, my mother is a culinary fool, a manic of a woman who lives to feed her family of 6 kids and our extended family of neighborhood friends. She’s been known to get even more carried away and feed her nail shop clients homemade noodles and fish sauce while they’re getting their pedicures.
My mother’s nail shop has launched her notoriety as the local nail salon that leaves you twinkling with pretty red nails and stinking of fish sauce. Or in our case, smelling so umami-delicious!
Her salon is a combination Viet food joint slash Tuesday-after-5pm-pedicure-special nail salon. And it tickles me #32 bottle-pink to see the buzzing jive of food and eyebrow “wacks” that are going on. The ladies are still trying to pronounce “wax” correctly. Good luck.
Video: Vietnamese Caramel Pork Banh Mi
I make an effort to be a good daughter and relieve her for a few hours from the bonds of the nail salon so that she can visit her vendors and suppliers. I enjoy the time that I’m in the salon because I get to visit all the ladies that work there and participate in their daily chat, gossip and most importantly, food talk. When you get 12 Vietnamese women talking passionately about food, recipes and family food stories, it’s a Ph.D lesson in Vietnamese culture and cuisine. Everytime I walk out of there, I feel so much smarter and unfortunately, 10 pounds heavier from all the food talk.
On one lucky occasion, my mother had a huge tupperware of her beloved braised pork belly waiting at the salon. Before I arrived, she rang me on my phone and screamed (she always thinks we’re deaf on the other side of the cell phone) “Con ghé vaò tiệm bánh mì mua cho mẹ 8 ổ bánh mì baguette!!!” When Mother calls me to pick up 8 loaves of fresh, crusty vietnamese baguettes, I know of only one salivating vision—Mom’s braised pork belly banh mi sandwiches.
I hooked a quick u-turn and headed to one of our local Vietnamese bakeries for the 8 loaves of baguettes that she requested. It must still be warm and super fresh, pretty please.
When I arrived at the salon, it was like a scene from the “stone soup” story. Mom brought the braised pork belly, Chi Yen had a bag of fresh cilantro, Vicky (real name is Phuong) donated the tub of pate and the others completed the community meal with their donations of pickled carrots/daikon, fresh chiles and soy sauce. My arrival of the baguettes was met with roaring applause and the always anti-climatic critique, “What took you so long? We’re hungry!”
Vietnamese Pork Banh Mi Recipe
I dived head first in to the best banh mi of the day. Juicy, fatty, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly sandwiched between cool and tangy textures of the banh mi pickles is just pure Viet food genius. Add a light and heavenly crusty Vietnamese baguette to hold all the flavors and textures in, and what you have is one of the best friggin’ sandwiches on the face of the earth. That’s right, Vietnamese banh mi is one of the worlds best sandwiches and anyone who wants to argue with me will have my mother and her staff to contend with!
So there you have it. A Vietnamese braised pork belly banh mi that will leave you overwhelmed, satisfied and in awe on the power of a good mom-wich. Also, don’t forget drizzle some of the braised sauce/liquid in the sandwich. That makes it super amazing.
Thank you Mom,
- Homemade carrot/daikon pickles, fish sauce dip and more of our Vietnamese Recipes here.
Step-by-Step photographs for Vietnamese Caramel Pork
Above: Cut the pork into bite sized pieces and marinade with spices in a bowl.
Heat sugar and water until it slowly melts and caramelizes. Don’t walk away from the caramel. It might burn if left unattended.
Add marinated pork to the caramel sauce and stir. Add water or coconut water (not coconut milk) and fish sauce.
Skim excess and simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, OR until pork cooks tender. Cooking time will depend on the size of your pork cuts. The sauce is amazing on rice! As kids we loved the extra sauce/liquid on our rice. Mom would always make her batch extra saucy so we can have extra for our rice.
Assemble your banh mi with your favorite condiments and enjoy! Drizzle some of the sauce over the meat in the sandwich. All recipe details are below in the recipe box.
Vietnamese Braised Caramel Pork Belly Banh Mi Sandwich
- 2 pounds (907 g) pork shoulder and/or pork belly (cut into 1-inch cubes)
- 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) oil
- 3 large shallots (or 1 small onion), minced (about 3-4 tablespoons)
- 3-4 cloves garlic , minced or crushed
- 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) black pepper (preferably fresh ground)
- 1.5 cups (360 ml) water or Coconut water (not coconut milk)
- 1/3 cup (67 g) sugar
- 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) water
Marinate the Pork:
- In bowl combine pork, oil, onion/shallots, garlic, salt and black pepper. Stir to combine, set aside.
Make the Caramel Pork:
- Make Caramel: Combine the sugar and 2 Tablespoons water to sauce pan large enough to later fit the pork. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. After several minutes of boiling, the mixture will begin to turn to a golden brown. Using silicone spatula (less sticking), stir the mixture slowly as the caramel browns. Do not leave the caramel sauce unattended!
- Once the sugar begins to caramelize, it will turn color very quickly. The caramel should have have consistency and color like light maple syrup.
- Add Pork: As soon as the mixture turns to a medium golden brown, add the marinated pork. Slowly & carefully stir the mixture to completely coat the pork with the caramel sauce. Make sure to scrape the sides of the pan to incorporate all the caramel.
- Continue browning the pork on medium/high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the 1.5 cups of water or coconut water and the fish sauce then bring to a low boil.
- Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and continue braising on low heat for about another 45 minutes to 1 hour, OR until pork is tender. Skim excess fat/bubbles that floats to the top. Make sure to stir occasionally while cooking. After 45 minutes, taste the pork. If it’s to your desired texture, remove from heat.
For the Banh Mi assembly:
- Slice baguettes lengthwise. Spread some some mayo, pate, and/or soy sauce if using on the interior of the baguette.
- Add some pork on the bread. Drizzle some of the yummy caramel sauce over the pork. Add the rest of the ingredients that you want (or like) to the banh mi. Enjoy!