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Vietnamese Caramelized Pork - Thit Kho Tieu

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork - Thit Kho Tieu

3-4 Servings

0:15 Prep

00:40 Cook

Easy - You got this

Pork features prominently in both Vietnamese home and street food with popular dishes including crispy pork banh mi, Vietnamese grilled pork and braised pork belly (thit kho).  

Pork belly in particular is the most popular cut, and this recipe (thit kho tieu) is what I like to consider a ‘rice thief’. Its intense flavours are addictive but well-balanced when consumed with a mountain of freshly steamed rice.

Picture savoury and sticky pork belly amped with the umami flavour of Son fish sauce, and infused with fragrant cracked black pepper. Serve this alongside freshly steamed rice, a side of fresh and crisp vegetables, and a soup such as Vietnamese pumpkin soup, and you’ll create the most traditional Vietnamese home cooked experience.

Growing up, Vietnamese braised pork belly (thit kho) was a very popular dish in our household, but typically took 2–3 hours to prepare. When the family craved a quick pork belly fix, it was this caramelized pork belly recipe that Mum would turn to, to leave everyone satisfied.

It is well-known that cooking pork belly takes time but over the years of perfecting this pork belly recipe, I have zoned in on four key tips that reduce cooking time of pork belly without compensating its flavour.

Tip 1: Use a good quality fish sauce (no additives or added msg) and minimise the salt. This allows the dish to take on a more strong and complex umami flavour. I prefer using Son Fish Sauce because it’s packed with umami and not overly salty which means you can confidently use it in large amounts without over-seasoning your dish.

Tip 2: Add generous amounts of cracked black pepper. Thit kho tieu is traditionally a savoury dish. The addition of black pepper will assist with cutting through its high level of savouriness and natural unctuousness.  

Tip 3: Cut the pork belly into small pieces (half bite-sized) to shorten the cooking time. Protein that is cut smaller will tend to braise or caramelize quicker.

If you are quite partial to pork belly and freshly steamed rice do yourself a favour, grab a bottle of premium fish sauce and give this easy pork belly recipe a go to experience that traditional Vietnamese home cooked flavour.

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork - Thit Kho Tieu
Vietnamese Caramelized Pork - Thit Kho Tieu


  • 800g pork belly, thinly sliced

  • 6 tablespoons Son Fish Sauce

  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed

  • 1 tablespoon of oil

  • 2 tablespoons of sugar

  • 1 ½ teaspoons cracked black pepper

  • Coconut water from one young coconut

  • Water (as required)


How to cook pork belly:
1. Marinate pork with fish sauce for a minimum of 15 minutes. For best results leave overnight.

2. In a medium saucepan, add sugar and oil and heat on low to medium until sugar changes colour to copper brown. Add pork belly, garlic, and pepper and sauté for 2 minutes or until golden.

Duncan’s tip: Add pork belly as soon as sugar mixture turns copper brown to prevent sugar from burning.

3. Add black pepper and sauté for a minute then add young coconut water to cover and bring to the boil then simmer on low for 30 minutes.

Duncan’s tip: If pork is not covered with liquid, add water until covered.

4. Serve with steamed rice, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes or with side dishes such as Vietnamese pumpkin soup and beef, kohlrabi and zucchini stir fry.

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