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What Is Kho?

By Andy Josiah
Updated May 16, 2024
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Kho is a type of stew from the Southeast-Asian country of Vietnam, characterized mainly by its braised cooking method, reddish-brown look, and caramel- and fish-sauce basis. The word kho, pronounced “kaw," is actually a verb that means to braise in Vietnamese, or to simmer or stew. The dish is traditionally cooked in a clay pot called noi dat and is one of the staple foods in Vietnamese cuisine.

The traditional ingredients used to make the stew are typically cubed meat, lemongrass, fish sauce, bay leaves, the anise flowering plant, curry powder, carrots, tomatoes, onions, oil, sugar, salt and water. The herb cilantro, which is better known to the Western world as coriander, is usually added to the dish when it is ready for garnishing purposes, and a lime or two can be squeezed in as well for extra flavor. Other optional ingredients include bay leaves, garlic and cinnamon.

Kho is often named according to the type of meat used to prepare it. The most popular variation is bo kho, which means that the stew is made with beef. Another popular type of the dish is thit kho, which refers to the dish consisting of caramelized braised pork belly and eggs. Other variants include ca kho, which incorporates fish; and ga kho, which uses chicken.

Although kho is traditionally made in clay pots, most Vietnamese today use metal pans. They also add a sauce made out of caramelized sugar to darken the color and enhance the flavor of the dish. The caramel sauce is generally called nuoc mau, pronounced “nook mao," which means colored water. In northern Vietnam, however, it is more commonly referred to as nuoc hang, pronounced “nook hahng," which means merchandising water due to street vendors using it to enhance the look of the food items they sell.

Kho is one of the traditional food items of Vietnamese cooking, along with steamed rice and stir-fry. Although usually eaten with rice, the dish can also be eaten with baguette, a long thin loaf of bread that represents a vestige of Vietnam’s colonial past under France from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Since the name of the soup is a verb, it is commonly used as such. Thus, someone saying that he or she is going to “kho” something may mean that the person is going to cook a caramel-based dish, or braise or simmer something in the kitchen.

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