I don’t remember the first time I ate bo kho but the last time was only a few days ago, so when AsiaLIFE asked me to write about it I jumped at the chance. Bo (beef) and kho (meaning to braise, stew or simmer), is an aromatic stew consisting of tender chunks of beef shank and tendon, thickly sliced carrots, onion, garlic, shallots, lemongrass and star anise. No one is quite sure exactly when and where bo kho came about and you’ll be hard pressed to find its origin.
There are, however, many possible influences from various regions of the world. Bo kho is as exciting as an Indian curry and quite similar to an American beef stew or a Hungarian beef goulash. Personally, I lean more toward the connection between bo kho and the French beef bourguignon, the late-19th-century colonisers having introduced Vietnam to the cow and various new ways of cooking it. They also brought with them the baguette – the banh mi – a popular accompaniment to bo kho.
Bo kho is one of those comforting dishes and one of my favourites for weekend mornings or after a late night out. The tangy lemongrass is absolutely delicious. Hearty, savoury, spicy if required, it is arguably one of the most popular breakfast dishes in Vietnam. It’s normally served with a Vietnamese-style French baguette, along with a cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee), iced tea or fresh coconut juice. Also available throughout the day in certain places, you can swap the banh mi for hu tiu (vermicelli noodles), mi (egg noodles) or pho (flat white noodles).
Here are a few good places to start your bo kho journey:
Diem tam 134
134 Ky Con Street, D1 // 08 6659 9528 // 6am – 12.30pm
I am a big fan of this place, and it just happens to be located right in the centre of District 1. It is well-known for the freshly-made hoanh thanh (wontons), siu cao (prawn dumplings), handmade egg noodles and, of course, the simmering cauldron of bo kho. The service here is quite good – sometimes a rarity for local eats. Be sure to order their freshly-made hot soy bean drink.
Hu Tiu Mi 27
27 Ky Hoa, D5 // 08 3857 8636 // 6am until sold out (normally around 11am)
Located on Ky Hoa Street next to Trieu Quang Phuc, between Hong Bang and Nguyen Trai, you really need to pay attention otherwise you’ll miss this place. It’s a small house with an open door and a noodle stand in front. It’s little more than a few tables, chairs and wall fans, but draws a steady stream of hungry locals, so come early.
Hu Tieu Bo Kho Ba Nam
Hem 162, Tran Nhan Ton, D10 // 7am – 11am (or until sold out)
This old eatery has been popular since before 1975 and is a bit off the beaten path. It can get pretty crowded and service is non-existent, so be patient; you will be served eventually and it is worth the wait. Make sure you mix together a side dish of salt, pepper and lime juice (and the optional fresh chilli) to dip the beef. If slightly gristly tendons aren’t to your taste, try asking for ‘thit bo’ (‘cow meat’) to get only the tender morsels of beef.