So what is it about braising that brings people together like group of campers huddling around a bonfire on a cold night? Braising has been around for a long time and arrived from the 18th century French word “braiser” (written the same but pronounced much more sophisticated and eloquent in French) for combining slow cooking method of dry and moist heat in a covered pot.
Braising, to me, is the art of uncomplicated cooking and makes super heroes out of ordinary weekend cooks. I can’t think of any other cooking technique that requires so little yet gives so much in return. Think of the slow cooker or the American crock pot. What an ingenious invention. All you need is lots of patience and time. As one of my old BBQ pitmaster and low rider friends back in California says: “low and slow baby”.
Pha lau gio heo reminds me of one of my favorite Thai dishes called Khao Kara Moo, which is braised pork knuckle with pickled cabbage on rice. I just love this kind of food. Both of these dishes have a similar look and taste. The major difference is that one is a cut of meat braised without cabbages and one is braised organs together with cabbages. The pha lau dish is comprised of three parts: pig offal (pha lau), picked cabbages (cai chua) and steamed rice. There are two kinds of pha lau: beef or pig depending on the vendor.
Cai chua (pickled cabbages) reminds me of so many other similar dishes such as kiam chye (salted vegetables in Chinese Hokkien), the Korean Kim chi, American picked cucumber and the German sauerkraut.To make them you would need large head of gai choi (Asian mustard greens), onion, water, salt, sugar and vinegar. Break the mustard green leaves apart, clean and dry in the sun for about 8 hours. Combined the ingredients to a pot and boil to blend the liquid. Add the mustard green to a glass jar with the liquid for minimum 24 hours near sunlight in order to pickle.
Pig offal is organ meat such as small intestine, stomach, tripe, liver, heart, lung and so forth. Preparation is the key in making this dish. To make this you first have to rinse the offal many times, then soak it in water with salt for a good 30 minutes and then re-rinse it in order to remove any negative aromas. The organs are boiled to tenderize them before being cut up into smaller bits then combined in a large pot with salted vegetables, ginger, vinegar, garlic, shallots, five spice, turmeric, rice wine, salt, pepper, sugar, coconut juice, water, chicken stock and soy sauce. The pot is then braised for many hours.
Braised pha lau can be fantastic. It’s a little sweet and a little sour. Most people definitely need to acquire the taste for offal. This is a very popular dish amongst the young and old in Vietnam and especially within the Chinese community due to its Chinese influence.
1. Com Chao Trieu Chau
63 Hong Bang // District 11, HCMC // 5pm to 10pm
Not only does this place serve pha lau, but also many other favorite dishes such as: braised pork knuckle, braised pig tongue, egg stew, tofu stew and stuffed bitter melon soup. Average cost 5.000 – 35.000vnd
2. Pha Lau Di Nui
243/30 Ton Dang // Ward 15, District 4 // 2:30pm to 9pm
Average cost 10.000 – 33.000vnd
3. Pha Lau Co Oanh
Located inside Cho 200 (literally mean 200 meters Market) on Xom Chieu Street.
200/20 Xom Chieu // Ward 14, District 4 // 7 am to 10pm
Average cost 10.000 – 22.000vnd.