Building on the culinary fusion evident with both tacos and banh mi, this Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly Tacos recipe celebrates the parallels while creating a distinct and delicious food experience.
The origin of tacos
The parallels of a tortilla wrapped around a filling with a spicy chilli sauce are apt. According to Michael Picher, a professor of history and author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, the origins of the taco are unknown. He suggests they originated around the time of the 18th century Mexican silver mines. There, the word taco referred to paper wrapped around gunpowder. Eventually, a tortilla wrapped around stewed meat and a very hot sauce became known as a taco.
The tortilla, though, dates back to the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations. Corn tortillas were consumed in Mesoamerica as early as 500 BCE.
The Spanish were not the only cultural and culinary influence in Mexicos past. For example, Lebanese migrants brought the shawarma, lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie and stuffed in pita bread. Soon the lamb was put on tortillas and called Arab tacos. Then there was the use of pork or fish and the addition of pineapple or avocado. Tacos are a great example of culinary fusion. They continued to evolve in Mexico, with so many regional variations.
There is only one common factor in tacos today – the tortilla that wraps around the fillings. That does bring to mind another street food favourite – banh mi.
Vietnamese Banh Mi has become almost as famous around the world as Pho (Phở). But there are many different versions of Bánh Mì in Vietnam. Just as the tortilla is the common factor among the multitude of taco styles, the Vietnamese baguette, with its light, airy crumb and wonderfully crisp crust, is the common factor among the many types of banh mi sandwich. Banh mi’s origins owe a lot to the French, the baguettes and mayonnaise, of course, and the pressed and cured meats that appear in the most popular version of this delectable street food.
The French baguette, from which Vietnamese banh mi evolved, originated in the 18th century, around the same time as tacos!
Building on the culinary fusion evident with both tacos and banh mi, this Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly Tacos recipe celebrates the parallels while creating a different food experience. The fresh herbs and cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, and tender pork belly braised in coconut juice and fish sauce are distinctly Vietnamese flavours in these banh mi tacos. Yet, these fillings are encapsulated in a crisp warm corn tortilla from a continent far away.
Vietnamese braised pork (thịt kho)
One of the most popular home-cooked dishes, especially in the south, would have to be thịt kho nước dừa – pork belly and eggs cooked in coconut juice and seasoned with fish sauce. It is considered a special dish to prepare during Tết (or Vietnamese New Year). It also makes an excellent topping for this Saigon Ramen and these Pork Udon Noodles (coming soon).
While eggs are not a typical tacos ingredient, they are not uncommon in banh mi, and as noted above, are an integral component of the braised pork belly and eggs dish. For this tacos recipe, soft boiled quail eggs are marinated in the pork braising juices. This topping is optional, though, so feel free to omit it.
Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly Tacos
Braised pork belly (thịt kho nước dừa)
- 400 g pork belly in one piece, often sold as strips
- 1 piece ginger, thumb sized piece coarsely chopped
- 1 piece ginger, thumb sized piece finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 4 shallots, finely diced
- 1 tsp Chinese five-spice mix
- 2 Tbsp cooking oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp coconut caramel
- 3 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 litre coconut juice preferably fresh
Pickled carrot and daikon (đồ chua)
- 1 large daikon
- 1 large carrot
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 1/4 cups rice vinegar
Marinated quail eggs (optional)
- 8 quail eggs
- 150 ml braising liquid cooled
- 30 ml soy sauce
- 8 corn tortillas or corn and wheat tortillas
- 1 cucumber
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1/4 cup bird chillis Use a milder chilli if you prefer, or omit altogether
- 100 g mayonnaise
- 30 ml Tobasco sauce
Braised pork belly (thịt kho nước dừa) (do one day ahead)
- Wash and dice the ginger.
- Put the pork belly and the coarsely chopped ginger in a saucepan and fill with cold water to 30mm or so above the pork.
- Bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, skimming off the scum regularly.
- Drain, discarding the water.
- Rinse the pork belly under running water, then allow to drain and dry a little.
- In a heavy based, high sided pan, heat the oil.
- Add the pork belly and brown each side.
- Add the finely diced ginger, onion, and garlic and stir until very fragrant and starting to brown.
- Add to the saucepan the coconut juice, five-spice mix, the fish sauce, and the coconut caramel.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Skim off any scum that collects on the top.
- Cover and simmer for 1.5 hours, turning the pork belly over half-way through.
- Remove the pork belly from the braising liquid, allow to cool, then cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until required.
- Retain the braising liquid for marinating the quail eggs.
Quail eggs (optional) (do one day ahead)
- Bring a saucepan of water to the boil.
- Prepare a bowl of iced water.
- Carefully lower the quail eggs into the boiling water.
- Boil for 1.5 minutes exactly.
- Remove the quail eggs from the boiling water and drop into the iced water.
- Leave for 5 minutes then peel the shells from the quail eggs.
- Mix together the cooled braising liquid and the soy sauce. Add this combination together with the quail eggs to a ziplock bag and remove as much of the air as possible before sealing.
- Put the ziplock bag in a bowl then into the refrigerator for 24 hours.
- Drain the marinade from the eggs.
- Return the eggs to the refrigerator if not using immediately.
Pickled carrot and daikon (đồ chua)
- Julienne the carrot and daikon and place in a bowl.
- Sprinkle the 2 tsp salt and 2 tsp sugar over the carrot and daikon. Toss well and set aside for 15 minutes.
- Drain the carrot and daikon in a colander, and rinse under cold water. Allow to drain.
- Combine vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, and water in a bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the carrot and daikon to the vinegar, cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours before using.
- Allow the braised pork and the quail eggs (if using) to come to room temperature.
- Dice the braised pork. Put the diced pork under a broiler for a few minutes to heat it through and brown it a little more. Alternatively use a blow torch.
- Combine the 100 g mayo with the Tobasco sauce.
- Remove the seeds from the cucumber and cut into long strips.
- Wash the cilantro leaves and remove the leaves from the stalks.
- Finely dice the bird chillis.
- On a hotplate or hot skillet, lay the tortillas until they start to brown and blister. Both sides.
- Spread on some of the chilli mayo mixture.
- Top the mayo with some sliced braised pork, cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, diced chilli, and halved quail eggs (if using).