Vietnamese-style Caramelized Pork Belly

I just remembered that today is our community’s fiesta back in Zamboanga. Fiestas are what you would imagine them to be: a melange of beautiful chaos, delicious food and no-frills gatherings of both the invited and uninvited. Over the years my family has had our fair share of all of that. There was this one particular time when a man and his little daughter just when inside our home, got a plate and helped himself to the food, while he and his daughter were sitting on the dining room floor. Sure, that was pretty inappropriate but it comes with the territory. Some just wait outside the gate and beg and who are we to deny them of food? It makes me feel sad and awkward that it’s during these moments of celebration that the reality of what we have and what others don’t have sinks in.

Today I was lucky to be able to curb how much I miss fiestas and family. And I also felt really good. The school organized a feeding program in coordination with the local parish. We were able to feed around a hundred kids who were attending catechism sessions. It’s nothing grand, but it works just like a fiesta. Kids were happy and full, and I can take comfort in that. Waking up too early for a Saturday was worth it.

Generosity can be expressed in so many ways. But I’d like to believe that food can best reflect it. I’m no authority (yet) when it comes to this but cooking with love (among other things) can make good food great. I heard that bit on the radio a few days ago when I was on my way to school. It makes sense, really.
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It’s one thing to throw together things from your pantry into a pot and call it experimentation, and it’s another to make sure that the flavors you’re marrying actually go well together. Thinking outside the box is good. By all means it’s something I want to hone, but once in a while, falling back on tried and tested flavors does the trick to satisfy not just the body but the soul.

With this dish, I think I did a little bit of both. Hey, it’s Vietnamese-inspired! I’ve never tried using coconut water to braise pork, but with adobo as my foundation, I knew I was not treading into uncharted waters. Ever since I watched Christine Ha do it on MasterChef, I felt the urge to replicate it because it looked incredible.
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After going through a few recipes, I finally managed to adjust the recipe to suit my preferences. I made this a few Saturdays ago, but if it’s still even possible, the taste still lingers. The coconut water does a great job of softening the pork, and the addition of patis (fish sauce) gives it that familiar salinity that makes it adobo’s peculiar cousin who enjoys indie music. It also made sense to use coconut sugar for that pleasant sweetness. All that was missing was the hard-boiled egg. But it didn’t really matter in the end because the dish already knocks it out of the park with its indulgent taste.

This, my friends, is generosity on a plate.
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Vietnamese-style Caramelized Pork Belly (serves 3 – 4)

  • 500 grams pork belly, cubed
  • 3 – 4 cups coconut water
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • chili oil, to taste
  • cracked black pepper, to taste

In a pot, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat and reduce it to a simmer. Allow the pork to braise in the liquid for at least an hour, until it is tender. Adjust taste and reduce the liquid to a thick sauce. Remove from heat and serve with rice, hard-boiled egg and salad greens on the side.

2 thoughts on “Vietnamese-style Caramelized Pork Belly

  1. Hey unknown friend, happy birthday! I’ve read your blog for awhile and I’m commenting for the first time to say that I shared this pork belly recipe with a local hotel here in Berlin who has their own brand of coconut water ( They loved it and want to try it out in their restaurant, with their Fountain of Youth coconut water, sometime soon. I’ll let you know what happens!

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