Cook, teacher and culinary tour guide Meera Freeman spent eight years taking Melburnians on tours of the city's Vietnamese heart, Victoria Street in Richmond. In May 2013 she will lead her first tour to the country itself. Here is Freeman's recipe for thit heo kho, a pork recipe popular during Tet, the Vietnamese community's lunar new year celebrations.
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of chopped lemongrass
2 star anise
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons fish sauce *
1 teaspoon sweet soy sauce *
1kg belly pork
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 can unsweetened young coconut water
4 hard boiled eggs, shelled
* Use gluten-free sauces to make this meal suitable for those with allergies.
To make a marinade for the pork combine the onion and garlic with 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the black pepper, fish sauce, lemongrass, star anise and soy sauce.
Slice the pork into pieces the size of two fingers. In a shallow dish, marinate the pork pieces for 1-2 hours, turning occasionally.
Heat the oil in a clay pot and brown the marinated meat. Add the remaining sugar and cook gently until it turns to a deep brown or caramel colour.
Lower the heat to a bare simmer and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Add the young coconut water and continue to simmer very slowly until the pork is tender and the liquid has reduced to a quarter of its original volume. Add the hard boiled eggs for the last 30 minutes.
Serve with plain rice and pickled vegetables.
* This a classic version of the dish Freeman adapted from friends in the Vietnamese community in Melbourne. This recipe first appeared in her book The Vietnamese Cook in 1993 (republished as The Flavour of Vietnam in 1995).