Tom khem is absolutely a Lao comfort food with slow-cooked pork belly stew that is as sweet as it is savory and salty with just a few ingredients. Learn how to make tom khem right at home.
Tom khem is an all time classic dish that is made in most Lao households. This aromatic stew melds together braised pork with a salty, yet sweet broth. The sweetness is balanced by the saltiness of the fish sauce and soy sauce. All of this is smothered into a tender, yet delicious pork that is served over a hot plate of steaming rice.
There are so many Indochina countries that have variations of this dish, but the Lao version is one of my favorites. This slow cooked, braised pork dish brings Lao families together. It is also an amazing pot of deliciousness because it is made to last over the course of several days.
With only a few ingredients that you can find at your local grocer without having to visit your local Asian grocer, you'll be able to recreate this savory recipe at home in only a few hours. Yes, I said hours because a good stew takes time to bring all the flavors together.
All About Lao Tom Khem - Braised Pork Belly Stew
What is it tom khem?
Tom khem is a traditional Lao dish that is made with a pork, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce that is slow cooked over the stove for a couple of hours until the pork is tender and soft. It is served over a bed of jasmine rice or with sticky rice. Slow cooking this dish into a beautiful amber glaze allows the dish to reach umami.
What does Lao braised sweet pork and eggs (tom khem) taste like?
It is a one pot dish that is full of flavor, with the sweetness of the caramelized sugar, the saltiness from the fish sauce and soy sauce, and the tender bites of pork. The subtle notes of fish sauce combined with the sweetness of the brown sugar along with the quail eggs provides an amazing texture and explosion of comforting flavors.
What country is it tom khem from?
There are MANY Indochina regions that have various adaptations of this recipe. One of them includes Vietnam's thit kho recipe, which includes Coco Rico coconut soda.
Other countries that have variations and adaptations of this recipe include Japan, China, Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand.
What are other names for tom khem (caramelized pork and eggs from Laos)?
Due to the different typescripts of English and Lao, when this dish is translated, it is often spelled out like it sounds. Here are some ways you'll find this recipe listed:
- Tom Khem
- Tom Kem
- Thom Khem Moo
- Thom Kem
- Tom Kem Pork
- Caramelized Lao Pork
- Braised Pork Belly Laos
- Braised Pork with Hard Boiled Eggs
What does tom khem mean in Lao?
Tom and the various ways it's spelled means to stew. Khem and the various ways it is spelled means salty. Moo means pork/pig.
When and how is tom khem served?
Tom khem is served generally as a dinner item. When it is made, it is made in a large pot that is supposed to last over several days.
How many calories are there in tom khem?
One two ounce serving of tom khem has about 400 calories.
Is tom khem healthy?
To be completely honest, no this savory dish is not healthy as other Lao dishes due to the fat content of the pork belly, the cholesterol of the boiled eggs, and the sugar content. However, it is an absolute delicious delite for any taste bud.
Ingredients to Get at Your Local Asian Grocer
All of the ingredients for this dish can be found at your local Asian grocer, and you won't need to make an extra stop. However, if you are already going, here's a few tips I might impart that you may want to consider picking up.
Asian grocery stores tend to have an amazing selection of pork belly readily available. To limit the fat content, I would recommend choosing a cut that has more meat than fat. If you want a leaner cut, you can grab some pork shoulder that has some marbling in order to capture the flavor of the pork in the broth.
Instead of using chicken eggs, you can use quail eggs for this recipe which is readily available also at an Asian grocer. This will allow you to have bite sized pieces of eggs in each bite versus having to split a large chicken egg with your spoon.
Fish Sauce, Oyster Sauce and Soy Sauce
The fish, oyster, and soy sauces that you find at your local grocer may be a little too salty. Check out my favorite brands page for my go-to for any of my dishes that I make at home.
Shallots are super inexpensive at Asian grocers as compared to your local grocers. I also find that the shallots at Asian grocers tend to me more consistent in size, whereas American grocers have large ones next to really really small ones.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer commonly added to Vietnamese, Lao, and Thai food. I don't want to get into the debate of this, but I will say that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that's "generally recognized as safe," but its use remains controversial. This is optional to this dish.
Frequently Asked Questions About Tom Khem
These are some of the most common questions that I get about this dish. Read this section before making this dish!
How long do you need to cook tom khem for?
In order to get the pork nice and tender, I would recommend allowing it to simmer for at least two hours.
Should I serve jasmine rice or sticky rice with tom khem?
Either rice will work. Jasmine rice allows the braised sauce to be absorbed more and provides a delicious flavor to the rice. Sticky rice is used when you are serving tom khem as part of a multitude of dishes to eat.
What are other variations of tom khem?
There are some recipes that instead of using pork belly and shoulder, it uses riblets. These riblets are cut into small pieces and are meant to be eaten with your hands. The braise has ginger that is cut into matchbox sticks and allowed to meld with the braised riblets and other ingredients.
About This Authentic Tom Khem Recipe
My recipe calls for a delicious and authentic braise to pork shoulder. You can use pork belly, but pork shoulder is what I had at the time. I promise you that once you make it, the kids will come back again and again wanting more.
Adapting This Recipe
If you can't stand the smell of fish sauce, you can definitely substitute soy sauce in place of fish sauce. In addition, you can choose to substitute the meat for a leaner cut, just make sure you watch the meat during the simmering time to ensure that it doesn't get too dry.
I've also seen others use chicken instead of pork, you just need to lessen the simmering time so it doesn't dry out the chicken.
Caramelizing the Sugar
The very beginning of this recipe is the hardest. Being able to caramelize the sugar to the point right before it is burnt is the key to making this delicious dish. When you meld the water and the sugar over low-medium heat, make sure you stay with it so that when it turns the dark brown amber color, you immediately add in the pork. This is the KEY to ensuring an absolutely flavorful dish and allowing the broth to turn the color this dish is known for.
How to Make Authentic Lao Caramelized and Braised Pork and Eggs
Ingredients for Lao Tom Khem
- 3 pounds of pork belly, pork butt, pork shoulder, country style ribs
- ½ cup of water
- 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar
- 12 hard boiled eggs
- ¼ cup of oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon of MSG (optional)
- 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2-inch piece of ginger, sliced and crushed
- green onion
- prepared jasmine rice or sticky rice
Instructions for Making Tom Khem, Authentic Lao Caramelized Pork & Eggs
- Boil the eggs and set aside. I would recommend making the eggs via a pressure cooker because I find that they are way easier to peel. I would also recommend using quail eggs if you can get them because it allows you to eat bite size pieces of eggs.
- Cut the pork into small chunks at 1.5" cubes so that they consistently cook. When they are cooked, they'll be tender enough to break apart with a fork or spoon to eat.
- Clean and rinse the pork under running water to remove impurities. Drain and rinse until the water is clear.
- In a pot, mix together the sugar and water in medium low heat until it is a light amber color. Add in the ginger at this point.
- Next, place the pork in the pot. Add the shallots, oyster sauce, MSG (optional), salt, soy sauce, and fish sauce.
- Add 3 quarts of water enough to submerge the pork.Turn the heat to high.
- Once it starts to boil, turn down the heat to medium so that it the pork is simmering. Simmer uncovered for 90 minutes. Check and stir the pot every 20 minutes.
- In the last 30 minutes of cooking, add the chicken or quail eggs eggs.
- Garnish with chopped green onions.
- Serve with jasmine rice.
Serving Tom Khem
In the Lao version of this dish, its commonly served with sticky rice and accompanied with other dishes like larb gai and lao papaya salad. These dishes provide a counterbalance to the sweetness that tom khem provides.
This dish is often made in a large batch, which should keep in the refrigerator for at least three days.
This dish is absolutely delicious the following day. When this is refrigerated, don't be alarmed if you see the fat content raise to the top (that's the flavor of this dish). To lower the calorie of this dish and minimize the fat content you are consuming, you can scoop up and discard some of this white fat. Try not to remove all of because that's what adds to the flavor of this dish.
What dishes to serve
Here are some of my favorite recipes that you can serve with this absolutely delectable dish:
This is my family's favorite comfort food. It leans into the sweet spectrum of Lao dishes to try. It is easy to make, tasty, fragrant, and savory. The eggs that are stewed next to the caramelized pork soak in the flavor of the sweet braise sauce. It is a satisfying dish that you won't find in any Lao restaurant (even those posed as Thai restaurants).
If you love this Lao caramelized and braised pork and eggs, tom khem, as much as our family does, please write a five star review and help me share on Facebook and Pinterest!