Vietnamese beef stew, or bo kho, is a stew composed of beef, spices, and a variety of other ingredients. This dish has a certain French influence but is deeply rooted in Vietnamese cuisine. It has a soup-like consistency and can be served with rice noodles or steaming hot baguettes. The mixture takes on a distinctive red hue mostly attributed to annatto seeds. Spices and flavorings such as anise, coriander and lemongrass make Vietnamese beef stew a rich and piquant culinary experience.
Thick chunks of beef and tendons are used in the stew, however, both of these cuts of meat need a couple of hours to tenderize and cook. The beef is typically marinated before cooking, along with the spices. Different ingredients are added at separate times during the cooking process. Once the meat and the majority of spices are mixed they are poured into a slow cooker and allowed to gently simmer for at least eight hours. A large pot simmering for about four hours should be sufficient for cooks using a regular stove top.
One of the things that gives Vietnamese beef stew its distinct flavor is five-spice powder. Five-spice powder is found in many Asian dishes as well. This combination of spices has an ancient background and is partly based on the belief that food needs to be balanced. Use of fresh ingredients is one of the keys to this particular style of cooking. Five-spice is also employed with other meats such as chicken and pork as well, or in vegetarian dishes.
Vietnamese cuisine has a few features common to most dishes. The vast majority include vegetables and herbs. They are mostly meat, fish, or vegetable broth based. The senses are taken into account as well, including visual arrangement, taste, touch and scent. Vietnamese beef stew usually incorporates all these features, although the final dish may vary slightly, depending on the specific region of Vietnam, as well as the cook.
Although Vietnamese beef stew takes a rather long time to prepare and cook, it is popular in many countries around the world, including France, Russia and the United States. It remains popular in Vietnam too, despite the fact that many Vietnamese tend to believe in religions that adhere to a vegetarian way of life, yet meat dishes can readily be found at any street vendor or restaurant across the country.