Recipe: Caramel Pork Ribs (Thit Kho To)

Food stylist, writer, and cook Shu Han Lee shares four recipes from her first cookbook Chicken and Rice (Fig Tree, Penguin Books), which combines the best of Southeast Asian with British seasonal ingredients. Here's one of them:

Updated on October 18, 2017 22:10 pm

Food & Travel Singapore Editor

Recipe: Caramel Pork Ribs (Thit Kho To)

Although people are generally becoming better aware of the subtleties across Asian cuisines, there are many who still expect some form of sweet, sticky stir-fry. While I hope to prove there is much more beyond that, "sweet, sticky stir-fries" can be pretty amazing when done well. The Vietnamese thit kho to melts sugar over a low heat to create a caramel first, and uses fish sauce to add funky saltiness. What results is tender pork coated in a beautifully rich dark sauce that’s far from sickly.

Tip: Instead of ribs you can use an equal weight of cubed pork belly.

Prep 5 mins
Cook 40 mins
Serves 4


  • 500g free-range pork spare ribs
  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 4 heaped tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 bird’s-eye chillies, chopped
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 1 spring onion, sliced


Step 1: Get your butcher to divide the ribs up and chop them into 6cm pieces.

Step 2: Set a wok over a low heat and add the oil. Pour the sugar evenly over the bottom of the wok and let it melt, stirring occasionally.

Step 3: Once the sugar has melted and turns golden, turn the heat up to medium and stir in the pork ribs. Drizzle in the fish sauce, add the garlic and chillies, and toss to make sure the pork is well coated.

Step 4: Add a dash of warm water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, add a pinch of salt, cover, and let simmer on a low heat for 20 mins, until the pork is cooked and tender.*

Step 5: Uncover and cook on a medium heat to reduce the sauce, until it thickens and becomes sticky enough to coat the pork. Finish with a sprinkling of sliced spring onions.

*Sometimes I stop at this stage to get a quite different dish altogether. You don’t get sticky ribs, but you get tender pork and a glossy, sweet dark sauce that is delicious spooned over rice.

Recipe: Lee Shu Han
Photograph: Fig Tree, Penguin Books

For more appetising food recipes, visit Food & Travel Singapore.

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