BackEat & Drink » Saigon Hẻm Gems » Hẻm Gems: Dì Út Tells Her Family's Indian-Vietnamese Story via Tasty Bò Kho

Hẻm Gems: Dì Út Tells Her Family's Indian-Vietnamese Story via Tasty Bò Kho

The arrival of the rainy season in Saigon has left me craving for hot meals to beat the cold, damp weather. I was on my way home from work in the aftermath of a bout of rain one day and found myself in search of a warm, broth-based afternoon meal. Through the help of Google Maps, I decided to go to a bò kho place only 10 minutes from the office, Bò Kho Dì Út (Auntie Út's Beef Stew).

The alley that houses Bò Kho Dì Út is full of office buildings, I almost didn’t notice it at first, until I saw steam coming out of an old house. Much like a lot of small food vendors in Saigon, Dì Út doesn’t have an interior dining room as the alley serves as the dining area with plastic tables and stools set up.

Bò Kho Dì Út serves food right out of their home with one side of the hẻm acting as a dining area.

At the front of the house is the cooking space, and just right behind all the pots and stoves is the living room, where the family who runs the shop carry out their daily activities. The family is Indian-Vietnamese, and their cultural roots reflect in the food that they serve. Auntie Út’s bò kho is made in a style inspired by Indian cuisine, and as of now, the family has been serving it to Saigoneers for more than 30 years.

The menu is pretty straightforward: the place only serves the signature Indian-style beef stew, customers can choose to combine it with rice noodles, egg noodles, instant noodles, or baguettes. And like many other food eateries in Vietnam, the trà đá is free. I ordered a bowl of instant noodles with beef stew, and as I was settling down at the table, my bowl of bò kho already arrived, hot, fresh and ready to eat.

A pot of well-braised beef waiting to get to customers.

Upon first look, this supposedly Indian-style beef stew doesn’t look much different from Vietnamese bò kho. The ingredients are the usual beef, carrot pieces, onion slices, spring onion and the addition of curry leaves, a common ingredient in Indian cooking. The broth, in terms of presence, has a more red and orange hue to its color. Just by swirling my spoon around, I could see a layer of oil in the broth, making it look thicker too.

Just moments after placing an order, I can already enjoy a hearty bowl of bò kho.

After drowning all the ingredients deeper into the bowl to let them soak, I had my first taste of the broth. The first spoonful of dì Út’s beef stew felt a bit unfamiliar, as the taste was different. The broth was heavily seasoned with a stronger and more flavorful combination of spices than the usual Vietnamese beef stew that I’ve known.

Soft, melt-in-your-mouth beef is a sign of a great bò kho.

The main ingredients didn’t take long to soak into the broth, and the raw instant noodles softened enough to eat after just about one minute. The meat and carrot pieces were well-braised, as I could even tear a piece of carrot in half just by using my chopsticks. The tenderness of the beef made it very easy to chew as the meat practically melted in my mouth. There were some nice contrasting textures like chewy instant noodles, crunchy veggies and soft, gelatinous beef tendon. Devour everything together, and slurp a spoonful of broth while you’re at it, and you can have yourself a warm delight for a cold, rainy day.

Diners can choose mì gói, hủ tiếu dai, hủ tiếu mềm, mì vàng or bánh mì to go with the broth.

While the beef stew does differ from the usual Vietnamese beef stew that I've had, I still wondered about the Indian signature taste in the dish. Tây, one of dì Út’s sons, told me that his mother is the daughter of an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother, and her beef stew is a secret family recipe that she inherited from her parents. “The original Indian taste is extremely spicy and strong; we tone down the taste so more people can easily eat it,” he said. Ever since the shop opened in 1978, “the recipe always stays that way, the taste never changes,” he shared.

Tây, one of dì Út's sons, is the main cook for our lunch.

Every day, the family spends the whole morning preparing the food, making a big batch of broth and preparing other ingredients of the beef stew. When they’re open, the broth will continue to simmer in the big pot, all the way from noon until the evening when they close. From time to time, the foamy scum piling up inside the pot will be skimmed off to prevent the broth from becoming too salty.

Every day, the family wakes up very early to make the broth.

You can see the evidence of the pot being kept boiling on the walls surrounding it; the once-blue walls have turned black because of too much smoke coming out from the pot. But while their family home looks fairly old, it is not the store’s original location. For a while, their eatery was at the entrance of the alley, facing Võ Văn Tần Street. It was packed with customers all the time back then. But around 2016, the family had to move further into the alley. With a smaller dining space, they couldn't serve as many customers because people don’t have spaces to sit down. “This neighborhood, back then, was a small Indiantown. But gradually through time, a lot of people moved away,” Tây recalled how life once was for Auntie Út’s beef stew store. 

Nevertheless, I like the solitude of the current place. When I was making my way here, it was a rainy day, and I had to traverse through Cách Mạng Tháng 8 Street, a road known for its traffic jams, and endless noises of car horns and motor engines. But when I arrived, sitting down further inside an alley, I got the chance to separate myself from the constant traffic noises.

Ready for slurping!

In exchange, I got to enjoy the sounds of inaudible small talk from the Indian-Vietnamese family. Dì Út herself was taking a nap in the living room, where the music player was crooning vọng cổ melodic tunes. Considering the constant chaos of Saigon traffic wearing us down every day, I could appreciate the ambiance at Bò Kho Dì Út, where I could wind down and take it easy.

By the time I finished the bowl of beef stew, the broth hadn't turned lukewarm. I could still feel its warmth from start to end. Dì Út and her bò kho offered me a glimpse into Indian cuisine and the remnants of an old Indian neighborhood in Saigon. As I left and dove into the Saigon traffic again, the taste of bò kho lingered with me for a while, keeping me warm all the way home, on a cold rainy day.

Bò Kho Dì Út opens from 1pm to 7pm on every day except Sunday. 

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5
Price: 4/5
Atmosphere: 4/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 5/5

Bò Kho Dì Út Ấn Độ

194/5 Võ Văn Tần, ward 5, D3, HCMC


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