Pho soup is the essential Vietnamese soup that is now popular throughout the world.
In simple terms, pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a beef noodle soup, but in reality it is much more exciting that that! Vietnamese Pho is packed full of delicious aromatics and the salty beef broth is to die for!
The popularity of pho has grown considerably over recent years in cities across the world. I lived in London, UK for the past 12 years and I definitely noticed lots more Pho shops popping up in different areas. I recently moved to Toronto, Canada where there seem to be even more! Just to make it clear, I’m definitely not complaining about that!
Pho is a relatively new dish in the big grand scheme of the history of Vietnam, with it first being documented around the early 1900s. There are several theories around how the soup originated, some experts believing that it is a French–Vietnamese fusion dish – beef was rarely eaten in Vietnam before the French colonized the country in the late 19th century. Other historians claim that it was Chinese immigrants that originally brought the dish to Hanoi to sell on the streets.
There are differences between the Pho served up in the North and South of Vietnam. This traditional recipe that I chose to feature is typical of pho eaten in Hanoi, in the North of the country, where the beef bones are used to make the broth and more seasonings are used. In Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), in the South, the broth is often made with chicken and dry squid along with the beef bones and they often stir in hoisin to the finished dish.
The key to an authentic, flavorful pho is the beef broth. Left to simmer for three hours, the flavors and aromatics are allowed to develop to their fullest. Don’t be tempted to rush the creation of this amazing broth, it’s not labor intensive and if you decide to go with a ready made stock, I promise you that you will not get that authentic flavor that you will get in restaurants.
The herbs and spices in Vietnamese pho soup are what really give this dish its fragrant identity. A collection of spices is used to flavor the beef broth and give it a subtle but complex depth of flavor. The herbs that the broth is poured over, lift the dish and give it that light freshness. I love that encompassing, comforting aroma when a bowl of pho is placed in front of you!
Traditional pho is made with a beef broth with thin slices of raw beef round (the beef slices are cooked when the hot broth is poured over them). Even until fairly recently making pho using another type of meat was seen as sacrilege. But isn’t that what cooking is about – experimenting and trying new flavors? Chicken Pho has started to be come more prevalent where a lighter chicken broth replaces the deeper beef flavors and strips of cooked chicken are added to the bowl. You can of course make a simpler vegetarian option, just be sure to pack flavor into that broth. Seafood variations are also popular. Vietnamese pho soup is not traditionally a spicy dish. Hot peppers can be used to garnish the dish, but these are of course optional for those that don’t like spicy food. Personally, I love a bit of heat in my pho and often stir in some hot sauce (such as sriracha) to get that extra kick.
I often find that people are hesitant about attempting to make Asian dishes at home, thinking that lots of new techniques are required, ingredients are hard to find or that they are labor intensive. Nothing could be further from the truth when making pho! In terms of new techniques, the most technical the preparation gets is roughly chopping herbs! All of the ingredients for pho are easy to source from your local super store. If you get really stuck with something, then a visit to an Asian supermarket will see you right. It takes three hours for the stock to develop, but it’s hardly labor intensive to watch a pot simmer! Stop making excuses and get in the kitchen to make this authentic Vietnamese Pho Soup.
Phở is an incredibly fragrant traditional Vietnamese rice noodle soup consisting of herbs, broth and beef or chicken.
- 1 lb short ribs with bone
- 4 slices ox tail
- 2 marrow bones
- 3 scallions , cut in halves
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 whole nutmeg
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 5 whole cloves
- 5 pods cardamom
- ½ lb daikon , julienned
- 8 oz. rice noodles (ideally bánh phở)
- Soybean sprouts
- 10 scallions
- ½ bunch mint
- ½ bunch cilantro
- ½ bunch Thai basil
- 2 lb round (sirloin, or shank)
- 3 limes
- 2 hot peppers
- Heat a frying pan and roast the spices (star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, cardamom) for a few minutes to develop their aroma.
- Place these spices in a tea ball or cheesecloth (tied with kitchen twine).
- In a large pot, place the scallions, the ribs, the marrow bones, the ox tail slices and the spice tea ball.
- Add the julienned daikon.
- Cover with water and bring to a boil. Then, lower the heat. Cover to three quarters (do not close the lid completely) and simmer for 3 hours. If necessary, skim the fat as it is cooking.
- At the end of cooking, filter the broth. Thinly slice the ribs and the ox tail and set aside.
- Cook the rice vermicelli in a large volume of boiling salted water for 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water and set aside.
- Thinly slice the round (sirloin or beef shank) and set aside.
- Rinse and drain the soybean sprouts. Rinse, dry and then roughly chop the herbs (mint, cilantro, Thai basil).
In individual bowls, place the ingredients in this order:
- rice noodles
- slices of round (sirloin or shank)
- slices of short ribs
- slices of ox tail
- soybean sprouts
- herbs and thinly sliced scallions
- Pour the hot broth into each bowl and serve immediately after adding the juice of half a lime and thinly sliced hot pepper (optional) in each bowl.
- Mix the food for about thirty seconds using chopsticks and enjoy.
Tip: place the meat in the freezer for 30 minutes before slicing it. The meat is firmer, and it becomes easier to thinly slice.