It may or may not surprise you to know that not all Vietnamese noodle in hot broth dishes are considered Pho. Many Aussies love their Vietnamese food and especially love Pho but couldn’t pick it out in a line-up between any other Vietnamese noodle soup like Hu Tieu or Bun Bo Hue.

Even though Pho is a popular choice for breakfast and lunch in Vietnam it differs greatly by region. The regional styles of Pho in Vietnam differ by kind of noodle, the sweetness of broth, and choice of meat.

Pho tai

Pho – Vietnamese Traditional Beef Noodle Soup

Deconstructing Pho

Consisting of broth, rice noodle, herbs, and meat. Pho is a deceptively simple dish.

It almost seems like something that you could put together as a last-minute meal for guests but, it’s much more complex than that.

There are 3 main components to a Pho dish;

  1. The broth – this is the foundation of Pho it just doesn’t taste right without it.
  2. The meat – although there are some vegetarian options traditional pho has meat
  3. The Noodle – equally as important as the broth without the signature square noodles it’s just a soup!

All of these ingredients come together to make Vietnams national dish. Let’s deconstruct each of these ingredients in turn.

 

Meat

There are many variations of Pho in western countries including dishes with American and French influences which include meats like seafood or pork to the recipe. But traditionally, Vietnamese Pho comes in only 2 flavours; Beef or Chicken.

The thinly sliced and delicious Beef Pho is considered to be the original recipe for Pho. Originating in North Vietnam around the late 1800’s beef Pho is commonly referred to as Pho Bo.

Interestingly, the alternative traditional chicken Pho (Pho Ga) originated in the south of Vietnam almost over half a century after the original (but that’s a story for another post).

Thanks to the delicious taste of Pho and the widespread adoption of it by other cultures now Pho can include a variety of meat or meat substitutes like pork chops, vegetable & tofu, and even goat meat.

 

The Broth

The broth is the heart and soul of a good Pho recipe. It’s intense, delicious flavour is in every bite, sip or slurp of the dish but it’s not the same for both chicken and beef.

For beef Pho, the broth is traditionally made by simmering ox bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, charred ginger and spices.

Chicken bones also work when making Pho Ga and produce a similar broth. For a more intense flavour, the bones may still have meat on them.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, simmering is absolutely essential for a good Pho broth. The strong and tasty flavour comes from simmering the bones of the animal that it’s flavoured with.

This simmering process can take between 3 and 12 hours for most home or restaurant recipes and no two broths will ever taste the same.

To be sure the flavour from the bones are totally absorbed into the broth, I Love Pho restaurant cook the broth for at least 24 hours.

 

Banh Pho: The Noodle

If the heart and soul of Pho is in the broth the noodle is the body. We may not have mentioned this already but, Pho is a noodle dish. So you can imagine why this is a necessary ingredient for every Pho recipe.

Without this tell-tale translucent noodle in your Pho dish, you don’t have Pho you’ve got a chicken or beef soup!

The Banh Pho noodle isn’t like your average off-the-shelf spaghetti (despite its long thin appearance). For starters, these noodles are made of rice flour instead of wheat. Their shape is different also, while spaghetti is round and Banh Pho noodles are flat, white and have square or rectangular cross-sections.

When sitting in your bowl Banh Pho noodles provide a fresh and slippery texture that is perfect for slurping from top to bottom.

 

Herbs or Seasonings

Herbs and spices are what give Pho its extra kick. Although simmering our broth for a period of upo 24 hours gives us a delightfully strong base to work with the herbs and spices really come in to round out the flavour of the broth.

Creating the exclusive flavour of Pho can herbs and spices such as;

  • cinnamon
  • star anise
  • roasted ginger
  • roasted onion
  • coriander seed
  • fennel seed
  • and clove

There are of course variations and extras that are put in depending on the recipe but, these are the main Pho spices. They are added to the broth and simmered along with your bones to ensure the flavour produces the perfect dish.

 

Serving

Pho is usually served in a bowl with white rice noodles covered with clear beef broth, along with thinly sliced beef (top side, lean flank, brisket or wagyu slices).

Variations feature tendon, tripes, or beef balls in the south of Vietnam.

Chicken Pho is served the same as beef Pho but with shredded chicken, using the same spices as beef noodle.

 

The Garnish

You didn’t think we’d forget the garnish, did you?

In most western food garnish is a nuisance. Place atop your meal it’s almost never eaten as it’s shoved to the side with a look of disgust. Not so with Pho.

Pho is garnished with ingredients including shallot, sliced onion, Vietnamese basil, fresh chilli, lemon wedges, and fresh bean sprout, then coriander leaves. Not one of these ingredients can’t be combined and added to your Pho.

As if that’s not enough, fish sauce, hoisin sauce and hot chilli sauce may also be added to taste as accompaniments.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Now you know the answer to the question ‘What is Pho?’. Next time a friend of family member asks you can share with them what you’ve learnt here before bringing them in to I Love Pho for a steaming hot bowl to try!