What Is Pho and How Do You Make It?
If you're not familiar with pho, well, where have you been? Pho is the national dish of Vietnam, but it has quickly captured the hearts and stomachs of the rest of the world. Here you'll learn everything you need to know about this quintessential Vietnamese dish, including how to make it yourself.
What Is Pho and What Is It Made Of?
Pho is a Vietnamese soup consisting of bone broth, rice noodles, and thinly sliced meat (usually beef). It may also be served with bean sprouts, fresh herbs, limes, chiles, and other garnishes.
The origins of pho are a bit murky, but it is generally believed to have originated in early 20th century northern Vietnam. It eventually migrated south after the division of the country in 1954, and gained even more popularity following the Vietnam War as refugees introduced it to other cultures.
How to Pronounce Pho
Here's a tidbit of information that will keep you from botching the pronunciation of this popular dish: Pho is pronounced "fuh" rather than "faux." You might find some subtle differences in pronunciation between the North and South Vietnamese, but "fuh" is the generally accepted pronunciation.
The word "pho" actually comes from the French word "feu," meaning fire. This takes us back to the murky origin of pho — Vietnam was colonized by the French in the late 1880s, suggesting that pho could be a Vietnamese rendition of the French dish pot au feu.
Pho vs. Ramen
At glance they might look similar, but pho and ramen are pretty different dishes. Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish made of wheat noodles and a hearty broth, whereas pho is of Vietnamese origin and consists of rice noodles in a light, clear broth.
"Growing up in Saigon back in the 70s, we eat predominately rice noodles, because we don't really grow wheat there," says Eric Banh, chef and owner of Ba Bar in Seattle.
Types of Pho
When pho migrated south following the division of the country in 1954, it took on a new form. The result was two different types of pho, each belonging to a different region: pho bac and pho nam.
Considered the original pho, pho bac is northern Vietnamese pho. It's known for it's more mild, clear bone broth, wide noodles, and for the addition of lots of green onions.
Southern Vietnamese pho, called pho nam, is known for its bolder broth and thinner noodles. In the south, meat plays a larger role in pho, where it's common to use many parts of the cow including bone borrow, tendon, and brisket. It's typically topped with bean sprouts and fresh herbs.
How to Make Authentic Pho
This authentic pho recipe was adapted from Chef Eric of Ba Bar's pho recipe. Be sure to plan ahead — authentic pho requires six to 10 hours of cooking time for a flavorful bone broth. For best results, use shank and knee beef bones.
- 4 pounds beef soup bones
- 1 onion, unpeeled and cut in half
- 5 slices fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 pods star anise
- 2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
- 4 quarts water
- 1 (8 ounce) package dried rice noodles
- 1 ½ pounds beef top sirloin, thinly sliced
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon chopped green onion
- 1 ½ cups bean sprouts
- 1 bunch Thai basil
- 1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
- ¼ cup hoisin sauce (Optional)
- ¼ cup chile-garlic sauce (such as Sriracha®) (Optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
- Place beef bones on a baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven until browned, about one hour.
- Place onion on a baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven until blackened and soft, about 45 minutes.
- Place bones, onion, ginger, salt, star anise, and fish sauce in a large stockpot and cover with four quarts of water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer on low for six to 10 hours. Strain the broth into a saucepan and set aside.
- Place rice noodles in a large bowl filled with room temperature water and allow to soak for one hour. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and after the noodles have soaked, place them in the boiling water for one minute. Bring stock to a simmer.
- Divide noodles among four serving bowls; top with sirloin, cilantro, and green onion. Pour hot broth over the top. Stir and let sit until the beef is partially cooked and no longer pink, one to two minutes. Serve with bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime wedges, hoisin sauce, and chile-garlic sauce on the side.
More Ways to Make Pho
While the above recipe is considered a traditional Vietnamese pho, we have loads of pho-inspired recipes like this easy My Chicken Pho recipe, or what's known as "pho ga," which is sometimes described as Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. For more recipe inspiration, browse our entire collection of Vietnamese Soups and Stews.
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