Pho Vietnam: What You Need To Know about the National Dish of the Vietnamese
Pho has long been associated with Vietnam’s traditional cuisine. It is not a purely tempting hot soup but also gives a fascinating insight into Vietnamese culture. What’s inside this indulging dish that makes it irresistible to any gourmets?
The famous beef Pho has dominated the Pho scene in Vietnam and the rest of the world. But it’s not just beef that creates the fragrant broth, the slightly chewy rice noodles and aromatic toppings. Slurp on the best Pho and discover interesting variants on your Pho journey now.
Pho – Vietnam’s Favorite Noodle Soup
What is Pho? Pho is a typical Vietnamese soup that is basically made of flat rice noodles and meat-based broth. The most famous Pho is Pho bo which consists of thinly sliced beef and a variety of toppings. A bowl of Pho is complete with fresh herbs including basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, hot chilies and tart lime. Don’t be surprised that these extra ingredients do not only flatten the way Pho looks, they also add in unique flavors.
Gourmets love Pho for its combination of various tastes, sweet, salty and spicy. The magic of the dish also lies in its aromatic broth that will definitely hit all of your senses right after you enter any Pho restaurants. It pays to order a bowl of Pho at any time of the day to enjoy the exotic long-simmering broth.
Pho these days is the national dish of the Vietnamese and is gaining popularity around the world. It is said to first appear in northern Vietnam, in Nam Dinh and Hanoi. Then, it followed migrants to the south during the 1950s before kicking off its journey to the world, from New York to Melbourne.
Many say that the traditional Pho was created based on the French pot-au-feu combining Vietnamese spices and herbs. Another theory is that Pho originated from Guangdong cuisine. Nonetheless, it is local Vietnamese ingredients that make Pho as popular as it is these days.
Pho bo was no longer exclusive until 1939 when Pho ga (chicken noodle soup) joined the competition as beef was not available in Vietnam’s markets on Mondays and Fridays. Pho bo and Pho ga have dominated Vietnamese cuisine since then.
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How to eat Pho?
Here comes the best part of Pho – how to eat Pho like the locals? You need to use both chopsticks and a spoon to eat Pho. Eating Pho is a piece of cake and you can finish it in just a few minutes.
First, you use the chopsticks with your dominant hand to add the herbs to your bowl. Remember to tear them into pieces before adding them in. You don’t need to add all the vegetables that are on offer, just some or none of them is okay. Then squeeze lime and put in some black pepper. Use chopsticks and the spoon to mix them all and you can now enjoy the first sip of the hot broth.
It is totally fine to slurp and pick up your bowl at the end to drink the last sips. That’s how you just can’t resist the rich flavors of the meat combined with the fragrant cinnamon.
Don’t forget that there is always some hoisin and chilli sauce on the table. You can add them directly to your bowl or pour it into another small bowl to eat with toppings like meatballs. Just ask them to put any extra ingredients you like best. It is all about personal preference. Try it!
Variations of Pho Vietnam
You may be in awe at the variety of Pho on the menu or the cooking style. Jot down some most popular variants for your next visit to a Pho restaurant. Pho varies in different regions and cooking styles.
Pho bo (beef Pho) is the most popular type of Pho and there are many styles of beef Pho to choose from. Don’t worry about the seemingly countless choices of Pho on the menu, you can still order something catering to your own tastes. Pho tai (sliced rare beef) is favored for its tenderness while Pho nam (well-done beef) deepens the flavors. Some extra options are fatty brisket, tendon and beef balls. You can mix and match any of the alternatives and treat yourself a super big bowl of Pho to the fullest.
Pho ga (chicken Pho) features a lighter broth. Most diners order lean chicken pieces. If you are already a fan of beef Pho, you will find chicken Pho completely different from its relative but you are sure to enjoy it the same way as beef Pho. A fancied-up bowl of chicken Pho contains chicken gizzards which are considered very special.
Pho cuon (Pho rolls) is among the most favored foods in Hanoi, in addition to Bun cha. An uncomplicated Pho roll contains beef and some green herbs wrapped and rolled. To try this special version of Pho, just dip the roll into fish sauce with sliced chili and garlic, salted papaya or cucumber. Some creative owners also make Pho look tastier by adding unique colors to the rice sheets with beetroot, pumpkin or gac fruit.
Pho tron (mixed Pho) doesn’t contain broth but a salad with beef or chicken, instead. The sliced meat is marinated and then seared in a pan mixed with fresh greens and served with freshly boiled Pho noodles. The noodle salad may be garnished with chopped peanuts and red chili peppers.
Pho chay (vegetarian Pho) is fresh and comforting with warming aromas of cinnamon, anise, cloves and ginger making for delicate vegetable broth. Mushrooms, tofu and mock meat are used as substitutions for the meat. Pho chay is often served at restaurants near Buddhist temples and any vegetarian restaurants in the cities.
Best places to eat Pho
There are unique Pho recipes that each owner passed down to their younger generations. Even with the same recipe, the flavors may vary a little bit with some extra interesting ingredients. Here are some best Pho restaurants that win the heart of local gourmets.
In Ho Chi Minh
🔸 Pho Le
413-415 Nguyen Trai, District 5 | 303-305 Vo Van Tan, District 3
Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 1.00 AM
Price: From VND 60,000 (ranging from bowl sizes)
Menu highlights: rare beef, beef balls, well-done flank
🔸 Pho Hoa
260C Pasteur, District 3
Opening hours: 5:00 AM – 11.30 PM
Price: From VND 65,000 (ranging from bowl sizes)
Menu highlights: rare beef, well-done flank, crunchy flank, beef paste, tendon, bible tripe, beef balls, chicken, egg yolk, spring rolls
🔸 Pho 2000
1-3 Phan Chau Trinh, District 1
Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 1.00 PM
Price: From VND 67,000
Menu highlights: beef, chicken, seafood, vegetarian Pho, spring rolls, sauteed beef with tofu and rice, roasted chicken and rice
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🔸 Pho Gia Truyen
49 Bat Dan, Hoan Kiem District
Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 8.30 PM
Price: From VND 40,000
Menu highlights: rare beef, well-done flank, egg yolk, stir-fried, crispy fried beef
🔸 Pho Thin
13 Lo Duc, Hai Ba Trung District
Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 8:30 PM
Price: From VND 40,000
Menu highlights: rare round eye, beef brisket, beef balls, deep-fried dough stick
🔸 Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su
10 Ly Quoc Su, Hoan Kiem District
Opening hours: 6:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Price: From VND 60,000
Menu highlights: rare beef, well-done flank, brisket with flank, beef fillet
With a little more information to keep in your mind the next time you visit Vietnam, you will be less confused when it comes to what Pho to eat and where to eat it. Whether it’s early morning or late night, whenever you feel the calling, there is a variety of Pho that’s on offer.
© Maika Tours
Written by Trinh Tran