Pho your information! We’re all about this Vietnamese noodle soup

7 months ago



Pho (pronounced “fuh,” not “foe”) is a noodle soup originating from Vietnam that’s made with richly flavored broth, flat rice noodles and meat. It is made with broiled beef (pho bo) or chicken (pho ga), although a version made with pork became popular during the Vietnam War when beef was scarce. Pho is served with a garnish plate typically comprised of chilies, bean sprouts, lime, basil, and cilantro. The broth gets its flavor from beef bones left to simmer in water (the best broth are those made with bones that still have beef on them), or from chicken bones. It’s seasoned with a mixture of herbs and spices—cinnamon, star anise, ginger, onion, cardamom, coriander, and fennel seeds, and clove—wrapped in cheesecloth and removed from the stock after cooking. Fish sauce (nuoc nam) is added near the end of the cooking process for a kick of umami.

Most historians agree that pho originated in northern Vietnam in the 20th century, and that it is an indigenization of the French dish “pot au feu” (literally “pot on fire,” a beef stew with vegetables) which was introduced by French colonizers. Pho quickly became popular in Hanoi where it was sold by ambulant vendors carrying poles (similar to our taho vendors) with wooden cabinets on each end, one cabinet holding a cauldron over wood fire, and the other holding the ingredients and cookware needed to prepare a hot bowl of pho. French soldiers began calling pho “feu” (fire), because of the wood fire that the vendors carried, and because a freshly prepared bowl of pho would emit steam, a beacon heralding a delicious meal.

War struck Vietnam in 1954 and the country was divided into northern and southern Vietnam; those who fled from the north brought their knowledge of pho with them. The northern pho was then adapted into southern pho, the version that we know today—pho with slimmer noodles, a slightly sweeter broth, bean sprouts, and herbs. Southern pho (known as “Saigon pho”) was a stark contrast to its austere predecessor that was usually served with just vinegar, fish sauce, and chili sauce.

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the refugees who fled the war-ravaged country made their way to America, where pho was embraced for its convenience, affordability, and clean yet complex taste. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the world discovered the hidden gem that was Vietnamese pho. It is wondrous that such a simple dish should have such a storied history, and that the pho’s melange of simple ingredients should create a fusion of flavors unlike any other. More than a filling meal, pho serves as a delicious reminder that truly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Words by Janelle Año

Photographed by Mark Jacob

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