Learn how to make pho broth from scratch. I'm going to share with you the best ingredients to use to make authentic Vietnamese pho broth that you can make right at home.
Pho is a very popular Vietnamese noodle soup and an amazing comfort dish on a dreary day or when you need to refresh your immune system.
Pho broth has harmonious flavors, and it is rich and aromatic. It is as healthy as it is delicious.
In this post, I'm going to share with you the history behind pho, questions that I often get about making the best pho broth possible, and a small history lesson on the origins of pho and why it is so popular in western culture today.
Let's take a dive into how pho came to be and then have you try your own homemade pho broth from scratch!
All About Authentic Vietnamese Pho
Pho is renowned informally as the national dish of Vietnam and is credited for bringing the country's cuisines to the western world's restaurant limelight. It has gained regional and global recognition for being a noodle soup dish that provides a flavor profile that is like no other.
History of Pho
There is a lot of debate on the exact origins of Pho, but Northern Vietnam (Hanoi) is recognized as the original birthplace of pho.
Pho was thought to have come about during the French colonial rule in the late 1800s.
Pho was introduced to the United States in the late 1970s as Vietnamese nationals fled the country after the fall of Saigon. Immigrants to America cooked pho throughout Vietnamese communities, which ultimately started the dishes popularity along with the growth of Vietnamese restaurants.
How is Vietnamese pho pronounced?
Vietnamese Pho is pronounced fuh. The Vietnamese word for this dish is actually phở.
An easy way to remember this is to remember how to pronounced the first part of the slang fuhgettaboutit.
Pho is at the top of the list when it comes to the most commonly mispronounced food words.
Note that pho actually refers to the rice noodle, and not the soup itself. The soup itself is generally references by adding the description of the soup behind the word pho.
What gives pho its flavor?
The charring of the ginger and onion, anise stars, and black cardamom is what provides pho the savory and earthy aroma that pho is known for.
In addition, the ability for people to customize the pho to their own flavor profile with accompaniments and garnishes allows pho to further enhance the dish even further.
What are main ingredients in Vietnamese pho?
Pho is comprised of the broth, the rice noodles, and the garnishes. For the broth, it's comprised of generally the bone broth depending on the type you get (beef, chicken, or vegetable). The rice noodles are soaked in warm water, rinsed, and then set in a bowl that is then ladled with the broth. It is then served, which is then seasoned with personalized with soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, hoisin, and sriracha sauce along with a large helping of fresh garnishes like Thai basil, bean sprouts, mint arrow, cilantro, and other fresh herbs.
When do Vietnamese eat pho and how often is it eaten?
In Vietnam, pho is served for almost every meal, including breakfast. Most often though, pho is served for lunch and dinner.
It's normally made in a large pot that will span across three days for meals.
In our household, we eat it every other week.
Why do the Vietnamese eat pho?
Pho is made and served because it is a delicious broth based soup that balances earthy flavors and allows you to feel full without feeling heavy.
When the broth is made, it scan span over several days, which saves families time.
The Variations and Flavors of Vietnamese Pho
Regional Flavor Differences and Types of Vietnamese Pho
Vietnamese Pho Regional Flavor Differences
Northern Vietnamese variations has clear broth and is saltier.
Central Vietnamese variations are sweeter, and they add satay peanut mix in the pho.
Southern Vietnamese variations are slightly stronger in flavor and sweeter.
Types of Vietnamese Pho
Vietnamese pho is constructed with fresh rice noodles with a clear broth fragrant with ginger and star anise.
The soup can be served with several different types of meat from rare to well-done with steak, flank steak, brisket, beef meatballs, oxtail, beef chuck, and even chicken.
The chicken broth is made from chicken bones, meats, and innards. It also has a clearer broth than beef pho.
It can also be served vegetarian, albeit authentic pho is generally made with meat.
Below are the various ways you'll find Vietnamese pho in recipes and on restaurant menus.
- Pho Dac Biet
- Pho Bo (beef broth)
- Pho Ga (chicken broth)
- Pho Tai (rare, thinly sliced round steak that goes in raw, but cooks in seconds in the boiling broth)
- Pho Sai Gon (sweeter, with more vegetables)
- Pho Bo Chin (sliced well-done steak)
- Pho Nam (flank steak)
- Pho Ve Don (crunchy flank steak)
- Pho Gau (fatty brisket)
- Pho Bo Vien (beef meatballs)
- Pho Chay (vegetarian)
- Pho Dac Biet (combination of everything that includes rare slice of steak, brisket, meatballs, and tripe)
Other Cuisines Like Vietnamese Pho
Pho is a dish that is uniquely and distinctly Vietnamese. While there are other variation of dishes from its neighbors, there aren't really pho equivalents that come close to the earthy flavor of Vietnamese pho.
Beginner's Guide to Ordering and Eating Vietnamese Pho at a Restaurant
Now that you know the differences about Vietnamese pho, for newbies, I wanted to share with you exactly HOW you order Vietnamese pho and how to eat it.
I know it can be sometimes baffling to try new cuisines without knowing how to eat it, so I'm going to be sharing with you some tips to help you make the most of your first experience eating Vietnamese pho.
Understanding the Menu
Most menus at Vietnamese pho restaurants are the same, numbered with a description of what the broth includes as well as the type of meat that it will be topped with.
If your restaurant is part of the new age way of eating pho, which his having a raw egg cracked into your hot pho bowl or adding in protein-rich meat drippings called nuoc tiet (which roughly translates to meat water), I would recommend skipping this as your first pho experience.
Reference the descriptions above for the various Vietnamese pho types.
Ordering Your First Pho Bowl
Select Your Broth Type
There are two types of pho that you can order from. Like I mentioned, you'll come across vegetarian pho and seafood pho, but these noodle dishes are really called hu tieu, and not actually pho.
So, you can order the following broth bases:
- Pho Bo (beef pho)
- Pho Ga (chicken pho)
Select Your Meats
If you ordered beef pho, you'll want to choose the beef parts that you want in your bowl, I would recommend ordering it with sliced rare beef steak, which is Pho Tai. You can also go with Pho Tai Nam, which is flank steak.
If you ordered chicken pho, you can choose what parts of the chicken do you want. Generally, in western restaurants, it is dark or white chicken meats.
At this point, the restaurant will serve you the bowl with garnishes.
Add Additional Sauces
Pho provides the ability for you to add various sauces including the following. While I know some pho enthusiasts say that a good pho broth doesn't require additions of sauces, I beg to differ because the sauces are want make the bowl personalized to your preference level.
Do you like more sweetness? Do you need it more citric? Do you need it more spicy? Personalize it with these sauces that are generally found on the table:
- Hoisin sauce
- Soy sauce
- Fish sauce
- Sriracha sauce
- Hot chili sauce
- Lime wedge
Using the sauces is a personal choice, but provides the ultimate experience.
When you get your bowl, it will be accompanied with a few different fresh herbs. Pho garnishes are ALWAYS served with a meal.
It is a personal choice to eat the garnishes on their own with every bite of pho or you can place them in your bowl, the choice is up to you.
My preference is putting it in the bowl to soften the herbs.
Below are the standard fares for garnishes:
- Bean sprouts
- Thai bird's eye chilis
- Mint Arrow
How to Eat Pho
Once the bowl arrives, you'll add the sauces and decide how you want to eat the garnishes.
You place your chopsticks or fork with your dominant hand and soup spoon on the other hand.
First, sip the broth while you take the noodles in the other hand and twirl it. Place the noodles in your mouth, chew. Then take another slurp of the broth.
If you got meat, in between the slurps of the broth and the chewing the noodles, you'll want to eat the meat.
Once all of the noodles and meat are gone, you raise the bowl to your lips with both hands to drink the rest of the broth to finish off the meal.
What to order with Vietnamese pho?
Making Your Own Authentic Vietnamese Pho Broth - Tips and Cooking Basics
If you want to make your own Vietnamese pho broth at home, I'm going to share my favorite recipe and how you can make it from scratch in just under an hour. This is the quick and easy way to make it. However, this is a disclaimer: To make the very best pho, you'll want to the broth to simmer over a long period so that the water can soak up the flavor of the meat.
Best Pho Broth Cooking Tips
- Allow it to simmer for at least an hour before serving. If you have more time, allow the pho to continue simmering for up to 2 hours.
- Parboil the beef bones for clear broth.
- If you are using beef broth, you should use neck bones, beef shanks, and oxtails if you can find them in order to make a more flavorful broth.
- You'll need to have a cheesecloth or cooking infuser (this is the exact one I have)
- Charring onions and ginger allows the distincty, smokey aromatics of pho to come out.
How to Char Ginger and Onion for Vietnamese Pho Broth
In order to char the ginger and onions, you can use the following methods:
- Oven Method: Roast them on a sheet in the oven
- Electric Burner: Add directly on the electric burner set to high
- Open Flame: Hold the ingredients with tongs and place it over the open flame
You'll want to allow the edges of the onion and ginger to charr until slightly blackened and fragrant.
Equipment for Making Vietnamese Pho Broth
In order to make the best pho, you'll at minimum need the following supplies:
- Stockpot - You'll need to get a pot that holds at least 16 quarts.
- Roasting Sheet - You'll want to roast the ginger and onions before adding them to the broth.
- Wire mesh strainer - This will be used to parboil and drain the broth.
- Cooking infuser - You'll want to add the spices into the infuser, and then make it easy to pull out once the flavors are infused.
Asian Grocery Store Ingredients for Vietnamese Pho
As always, I try to share my tips and tricks for all my recipes so that before you begin, your stop to the Asian market is successful so that you get all the ingredients to make this delicious recipe from home.
Asian markets are known for having cuts of meat that your general grocer may not have. If you are making pho beef broth, grab some oxtail, shank, short ribs, and beef bones like marrow, neck, and knuckle bones.
This meat will not be cooked in the broth. It will be added to your bowl of soup and the hot pho broth will cook it in the serving bowl. The meat cuts for this that you should pick up are flank steak, chuck roast, and brisket all sliced paper thin.
Rice Noodle Sticks
Rice noodle sticks are available fresh and dried. I pick the dried version because they store longer. They come in small, medium, and wide widths. I prefer the medium width ones from a texture perspective.
Pho Spice Packets
While you can get cardamom, cinnamon, anise seeds, and all that individually, I prefer getting the packets that have all these ingredients.
These also come with a bag that you can use in the broth, but I prefer using the infuser I mentioned. I love these packets better.
You can pick up a ton of herbs rather inexpensively at the Asian markets including bean sprouts, Thai basil, spearmint, mint arrow, cilantro, scallions, and Thai bird's eye chilis.
How to Make Authentic Vietnamese Pho
The majority of the cooking effort is ensuring that you make the best broth. The bulk of the flavor of pho comes from the broth.
For those that don't want to take a whole day to shop for ingredients and sit there watching the pot simmer, this recipe will allow you to make pho broth quick in less than an hour.
This is a recipe only for the pho broth. The noodles should just follow package instructions along with any garnishes you want! In addition, any toppings you want to add in terms of meat parts, you can add those in by slicing them paper thin.
Ingredients for Authentic Vietnamese Pho Broth
- 4 pounds of beef bones (oxtail, shanks, neck bones)
- 1 pound of beef brisket
- 1 medium yellow onion, halved
- 5 ginger roots, halved
- Vietnamese Pho Spice Packet that includes
- star anise
- whole cloves
- cinnamon sticks
- cardamom pods
- coriander seeds
- 4 quarts of water
- 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
- salt to taste
Instructions on How to Make Vietnamese Pho
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees on broil.
Place the onions and ginger on a roasting pan close to the heat. Allow the onions and ginger to char and blacken for about 15 to 25 minutes. Allow it to cool.
Parboil the bones and shanks.
Place the beef bones and shanks into a large pot of water, bring it to a boil. When the gray foam gathers, remove the impurities with a ladle. Allow it to boil for 5 minutes. Transfer the bones and shanks into a coriander. Rinse the bones and shanks to remove the impurities further and discard the water again.
Rinse out the pot and return the bones and shanks into the pot.
Toast the pho spices.
On a skillet on medium high heat, toast the star anise, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, and fennel to bring out the aromatics. Remove the spices in a bowl, allow to cool, and then transfer to the cooking infuser or cheese cloth.
Stew and simmer the broth.
Add the bones, onion, ginger, and spice bundle into the stock pocket. Add 2 gallons of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for an hour (up to 3 hours if you have the time). Halfway through, add in the sugar, fish sauce, and salt.
Clean the broth.
While the broth is simmering, use a ladle to skim the gray foam and impurities from the surface.
The broth will be ready when it has been reduced to half of what it was and the meat is tender.
Making Ahead Tips
Pho broth can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for 5 days, or even frozen up to 3 months. You'll want to remove the bones and brisket before freezing.
To reheat, dethaw the broth in a microwave or over stovetop.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pho Broth
You might have some more questions about pho broth, so I'm going to try to clarify some assumptions and confusion about Vietnamese pho beef broth:
Pho Broth versus Bone Broth
Pho broth uses bone broth as the foundation of making the soup. Pho broth can also be made vegetarian with vegetable stock, which is not as common.
There are several variations of pho that uses bone broth that is enhanced with specific ingredients such as charred onion and ginger, anise stars, cardamom, and various types of bones like shank bone, oxtail, and neck bones.
What kind of noodles are used in pho?
Rice noodle sticks are used for pho. Do not get this confused with vermicelli rice noodles, which are used for a different type of Vietnamese noodle dish. Read about the differences between vermicelli noodles and rice noodle sticks.
This is my favorite brand for pho:
Are Vietnamese pho noodles healthy?
Vietnamese pho is high in protein content and is a nutritious addition to a well balanced diet. There are about 350 calories per bowl of pho.
What differentiates great pho from good pho?
A great bowl of pho is distinguished by its aromatics. The broth is the most important part of pho and often has fat floating on top, which distinguishes a richer broth being served. There should be a slight undertone of onion and ginger due to the charring.
The noodles should be chewy, but not mushy. A great bowl of po has fresh beef shank and meatballs topped with it along with the accompaniments of fresh herbs.
A great bowl of pho is served piping hot.
What is in pho that makes it so good?
In short, the richness of the broth is what makes pho so good.
The charred onion and ginger along with the various beef bones that provide the subtle gelatin type feel to the broth provides it the umami taste that everyone loves about Vietnamese pho.
Is pho Vietnamese or Thai?
Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup that includes broth, rice noodles, herbs, and meat (usually chicken or beef). It is a popular street food in Vietnam and a great comfort food. Pho is not a Thai cuisine, but there is a variation of this dish
What is in Vietnamese pho meatballs?
Vietnamese meatballs are made with ground beef shank, tendon, fish sauce, sugar, and ginger.
How is pho different from ramen noodles?
The main differences between Vietnamese pho and Japanese ramen noodles are the ingredients and the noodles. Pho is made with rice noodles whereas ramen is made with wheat noodles. Pho comes with broth made from beef or chicken, whereas ramen comes with three types of regionally flavored broth. Ramen is often topped with boiled egg whereas pho is topped with cuts of beef or chicken along with fresh herbs.
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Vietnamese pho broth is easy to make as well as comforting. Pho is the staple Vietnamese soup that is full of flavors to warm you up. It is the beloved meal in Vietnam.
This pho broth is filled with flavor and the various textures make it absolutely delicious. This soup soothes your soul and calms your mind. A bowlful of this is divine.
Other Vietnamese Noodle Recipes
If you loved this post about Vietnamese pho broth, you will also love these other Vietnamese noodles:
- Vietnamese Pho Garnish Plate Explained
- Simple Bun Bo Hue - Vietnamese Spicy Noodle Soup
- Banh Canh - Vietnamese Tapioca Noodle Soup with Chicken
- Authentic Bun Bi - Vietnamese Vermicelli with Shredded Pork Skin Noodles
- Difference Between Lao Pho versus Vietnamese Pho