No matter what time day or night, a steaming bowl of pho noodle soup is never hard to find in Vietnam. Just as pad thai in Thailand, pho is Vietnam's unofficial national dish exported with pride all over the world.
Pho consists of flat rice noodles in a light, meat-based broth. The dish is usually accompanied by basil, lime, chili, and other extras on the side so that eaters can season the soup to their own taste. The balanced tastes of sweet, salty, spicy, and citrus are highly contagious; pho usually becomes an instant favorite for anyone visiting Vietnam!
Pronounced something like "fuuuh" with a drawn-out vowel, pho is difficult for Westerners to say correctly because of the tone. Luckily, pho is easier to eat than to pronounce. Traditionally, pho noodle soup was eaten by Vietnamese people for breakfast and sometimes lunch, however both locals and foreigners alike can be found hunched over steaming bowls of pho at street carts throughout the night.
Some squeamish eaters may balk at authentic pho which is made from beef bones, tendons, tripe (stomach), fat, and sometimes ox tail. Bones and lesser-quality cuts of meat are simmered for hours to produce the soup broth. With pho's popularity, many chain restaurants catering to tourists now omit ingredients that may frighten business away. Broth is commonly made from beef, pork, or chicken bones; only lean pieces of meat are added.
To keep up with the eating trends of tourists, vegetarian and tofu pho can now be found in big cities such as Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City.
The broth used in pho preparation is thin and light, with a slight flavor provided by cilantro, onion, ginger, and sometimes cinnamon. The key to enjoying a tasty bowl of pho is to toss in the ingredients given to customers on the side. Practices vary between eateries, but most include bean sprouts, basil leaves, hot peppers, green onions, and a lime wedge on the side.
Ingredients and styles of pho noodle soup vary by region throughout Vietnam. Ga typically means that the dish contains chicken; bo means the dish is prepared with beef.
Here are a few popular variants of Vietnamese pho soup:
- Pho ga: chicken noodle soup
- Pho bo: beef pho
- Pho cay: spicy beef noodle soup
- Pho bo vien: pho with beef meatballs
- Pho tai: noodle soup with thin slices of rare beef fillet
- Pho hai san: pho noodle soup with added seafood
- Pho sach bo: traditional-style pho with added beef tripe
The ultimate pho dish - not for the faint of heart - is known as "specialty pho" or pho dac biet and contains every type of meat available in the restaurant including chicken hearts, liver, beef tripe, and tendons.
Beef pho Ingredients (serve 4)
- 5 pounds beef knuckle, with meat
- 2 pounds beef oxtail
- 1 white (daikon) radish, sliced
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 ounces whole star anise pods
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 slice fresh ginger root
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 1/2 pounds dried flat rice noodles
- 1/2 pound frozen beef sirloin
- Place the beef knuckle in a very large (9 quart or more) pot. Season with salt, and fill pot with 2 gallons of water. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 2 hours.
- Skim fat from the surface of the soup, and add the oxtail, radish and onions. Tie the anise pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns and ginger in a cheesecloth or place in a spice bag; add to the soup. Stir in sugar, salt and fish sauce. Simmer over medium-low heat for at least 4 more hours (the longer, the better). At the end of cooking, taste, and add salt as needed. Strain broth, and return to the pot to keep at a simmer. Discard spices and bones. Reserve meat from the beef knuckle for other uses if desired.
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Soak the rice noodles in water for about 20 minutes, then cook in boiling water until soft, but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Slice the frozen beef paper thin. The meat must be thin enough to cook instantly.
- Place some noodles into each bowl, and top with a few raw beef slices. Ladle boiling broth over the beef and noodles in the bowl. Serve with hoisin sauce and sriracha sauce on the side. Set onion, cilantro, bean sprouts, basil, green onions, and lime out at the table for individuals to add toppings to their liking.
Chicken pho Ingredients (serve 4)
- 5cm unpeeled Fresh Root Ginger, crushed
- 1 Onion, halved
- 1.5L Chicken Stock
- 5cm Cinnamon Stick
- 2 Star Anise
- 225g Chicken Breast, cut into thin strips
- 1 teasp Fish Sauce (Nuoc mam),
- 1/2 teasp Brown Sugar
- 5 Green Peppercorns, crushed
- 350g Rice Noodles
- 2 Spring Onions, thinly sliced
- 2 Chilies, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp Freshly chopped Coriander
- 2 tbsp Freshly chopped Mint
- 1 Lime, cut into Wedges
1. Place the chicken strips, fish sauce, sugar and green peppercorns in a bowl, mix well and leave for 30 minutes to marinate.
2. Preheat the grill to hot and cook the onion and garlic under the grill, turning, until browned.
3. Place the cooked ginger, onion, stock, cinnamon and anise in a pan, bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
4. Strain the stock and return it to the rinsed out pan together with the marinated chicken. Place over a medium heat, bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the chicken is white all the way through.
5. Bring a large pan of water to the boil then drop in the drained noodles and cook for 1 minute until just tender then drain well a colander.
6. Divide the noodles between four bowls, remove the chicken from the pan with a slotted spoon and arrange over the noodles.
7. To serve - sprinkle the spring onions, chillies, coriander and mint over the chicken then ladle in the stock and serve with lime wedges.
Cao lau (also spelt as cau lao or cau lau) is a pork based noodle dish, from the Hoi An region of Vietnam. This dish is considered to be one of the finest gourmet dishes from the central regions of Vietnam. According to the An Hoians, the Cao Lau recipe cannot be replicated anywhere outside the town, because the unique taste of the dish is due to the use of the water from a ancient Cham well located just outside the town. Cao Lau is a textural tour de force consisting of thin slices of soy-simmered pork, crispy fresh lettuce and herbs such as basil, cilantro and mint, and crackly squares of deep-fried dough, all resting on a tangle of bean sprouts and wide rice noodles. It's drizzled with just enough rich meat broth and served with sweet and hot chili jam and half a lime-like kalamansi, for squeezing. Though, not much is known about the origins and history of this recipe, the local chefs believe that Cao Lau is an ancient dish, which has also graced the royal table once. Since, the ingredients used in the preparation of Cao lau are exclusively found in Hoi An, the recipe was most probably developed in the kitchens of this very town. Cao Lau is rarely seen in menus outside Hoi An area.
- 1 ½ pounds pork tenderloin – cubed or thin sliced
- 2 pounds fresh thick Vietnamese style rice noodles – about cooked linguine thickness
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- 4-6 cloves garlic – minced
- 2 tsp Chinese 5 spices
- 2 T soy sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp chicken bouillon powder
- 1 tsp ground paprika
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 2 T water
- Lettuce and/or Asian greens (thai basil, cilantro, etc.)
- Rice paper croûtons, or broken chicharron (pork or vegetarian), or crispy chow mein noodles
- Bunch chopped green onions
- Prepare a marinade of the garlic, 5 spice, soy sauce, sugar, bouillon, paprika.
- Blend the cubed or sliced pork into the marinade.
- Chill marinade and pork for at least 1 hour, or longer.
- Heat a large pot of water to boil for use in a few minutes after the pork is cooked.
- Stir fry pork in medium heat oil gently until safely cooked, and tender.
- Add 2 tablespoon water and continue gentle stir fry about 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- Immerse or rinse rice noodles in cold water, gently breaking apart until loose. Drain noodles.
- Immerse noodles into pot of boiling water.
- Test noodles every 10 seconds until firm and half tender, about 30 seconds. Don't overcook!*
- Immerse bean sprouts into boiling water with the noodles.
- In about 30 seconds noodles should be firm and not quite done. Immediately drain into colander.
- Stir pork and noodles in a large serving dish.
- The dish should be very moist and saucy.
- Top with chopped greens, croutons, and chopped green onion.
1. Water source: In Hội An (Faifo) and surroundings such as Cẩm Khê, there still remain old square wells that the Cham people dug from hundreds of years ago. Water from these wells is used for drinking and cooking, and it has a unique flavor. The most famous well is Well Bá Lễ.
2. Lye solution: Lye is made from ashes of trees. Different trees give different lye solutions. This particular lye solution that is used to make cao lầu's noodle is from "tro" tree grown in Cham Island nearby.
3. Rice: The rice to make cao lầu's noodle is of a local rice variety. The rice used is neither freshly harvested nor too aged. The rice is washed, soaked in Hội An's well water and lye solution. After that the soaked rice is ground into a thick paste, poured into cotton bags to drain excess water. The paste becomes dough, and is kneaded. The thin dough is briefly steamed, cut into strings, and steamed again until the noodle becomes completely cooked. The noodle is left in open air for its surface to dry. When used, the noodle is blanched briefly in hot water. Cao lầu's noodle has more texture and doesn't have a sour flavor of regular rice noodle.
4. Xá xíu (Translator: This is Vietnamese pronunciation of Chinese barbecue pork, char siu): About 500g lean pork butt, cut to about 5cm thick. Mixture: 5g Chinese five-spice powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt + 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper + 1 tablespoon minced garlic + 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Marinate the pork in the mixture for 40 minutes. Heat a small pot in low heat, add 2 tablespoons cooking oil, and pan fry the pork a little, then add boiling water to cover the meat. You can also use coconut juice instead of water. Simmer until the liquid is reduced to little remaining. The pork should now be tender. When used, slice it into thin pieces.
5. Stock: Cook 500g pork bones in 3 liters of water and 100 (typo error?) dried shallots. Simmer and skim the fat often until about 2.5 liters stock is left. Remove the bones and shallot from the stock. Season the stock with salt and MSG (Oriental food, of course!) to taste.
6. Pork rind: Select the thinnest pork skin, and remove all the fat. Cut the skin to small pieces of about 2 cm wide, and marinate for 30 minutes in the same kind of mixture you use to make xá xíu. Deep fry (in high heat?) the pork rind until crispy. Let the pork rind drain.
7. Herb: Húng lủi (Mentha aquatica L.; water mint), cut to short stems. Chive, minced. Cilantro also.
8. Presentation: Put noodle and water mint in a bowl. Place slices of xá xíu on top. Throw in some pork rind and minced chive. Pour just a litte of the stock into the bowl. Also throw in some cilantro on top. Put a dash of pepper.
Grilled Pork Noodle Soup (Vietnamese: Bún chả) is a Vietnamese dish, which is thought to be originated from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Bun cha is served with a plate of white rice noodle (bún) and herbs in a steamy broth.
There are a couple of 'secrets' to a good Bun cha, most important is the fish sauce. Learning how to gauge the right amount of sugar, vinegar and nuoc mam (fish sauce) is the tricky bit. The line between fish sauce heaven and a big bowl of crap is a fine one. The other secret is how the meat is grilled. It needs an extremely hot flame and should be charred on both sides. When it is placed in the bowl small flakes of black char fall off and dot the fish sauce. Standard Bun cha comes with small bites of grilled sliced pork.
In with the fish sauce are a few finely pickled sliced carrots and sliced green papaya. The cold noodles should be added a bit at a time to the fish sauce. The last part of a bun cha lunch is that impressive herb hedge pictured above. There are seven different clippings in among that lot. The sauce is what brings everything together. The fish sauce electrifies everything around it.
Bun cha normally order a side dish of spring rolls. These are filled with a dash of crabmeat, minced pork, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, translucent noodles and seasoning. You dip them in the same fish sauce with the pork balls in.
Ingredients (serve 4)
- 1 pound fresh rice vermicelli or rehydrated noodles.
- 1 head boston lettuce
- 1 bunch mint
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 large shallot, peeled and diced
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 small red chili
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons plain oil
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons coconut caramel (or palm sugar or brown sugar)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
- Dipping Sauce/Broth
- 1. Wash lettuce, mint and cilantro. Soak in salt water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside on a serving plate.
- 2. Finely chop lemon grass, garlic, shallots and chilies (or grind with a mortar and pestle). Mix with ground pork. Add remaining ingredients and mix to combine. Let marinate for 10 minutes.
- 3. Form meat into meatballs about 1 inch in diameter. Put on a grill-rack.
- 4. Cook meatballs over a charcoal fire until caramelized on the outside and cooked through, about 10 minutes depending on the fire.
- 1 cup water
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 small kohlrabi or or green papaya
- 1 small carrot, peeled
- 1 small chili, seeds removed and sliced
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 3 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1. Thinly slice green papaya and carrot. Toss with salt and let stand for 5 minutes. Rinse.
- 2. Heat water to a boil. Add garlic, chilies, fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add kohlrabi, carrots and lime juice.
- To serve, divide the dipping sauce between 4 warmed bowls, add the pork, torn lettuce leaves, bean sprouts and herbs. Then dip the noodle into the bowl and serve.