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.
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:
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)
Chicken pho Ingredients (serve 4)
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.