The Mysterious & Delicious Food Called – “Pho”

Vietnamese Noodle Dish Called Pho

So What is ‘Pho’? (pronounced like ‘duh’ only with an ‘f’ sound)

If you’re looking for an adventure in a bowl, then maybe you should give Pho a try.  Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup dish that has several core ingredients and a whole lot of optional tasty morsels that can be thrown into the bowl along with those.

First of all, here’s what you have to understand about pho.  When I say that Pho is a delicious food, it’s almost like saying that hamburgers are a delicious food.  Sure, hamburgers are fantastic right?  The only problem with the statement is that if I were to ask 10 people to describe their favorite hamburgers, then as you have probably already guessed, I’ll get 10 different answers.  I mean think about it.  Tomatoes?  What kind of chesse – blue cheese, american, cheddar, or something entirely different.  What kind of bun?  What other toppings?  Mustard?  Ketchup?  Thousand Island?  Maybe some other type of special sauce entirely?  Oh, and we’re already assuming that we’re using beef, but is that 80% lean or maybe 85% lean?  Well, enough talk about burgers.  That’s kind of what pho is like.  There are probably a million different combinations and variations you could try, but at the end of the day we’re going to call whatever gets thrown into the bowl Pho.

There are some basic ingredients though, and these are the things you can pretty much guarantee will be in each meal:

    • First of All is an enormous bowl of broth. The stock, like most, is made from boiling beef bones, spices, things like ox tales, and other variations that I’m pretty sure depend on what is laying around the kitchen when they make it.
    • Next, you’ll find at the bottom of that bowl of soup a heaping helping of rice noodles.  They’re good, so eat them.
    • If you get Beef Pho, then you can plan on some mystery type meatballs. (my favorite thing in the bowl usually)  There will probably also be some strips of flank type steak that are placed in the soup raw and then cooked by the residual heat of the broth.  There are frequently other cuts of beef included, and sometimes tripe.  (not my favorite ingredient, but not terrible)
    • If you get Seafood Pho, then you can plan on shrimp, squid, and maybe some crab – along with the ever present aforementioned meatballs.
    • However, if you’re smart, you’ll order Combination Pho which includes the beef and seafood meats.
    • Alongside the bowl, will be what looks like a plate full of salad greens.  They frequently have basil, mint, large leafy greens, small peppers, and lime. (it varies a little here too)  I typically use the mint, basil, one of the peppers, and the juice of the lime.  (added to the bowl)
    • You’ll also typically find a small plate or helping of bean sprouts.  They add a nice fresh textural element to the soup, so add them too.

At this point, you have a really good bowl of Vietnamese (or Thai) Pho.  Already a great bowl of food that will leave you feeling satisfied in a way that is somehow strangely reminiscent of southern comfort food.

There are a lot of optional seasonings that you can add to your bowl to customize the experience to your little heart’s content.  Here are some of the popular ones:

      • Beef Paste: In my opinion an absolute necessity. A large heaping spoonful or two does nicely.
      • Garlic Chili Oil: Also a must in my bowl, but be careful – a little goes a long way.
      • Siracha: This is a hot sauce that has a fairly strong vinegar flavor, and so it’s not my personal fav, but a dash or seven isn’t bad.
      • Soy Sauce: They even serve this in public school now, so no explanation needed here.
      • Sugar: Yep, some people like it sweet. Some people like it really really sweet. (none for me)
      • Chili Flakes: More heat – kind of self explanatory
      • Shrimp Paste: I have the most fun just opening this up and having people smell it. If you’ve ever smelled stink bait they use for catfish, then exaggerate that a whole lot. Potent stuff that I don’t add to my bowl.
      • Misc: Hoisin sauce, salt, mystery sauce in a mustard bottle. Try a taste and then add at your own risk.

I have to give props to my good friend Jon for introducing me to this unique dish that has become one of my personal favorites.  Admittedly if you’re idea of food adventure is trying the new nugget sauce at McDonald’s, then Pho probably isn’t for you.  However, if you’re a fan of Vietnamese cuisine and don’t mind stopping into a restaurant where English is spoken little or not at all, then you’ll be thrilled with the experience.  Which brings me to a final point.  You can find Pho at most any Vietnamese or Thai restaurant, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the more ‘hole-in-the-wall’ vibe the restaurant has, the better the pho will be.

Happy eating.

Question:  Have you ever tried Pho?  Share your Pho experience and how you like it by leaving a comment below.


  • John

    Hi Jeremy, there is a company called “The Great Courses”. They take the best professors from colleges and universities, and they have them do their courses in a studio. They now have several courses (some 36, half hour courses) on cooking. I just bought one of their courses on the History of Food. You can Google them. During the year all of their courses go on sale (70% off), add in a discount coupon, you can find online, and you can get 80% off. Never pay full price for any of their courses, wait until it’s on sale.

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot

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