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Vietnamese phở noodle soup, Saigon-Style

Phở ( ; often written pho in the US where it is typically ) is a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup. The soup includes noodles made from rice and is often served with basil, lime, bean sprouts and peppers that are added to the soup by the customer.

Ingredients and preparation

Phở is served in a bowl with white rice noodles in clear beef broth, with thin cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket). Variations feature tendon, tripe, meatballs, chicken leg, chicken breast, or other chicken organs. 'With the lot' (made with chicken broth and all or most of the shop's chicken and cattle offerings, including chicken hearts and livers and beef tripe and tendons) is known as 'Phở đặc biệt' (specialty phở).


The broth is generally made by simmering beef (and sometimes chicken) bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, and spices, taking several hours to prepare. Seasonings can include Saigon cinnamon (quế Trà My) or other kinds of cinnamon as alternatives (can using stick or powder), star anise (hoa hồi or đại hồi), roasted ginger (gừng nướng), black cardamom (thảo quả), coriander seed (hạt ngò), fennel seed (tiểu hồi) and clove (đinh hương).


Vietnamese dishes are meals typically served with lots of greens, herbs, vegetables and various other accompaniments such as dipping sauces, hot and spicy pastes, and flavor enhancements such as a squeeze of lime or lemon. The dish is garnished with ingredients such as green onions, white onions, coriander, Thai basil (húng quế) (should not be confused with sweet basil - Vietnamese: húng chó or húng dổi), fresh Thai chili peppers, lemon or lime wedges, bean sprouts, and leaves of culantro (ngò gai) (should not be confused with cilantro or coriander - which is called ngò rí in Vietnamese. The coriander plant is used just for its seeds - hạt ngò to prepare the broth, but not its leaves).

Several ingredients do not come with pho but can be ordered by request. Extra beef fat in broth or nuoc beo can be ordered and comes with scallions to sweeten it. A popular side dish ordered upon request is hanh dam, or vinegared white onions.

Origins and regional differences

Phở gà at a typical phở street stall in Hanoi.
Note the lack of side garnishes, typical of Northern Vietnamese-style phở.
Because not much was written about the origin of phở until recently, its beginnings are a bit murky and mostly culled from oral histories. Still, the consensus among academics, diners and restaurateurs is that it originated about a century ago in northern Vietnam. It was originally sold by vendors from large boxes, until the first phở restaurant was opened in the 1920s in Hanoi.

While a distinctly Vietnamese dish, phở has French and Chinese influences. The origin of the word was one subject in a seminar on phở held in Hanoi in 2003. One theory advanced at the seminar is that the name comes from the French feu (fire), as in the dish pot-au-feu, which like pho uses the French method of adding charred o­nion to the broth for color and flavor, one of the techniques which distinguishes pho from other Asian noodle soups. Some believe the origin of the word to be the Chinese fen (). In addition to rice noodles, multiple spices (such as star anise and cassia) are staples of Chinese cuisine (cassia used in phở is Saigon Cinnamon, a local ingredient).

The variations in meat, broth and additional garnishes such as lime, bean sprouts, ngò gai (eryngium foetidum), hung que (Thai/Asian basil), and tuong (bean sauce/hoisin sauce) appear to be innovations introduced in the south.

The specific place of origin appears to be southwest of Hanoi in Nam Dinh provincemarker, then a substantial textile market, where cooks sought to please both Vietnamese (local rice noodles - originally of Chinese origin) and French tastes (cattle before the French arrival being beasts of burden, not sources of beef).

Phở did not become popular in South Vietnam until the mid-1950s.

Pho has become popular in the United States, especially on the East Coast; such a cuisine brought by Vietnamese refugees who settled there from the late 70s onwards.

Styles of phở

Varieties of phở by ingredients

  • Phở bò tái: Phở with half-done beef fillet.
  • Phở bò chín nạc: Phở with well-done beef brisket.
  • Phở bắp bò: Phở with beef muscle.
  • Phở nạm bò: Phở with beef flank.
  • Phở gân bò: Phở with beef tendon.
  • Phở sách bò: Phở with beef tripe.
  • Phở bò viên: Phở with beef meat balls.
  • Phở gà: Chicken phở.
  • Phở sot vang: Phở in beef stew soup
  • Phở tái: Phở with raw beef fillet.

Variants of phở

Recent variants include ostrich-or-small-clam-based, called phở đà điểu or phở nghêu, or phở without visible pieces of meat (called phở rau), or vegetarian phở (called phở chay). Phở rau (rau literally meaning "leafy greens," but implying vegetables) may use a meat-based broth, while phở chay (literally "Buddhist vegetarian phở") features a non-meat broth. Preparation time the non-meat-based broth is much shorter and simpler, but results in a different and lighter broth taste compared to the traditional beef noodle soup. Seafood-based phở is also commonly available.


  1. pho, Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Draft entry, Mar. 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
  2. Johnathon Gold Pho Town; Noodle stories from South El Monte Dec. 12-18 2008 LA Weekly
  3. Nguyen, Andrea Q., " The Evolution of Phở," San Jose Mercury News, reprinted at Pho 24 website
  4. Why is Pho Top Dish Saigon Times Weekly - No.10 . December 2004, reprinted at Pho 24 website
  5. This character is pronounced phấn in Vietnamese.
  6. A Bowl of Pho SFGATE . November 1997,

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