September 2023
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PHO BO – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

by Admin

We all ate Pho and loved it while in Saigon (and even today).

I don’t know of any Saigon Kid that didn’t at some time eat Pho and enjoy it. It was a staple in Saigon eateries and with street vendors.

In this week’s video Helen is going to show us how we can make Pho Bo at home.

So now you can forget those tasteless instant ramien noddles and make up a bowl of home made Pho instead.

The recipe is below the video, and a quick history of Pho.


Ingredients (8 servings)

For the broth:

1-3kg beef marrow/knuckle bones = 2-6 lb, the more the merrier 🙂
500g beef (outside flank, brisket or cross rib roast)
1 onion
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

For the PHO aroma:

2 piece ginger (size of your thumb), sliced
3 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
2-3 black cardamons
1 medium onion ( or 3 shallots)
Optional: 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp coriander seeds (or 3 coriander roots)

For the bowls:

1kg dried flat rice noodle “banh pho” (2lb dried or 4lb fresh noodle)
300g fresh beef, finely sliced


1 medium yellow onion, sliced paper-thin, left to soak for 30 minutes in a bowl of cold water
4 spring onion, white part separated, green part chopped.
Asian/Thai basil (hung que), Sawtooth herbs (ngo gai)
Lime wedges, blanched bean sprouts, hoisin sauce, siracha etc.

Where did it come from …

Northern Pho

Northern style Pho served with quay

Pho originated in the early 20th century in northern Vietnam, southeast of Hanoi in Nam Dinh Province, then a substantial textile market. The traditional home of pho is the villages of Van Cu and Dao Cu (or Giao Cu) in Dong Xuan commune, Nam Truc District, Nam Dinh Province. According to villagers, pho was eaten in Van Cu long before the French colonial period when it was popularized.

Pho was originally sold at dawn and dusk by roaming street vendors, shouldering mobile kitchens on carrying poles (ganh pho). From the pole hung two wooden cabinets, one housing a cauldron over a wood fire, the other storing noodles, spices, cookware, and space to prepare a bowl of pho. Pho vendors kept their heads warm with distinctive, disheveled felt hats called mu pho.

Hanoi’s first two fixed pho stands were a Vietnamese-owned Cat Tuong on Cau Go Street and a Chinese-owned stand in front of Bo Ho tram stop. They were joined in 1918 by two more on Quat Row and Dong Row. Around 1925, a Van Cu villager named Van opened the first “Nam Dinh style” pho stand in Hanoi. Ganh pho declined in number around 1936–1946 in favor of stationary eateries.

During the late 1920s, various vendors experimented with hung liu (a seasoning made of ground cinnamon, star anise, thao qua, and clove), sesame oil, tofu, and even Lethocerus indicus extract (ca cuong). This “pho cai luong” failed to enter the mainstream.

Pho tai, served with beef cooked rare, had been introduced by 1930. Chicken pho appeared in 1939, possibly because beef was not sold at the markets on Mondays and Fridays at the time.

Southern style pho served with basil and bean sprout

Southern Pho

Southern style Pho served with basil and bean sprout.

With the Partition of Vietnam in 1954, over a million people fled North Vietnam for the South. Pho, previously unpopular in the South, suddenly took off. No longer confined to northern culinary traditions, variations in meat and broth appeared, and additional garnishes, such as lime, bean sprouts, cilantro (ngo gai), cinnamon basil (hung que), and Hoisin sauce (tuong den), became standard fare. Pho tai also began to rival fully cooked pho chin in popularity.

Meanwhile, in North Vietnam, private pho restaurants were nationalized (mau dich quoc doanh) and began serving pho noodles made from old rice, while street vendors were expected to use noodles made of imported potato flour.

During the so-called “subsidy period” following the Vietnam War, state-owned pho eateries served a meatless variety of the dish known as “pilotless pho” (pho khong nguoi lai), in reference to the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned reconnaissance drones. The broth consisted of boiled water with MSG added for taste, as there were often shortages on various foodstuffs like meat and rice during that period. Bread or cold rice was often served as a side dish, leading to the present-day practice of dipping quay in pho.

After the Vietnam War ended in 1975 fleeing Vietnam refugee’s spread far and wide around the world taking their Pho with them and globalizing Pho.

Did you eat Pho in Saigon?

Did you like it?

What was your favorite place for Pho?

Do you still enjoy Pho today?

What place has the best Pho in your town?

As always, you’re welcome to leave your comments below.

5 comments to PHO BO – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

  • Michael Smith

    This was my favorite soup in Vietnam, I have missed this for many years, thank you, and many Blessing to you.

  • Jim Lou

    If you are interested, you should go to the various Vietnamese/Chinese-Vietnamese areas. This includes NYC Chinatowns in Manhattan Flushing) and LA area. In some cases they are very good.

    • Jim – Yes, NYC Chinatown is awesome! I’ve bought a lot of stuff there. When I lived in the Mid-Atlantic area I’d visit NYC Chinatown about once a month to shop for food and by 24K gold. Some great places to eat there too on Mott Street and surrounding area. And, of course, the *Little Saigon* areas of most major cities have some great places to eat .. yummy yummy yummy — 🙂


  • frank

    I think china town in Honolulu has some of the best Pho. I find eating there is not just having a great meal, but having an experience!

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