Vietnam draws thousands of foodies each year who are eager to explore the country’s large selection of fresh and simple food. The options are nearly endless, and it’s no exaggeration to say one would need to invest a few years in order to sample everything.
Vietnamese cuisine in general has clear regional distinctions. Hanoi is famous for xoi xeo, the dish with sticky rice, fried onions and ground mung beans. Hue features a plethora of gelatinized rice and tapas style dishes, and Hoi An is known for cau lau, a soup with noodles made from the ashes of local trees. But there’s one Vietnamese soup dish that transcends not just regional geography, but has become popular all over the world – pho.
Pho is a relatively recent food creation, making its first appearance in a Hanoi textile market at the turn of the 20th century. But the dish has come a long way from its regional beginnings and today, pho is available everywhere —on the street, in small, family run restaurants, and even in franchise-style restaurants.
Pho is a soup made from simple ingredients: Beef, marrow-rich beef bones, star anise, roasted ginger, roasted onion, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed and clove. The simplicity of the dish, along with the flavor, contributes to pho’s widespread appeal.
There’s no denying that the broth is the most important element of Vietnamese pho. It is in fact the key to a successful bowl of pho. Once the broth is ready, it is served with a generous portion of rice noodles and garnishes such as green onions, white onions, Thai basil, fresh chili peppers, lemon or lime wedges, bean sprouts and coriander or cilantro. Fish sauce, hoisin sauce and chili sauce are all common options for adding more flavor to the broth.
Pho lovers judge a bowl served to them in a restaurant by sipping the broth first without putting in any seasoning or garnishes, but the Vietnamese always say that the best pho you will ever taste is the one cooked by your own mother.
While it’s not uncommon to see women starting the broth before sunrise to accommodate the impending breakfast rush—though pho can be eaten at any time of day— many young adults say their own mothers have given up making pho because of the time needed to prepare the broth. Now if they want to enjoy pho, they go out to fulfill their craving for the dish. Thanks to its popularity, it’s not difficult enjoy a delicious bowl of soup rain or shine, day or night.