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In Love with Pho: Experience Pho Noodle Soup

Updated on May 2, 2012
anglnwu profile image

A certified health and wellness coach, I love discussing food, health benefits and how to keep weight in check,

Pho Noodle Soup

It comes already garnished with green onion and cilantro.
It comes already garnished with green onion and cilantro. | Source

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Introduced to Pho

It was a warm musky summer day, the time of the day when the day is about to fade into darkness. The time of the day when the last brilliance of the sun will slip over the horizon and darkness will spread like the wash of ink and engulf the whole of San Gabriel, an Asian community just east of Los Angeles. It was towards the end of my two-week visit to the States. My then boyfriend was trying to impress me with everything America has to offer—big spectacular national parks (we went to Zion, Arches, Yosemite and Grand Crayon), endless ocean (Redondo, Santa Monica, La Lolla), the glamour and glitz (Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas) and big sized everything from big Mac to salads enough to feed the whole family (by my reckoning). It was spectacular, it was glorious and for a small-time girl from tiny bitsy country like Singapore, totally amazing. But not enough to make me want to leave my family, my country and my friends to move here where I do not know a single person, other than my boyfriend. It would have to take something more.

We were speeding along highway 10 and contemplating dinner plans.

"Have you ever had pho?" he asked.

"Pho--what's that?"

"Then, you absolutely have to have it."

We pulled linto a little strip mall and went into a Vietnamese restaurant. Looks sketchy from the outside but he promised I won't be disappointed.

When they brought the noodle soups, the distinctive smell of star anise and cloves was at once familiar to me. Like a piece of home. They also brought a plate of fresh vegetables and garnishing, which allows the diner to further flavor the dish in whatever way they like. I thought that was totally cool.

It was love at first bite. I’m familiar with all kinds of noodle soup from fish ball soup to curry noodles but this was slightly different from what I was used to. It was light, appetizing, and flavorful and the hint of lime made it appetizing. I thought to myself, “I could eat this every day.”

As I was leaving the restaurant, I heard some people speaking in my dialect and all at once, I felt like I could belong here.

I can’t say that was pivotal in my final decision to marry and relocate but that pho experience was like the final line that joined the final dot to make a complete picture. I guess I can blame pho.

That was some years back. Since then, pho restaurants have sprouted everywhere, moving away from traditional immigrant communities into the mainstream neighborhoods. Just in the past three years, two pho restaurants have opened in my neighborhood. Today, you can find Westerners (we lovingly call them Gweilo, meaning white people) slurping noodles alongside Asians.

What is Pho?

Pho, pronounced “fuh” is a well-known Vietnamese noodle soup, usually made with beef or chicken. It is the broth that gives the soup its characteristic flavor and the quality of the pho is often judged by tasting the broth.Since the broth is the soul of the dish, making the broth just right involves time and effort and a bunch of faithful ingredients such as:

  • Marrow-rich beef bones/ chuck roast
  • Yellow onions
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Star anise
  • Cloves
  • Salt
  • Fish sauce
  • Rock sugar

Fresh vegetables and herbs


Once the broth is made, it is often used to flavor fresh rice noodles, top with thinly slice pieces of rare or cooked beef or chicken. You can eat the bowl of pho as it is but adding the garnishing can further add to the flavor and make it a totally complete meal (carb, protein and vegetables). Standard garnishings include:

  • Bean Sprouts
  • Asian basil
  • Saw-leaf herb
  • Fresh chilies (often slices of jalapeno)
  • Wedges of lime

In most Vietnamese restaurants, you will also find sauces to complement the bowl of pho. Sriracha is the usual suspect, along with hoisin sauce, fish sauce and crushed chilies.

History of Pho

As with most historical accounts, there are variations as to the origin of pho. But most agree that pho originated in the north of Vietnam, in Hanoi at the turn of the century. Vietnam was under the Chinese rule for about a thousand years and the French for about a hundred years. It is surmised that in the mid 1880’s, the French love for red meat began to trigger down to the local people, especially the upper class. Some proposed the idea that pho was actually the Vietnamese spin of the French feu(fire), a classic boiled dinner pot-au-feu. The practice of browning the onion and ginger for the broth was also similar to the method used for adding roasted onion to the classic French dish.

Others beg to differ. They contend that the Chinese was the mastermind behind the creation of pho since the word pho is rather similar to “fen”(or fan in Cantonese)—the Chinese word for “noodles.” The use of Asian spices like cinnamon, cloves, star anise, ginger is also a dead giveaway.

Along the way, the simple beef broth with noodles is augmented with fresh vegetables and herbs. And that’s how food goes—they evolve over time.

So, who invented this culinary wonder? Maybe, the French and the Chinese had a hand in crafting it but really, we’ll let the experts debate while we enjoy a bowl of pho in all its pho-glory.

Sauces that comes with Pho

Love to doctor it up?--here's everything you need.
Love to doctor it up?--here's everything you need. | Source

How to Enjoy a Bowl of Pho

  • Pho comes with a variety of toppings. Check the menu and you’ll see just how many ways pho can be enjoyed—rare beef, well-done beef, slices of brisket, tendon, tripe, beef meatballs. You can also get chicken and seafood pho.
  • It usually comes with a plate of fresh vegetables and herbs. While the bowl of pho is still piping hot, you may add these fresh garnishing. Simply use your fingers to pluck the basil leaves, shred the saw-leaf herb and add bean sprouts, chilies and don’t forget to squeeze the lime.
  • There is a number of condiments that you can choose to augment the flavor—chili sauce, hoisin sauce and fish sauce. Purists frown at the idea of using such condiments as it adulterates the pure flavor but I love mine spiced up (shh...don't le them know).
  • With all that in place, all you have to do is wield your chopsticks and spoon, dig in and enjoy.

Have you ever had pho?

See results

But that's my call. You may not like pho for whatever reason. If that's the case, here's a couple of scenarios:

Stuck with a pho-crazy date but no so crazy about pho yourself? Try other dishes and there are many--stir-fries, barbecue meats, pan-fried noodles or small appetizers like spring rolls.

Barbecue beef with rice


Looking for something light with fewer calories? Try Vietnamese spring rolls (Goi Cuon)--delicious with peanut sauce.


Feel like going full throttle 'cos you're quite the gangster when it comes to trying exotic foods?

How about pho with tripe?

Top it with Tripe

Tripe aka cow's stomach. Enjoy!
Tripe aka cow's stomach. Enjoy! | Source

Ambitious and want to make your own pho? Watch this.


Submit a Comment

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 4 years ago

    beingwell, I'm surprised they don't have pho in Thailand. Maybe, you should start one--it will be a rage. Thanks for dropping by to comment.

  • beingwell profile image

    beingwell 4 years ago from Bangkok

    Hi anglnwu! I guess this hub is really speaking to me huh? I'm missing pho hoa from the Philippines. They don't have it here in Thailand. Anyway, I joined your poll. :)

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    beingwell, good to see you again. Thanks for your comments.

  • beingwell profile image

    beingwell 5 years ago from Bangkok

    Voted up and shared.

    I love your food!!!

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Good to see you, jojokaya. Thanks for the rate up.

  • jojokaya profile image

    jojokaya 5 years ago from USA

    Great hub about Pho. Rated up

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Haha, my dear gweilo of a great friend, thanks for taking time to read my hub and comments. Glad you enjoyed it and let me know how you like the pho, the next time you try it. Thanks.

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

    A delightful read, anginwu. I could almost hear your wonderful accent! This gweilo is looking forward to trying pho noodle soup at a restaurant first, then maybe at home! Thanks for the recipe in a fun hub. :)

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    precy anza, thanks for comments. I love it too. If you notice, they love to use Cali in their name--we have a pho Cali here too.

  • precy anza profile image

    precy anza 5 years ago from USA

    Wow! Now you making me hungry :) I had such soup before and I love it! And also the nearest noodle soup place in my place was Pho Nam Cali (not sure if I got the right spelling) but I just love the noodle soup! Great hub!

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    snowdrops, it's delicious--I promise. Give it try. Thanks for commenting.

  • snowdrops profile image

    snowdrops 5 years ago from The Second Star to the Right

    Pho..looks delicious! Never heard or tried this food yet but I would love to. Anyway, I have your recipe here.. :) Thanks for sharing!

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Lady E, you're right about people. Hopefully, you'll find pho where you live and get to enjoy it. Thanks for dropping by to comment.

  • Lady_E profile image

    Elena 5 years ago from London, UK

    Amazing... See, the people we meet in life always leave us something good to remember. (Your then boy friend) :-)

    It's a very healthy dish for the body. So nutritious and would help with weight issues. First time I have heard of it. Thanks for sharing the video.

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Thanks, Lesley, glad you enjoyed reading this. Give it a try--I'm sure you'll like it.

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    einron, good to see you here. I agree some places make pho than others. When I was in France, I thought the pho was better than what I was used to in San Diego. Thanks for commenting.

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Ruchira, I'm quite sure this can be prepared with veg. stock. Even though they've pho with just vegetables in the restaurant, the stock is probably not vegetarian. Thanks for dropping by to comment.

  • Movie Master profile image

    Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

    Hi anginwu, thank you for introducing me to Pho - I must try some!

    Really enjoyed reading and great photos, many thanks my friend and voting up, best wishes Lesley

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Om, you're right, it's comfort food for me too, especially on cold days. I actually could eat this every day. Thanks for your comments.

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Dexter, try some--it's very delicious.

  • einron profile image

    einron 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

    Your description excells the food and the beautiful pictures. I had not heard of pho till I came to Canada and I do enjoy the pho. I do like the Vietnamese food in Sydney better than in Toronto.

  • Ruchira profile image

    Ruchira 5 years ago from United States

    i have heard about pho but never ventured into it 'cause me being a, can this be prepared with veg stock?

    thanks for making my brain rest in peace about this soup which is raved by my friends all over...voted up indeed!

  • Om Paramapoonya profile image

    Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

    Hey! Thanks for writing about one of my dearest foods. I can tell that you've put so much love into this hub. Pho is like a comfort food to me. I have tried quite a few variations of it and fell in love with all of them. Cheers to pho!!!!

  • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

    Dexter Yarbrough 5 years ago from United States

    Pho looks absolutely delicious. I have got to have some! Thanks for sharing!

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Thanks, sheila, do give it a try.

    Shalycriston, thanks for your comments.

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    teaches12345, I agree the soup is light and therefore a good healthy choice. Give it try the next time you go to a Vietnamese restaurant. Thanks for commenting.

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    marilynpumphrey, thanks. That was your good luck cahrm too--taking your date to the pho restaurant:)

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Arlene, thanks for voting it up and everything else. You brought up a good point--pho is light and not heavy on calories--quite the way to go when counting calories. I may add a nutritional capsule after this. Again, I appreciate you coming by to comment.

  • shalycriston profile image

    Shaly Criston 5 years ago from USA

    Wow it's fantastic hub on "Pho Noodle Soup". Good job, Keep it up :)

  • sheila b. profile image

    sheila b. 5 years ago

    Next time I'm in the city I'll look for some. Sounds wonderful!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

    This is my first time hearing about this soup. I am willing to try it based upon what you have posted. I think it is a great food choice for those who want to keep eating healthy. Thanks for sharing.

  • marlynpumphrey profile image

    Marlyn Munoz 5 years ago from Honolulu, HI

    My favorite soup ever. Great HUB!

  • profile image

    Arlene V. Poma 5 years ago

    VOTED UP AND EVERYTHING ELSE. Excellent hub on pho, angin! I was introduced to pho last year, so I now really know the secret for keeping the weight down during a cruise. I had a bowl for dinner while everyone was having all the fattening stuff. Now, I have pho with chicken stock and all the goodies. A "must" is cilantro! Wouldn't mind trying pho with tripe, but I have to find it.