Phở or pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat, primarily made with either beef or chicken. Pho is a popular street food in Vietnam and the specialty of a number of restaurant chains around the world. Pho originated in the early 20th century in northern Vietnam, and was popularized throughout the rest of the world by refugees after the Vietnam War. Because pho’s origins are poorly documented, there is significant disagreement over the cultural influences that led to its development in Vietnam, as well as the etymology of the word itself. The Hanoi and Saigon styles of pho differ by noodle width, sweetness of broth, and choice of herbs. A related noodle soup, bún bò Huế, is associated with Huế in central Vietnam.
Ingredients and preparation
Pho is served in a bowl with a specific cut of white rice noodles in clear beef broth, with thin cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket). Variations feature tendon, tripe, or meatballs in southern Vietnam. Chicken pho is made using the same spices as beef, but the broth is made using only chicken bones and meat, as well as some internal organs of the chicken, such as the heart, the undeveloped eggs and the gizzard.
The broth for beef pho is generally made by simmering beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, charred ginger and spices. For a more intense flavor, the bones may still have beef on them. Chicken bones also work and produce a similar broth. Seasonings can include Saigon cinnamon or other kinds of cinnamon as alternatives (may use usually in stick form, sometimes in powder form in pho restaurant franchises overseas), star anise, roasted ginger, roasted onion, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed, and clove. The broth takes several hours to make. For chicken pho, only the meat and bones of the chicken are used in place of beef and beef bone. The remaining spices remain the same, but the charred ginger can be omitted, since its function in beef pho is to subdue the quite strong smell of beef.
The spices, often wrapped in cheesecloth or a soaking bag to prevent them from floating all over the pot, usually contain cloves, star anise, coriander seed, fennel, cinnamon, black cardamom, ginger, and onion.
Careful cooks often roast ginger and onion over an open fire for about a minute before adding them to the stock, to bring out their full flavor. They also skim off all the impurities that float to the top while cooking; this is the key to a clear broth. Nước mắm (fish sauce) is added toward the end.
Vietnamese dishes are typically served with lots of greens, herbs, vegetables, and various other accompaniments, such as dipping sauces, hot and spicy pastes, and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice; it may also be served with hoisin sauce. The dish is garnished with ingredients such as green onions, white onions, Thai basil (not to be confused with sweet basil), fresh Thai chili peppers, lemon or lime wedges, bean sprouts, and cilantro (coriander leaves) or culantro. Fish sauce, hoisin sauce, chili oil and hot chili sauce (such as Sriracha sauce) may be added to taste as accompaniments.
Several ingredients not generally served with pho may be ordered by request. Extra-fatty broth (nước béo) can be ordered and comes with scallions to sweeten it. A popular side dish ordered upon request is hành dấm, or vinegared white onions.
Before 1975, famous pho shops in Saigon included Phở Công Lý, Phở Tàu Bay, Phở Tàu Thủy, and Phở Bà Dậu. Pasteur Street (phố phở Pasteur) was a street famous for its beef pho, while Hien Vuong Street (phố phở Hiền Vương) was known for its chicken pho. At Phở Bình, American soldiers dined as Việt Cộng agents planned the Tết Offensive just upstairs. Nowadays in Ho Chi Minh City, well known restaurants include: Phở Hòa Pasteur and Phở 2000, which U.S. President Bill Clinton visited in 2000.
One of the largest restaurant chains in Vietnam is Pho 24, a subsidiary of Highlands Coffee, with 60 locations in Vietnam and 20 abroad. The largest pho chain in the United States is Phở Hòa, which operates over 70 locations in seven countries.
In 2011, Tiato in Santa Monica, California, auctioned off bowls of “AnQi Phở”, prepared with type A5 Wagyu beef, white truffles, foie gras broth, and noodles made of rare blue lobster meat, with a starting price of $5,000. Proceeds benefited Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.
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