Pho Soup
Phö is hearty enough to be served as a main course. Add as many basil leaves, bean sprouts and scallions as you like. Photo © Simon Gurney | Dreamstime.

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February 2011
Last Updated June 2015

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Soups & Stocks

Phö Recipe: Vietnamese Soup

Phö Soup Is Comfort Food



Phö, pronounced FUH (rhymes with “duh”), is the beloved beef and rice noodle soup of Vietnam. It’s as emotional a comfort food as Jewish chicken soup; although there is probably more argument about the superior qualities of the perfect phö than the perfect chicken soup. And the Vietnamese eat it for breakfast.

A steaming bowl of phö can have up to 30 ingredients that create a heady aroma and flavor. Beef, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fish sauce, ginger, onions and star anise are just some of what goes into this exciting soup. The scent is as exciting as any dish you can name.

Slurping—very declassé in the U.S.—is the proper way to show your enjoyment of the soup.he 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 consumer.

The History Of Phö

Culinary historians believe that phö developed as a street food around the beginning of the 20th century in Nam Dinh province, southwest of Hanoi. Food vendors catered to Vietnamese—who loved the noodle soups that originated in China*—as well as French colonists, who loved beef. (Before the arrival of the French, cattle were largely beasts of burden, not food).

In fact, one theory about the origin of the name is that it comes from the French dish pot-au-feu (literally, pot to fire, signifying a dish of boiled beef). The last word in the French dish is pronounced FUH, just like phö. As an additional clue, phö employs the French technique of adding charred onion to the broth for color and flavor: it’s French-Vietnamese-Chinese fusion food.


In fact, the original phö was much simpler than today’s soup with 10 or so garnishes (basil, bean sprouts, black pepper, chiles, lime, nuoc mam (sriracha sauce), onion, saw leaf (thorny cilantro, long coriander, saw-tooth cilantro, culantro and other names), scallions and spearmint. The original is northern pho.
The saw leaf herb has many names. Learn more at the University of Graz.


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Thanks to the number of Vietnamese emigrants to America, fabulous phö is becoming wide spread (there are phö chains throughout California that offer variations of the dish, raw beef phö (phö bo tai), chicken phö (phö ga) and pork phö (phö lon) among them. The rich, spicy broth, chewy rice noodles and fresh herbs are soul food for any soul.


*Vietnam was a tributary state to neighboring China for much of its history. In the late 19th century, Vietnam was colonized by France and called French Indochina, until 1954. The Geneva Accord of 1954 granted independence from France; the territory was split into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. At this time, the United States began its involvement in Vietnam, which led to the Vietnam War as the U.S. strove to keep South Vietnam free of the Communism of North Vietnam.

Continue To Page 2: Phö Soup Recipe


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