Pho. It’s hardly a name to get you very excited about, but it’s what is in your average pho that is turning heads and winning fans all over the world.
In fact such is the demand and interest in pho that it has fast become one of the biggest food trends of the year.
Pho is as a traditional dish as you can get. It originates from the street food stalls of Vietnam and is part of the country’s staple diet.
It is easy to see why as it is so easy and cheap to make. You only need rice noodles, a few herbs, some meat, normally beef or chicken, and some stock.
It is also a dish that can be eaten at any time of day. In southern Vietnam they even have pho for breakfast.
Worldwide interest in pho really came after the Vietnam War when refugees travelled the world taking their favourite soup with them.
But it has been the interest in Asian soup style dishes in recent years, with the equal interest in laksa, that has pushed pho in to mainstream cuisine.
These soups are very much seen as being part of a healthy diet, with good protein, but low calorie levels.
There are two distinct styles of pho. A Hanoi and Shanghai version. This comes down to the size of noodle used and type of herbs.
Pho: a history
Pho is thought to have originated at the start of the 20th century in the villages of Vàn Cù and Dao Cù south east of Hanoi.
It is the result of a combination of cultures coming together. The French, who during their colonial period in Vietnam, also brought a greater demand for beef, with the bones ending up as the base for pho. Then there was a need to feed workers who had travelled from China, particularly the districts of Yunnan and Guangdong, who asked for noodle dishes like they had at home.
Pho was originally sold at dawn and dusk by street vendors who would carry the equivalent of a mobile kitchen hung from a pole over their shoulders. One would contain a cauldron with a wood fire, the other a store for noodles, spices, bowls and cookery equipment.
Pho vendors were said to be distinctive in that in to keep their heads warm they wore distinctive, felt hats.
Worldwide love for pho
Wherever Vietnamese communities have built up then pho has followed. Pho is the mainstay of any Vietnamese restaurant and it is now possible to enjoy pho in most cities across the US, particularly in California and Texas.
Its French influence also means it is commonly eaten in Vietnamese restaurants in Paris.
London and the UK is its latest hot spot with a whole host of noodle bars opening up with pho being one of the best sellers.
What’s in a typical pho
Pho is a combination of a meat, clear broth and spices and herbs. The clear broth is made by boiling meat bones, be they chicken, beef or oxtails, and then combining them with roasted onion, ginger and spices.
For the spices a typical broth might include a type of cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom, coriander seeds, fennel seed and cloves.
It is then served with a host of garnishes, green onions, greens, vegetables, herbs, including coriander, and a range of dipping sauces, hot and spicy pastes, and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. Fish and hoisin sauce can be added depending on people’s tastes.
Key things to know
The main thing to know about pho is that it actually refers to the noodles that are used not the actual soup. There are a number of soup dishes in Vietnamese cuisine but pho is the only one to use pristine white rice flour noodles.
Oh, and it’s quite OK to put your face right up to the bowl and slurp the soup down whilst pushing noodles in to your mouth. And when there is nothing left but the soup, feel free to just lift the bowl and glug it down.
It’s what you’re eating that’s important, not how you eat it.