Friday, December 18, 2009

Vietnamese Food: Pho

When I was in Vietnam, the only local food that I ate the most, is Phở , especially Phở Mo, the beef noodle soup. It is just like Bak Ku Teh in Malaysia, if you are in Vietnam, and you have not taken Phở, you have not been to Vietnam. Phở is the national dish of Vietnam.

My first taste of Phở, is not in Vietnam, but in Melbourne, Australia. I was there staying in my childhood friend's house. His wife is a Vietnamese Chinese(or Hoa) from Saigon. The time was after Chinese New Year, but before Chap Go Mae(15th of first month of Lunar Calendar). The weather was cold, and she cooked for me a specially prepared Phở. I normally do not take beef,but the aroma of the herbal ingredient attracted me, remind me the Laksa of Penang, I ate a big bowl of Phở, including finishing the soup. That indicated the food is good. The 2nd time was in Kuantan, when a new Vietnamese restaurant was opened in Jalan Tun Ismail,just opposite Mega Mall. But it was not as good as what I had taken in Melbourne. The restaurant closed after a short span of time. But I still remember fondly the aroma of the Phở . I did not know the name of the noodle at that time, just called it Vietnamese Beef Noodle.

This time when I visited Hanoi, Hue and Saigon; the food I ate the most is Phở.

The first Vietnamese word I learnt in Hanoi, is "ga", which means chicken. This is because there is a street called Hang Ga in Hanoi's old quarter. The other word was Phở . So of I want chicken pho, I called it " Pho Ga". There was an incident when we went to a Phở food stall at one of the street at Hanoi. My brother in law asked for beef ball noodle, he said in English " Beef Ball" noodle. The food stall owner, a young Vietnamese knew some simple English. He understand beef and noodle, but mistaken beef ball means "Bo", and repeatedly answered and pointed to the bowl of Phở, continue saying "bo, bo, and bo". My brother in law repeatedly explained "no, no, no, no beef ball". The owner got fed up, and may have said some four figure words, thinking we are stupid, and do not know what is beef. That is how we later learn from Hanoikid( a non-profit organization in Hanoi, where university students was taking their spare time to voluntarily work as tour guide, in order to expose themselves to English speaking environment) that "bo" is actually means beef. The Phở I ate in Melbourne was Phở Bò, the Vietnamese beef noodle. the beef ball in Vietnamese is called Bò Viên.

Phở is actually means noodle, but it is generally refer to Vietnamese beef noodle soup. The soup includes noodles made from rice, in clear beef broth, with thin cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket). Variations feature tendon, tripe, meatballs, chicken leg, chicken breast, or other chicken organs. 'With the lot' (made with chicken broth and all or most of the shop's chicken and cattle offerings, including chicken hearts and livers and beef tripe and tendons) is known as 'Phở đặc biệt' (specialty phở). The broth is generally made by simmering beef (and sometimes chicken) bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, and spices, taking several hours to prepare. Seasonings can include Saigon cinnamon or other kinds of cinnamon as alternatives (can using stick or powder), star anise, roasted ginger , black cardamom , coriander seed , fennel seed and clove

It is often served with basil, lime, bean sprouts and peppers that are added to the soup by the customer.

Street side eateries in Vietnam typically advertise phở and cơm. Though cơm literally means rice, the sign means the restaurant serves a plate of rice accompanied with fish or meat and vegetables. Though they may look filthy, street side eateries are generally safe so long as you avoid undercooked food. Generally speaking, the phở served at roadside stalls tends to be cheaper and taste better than those served in fancier restaurants.

Types of Pho
# Phở Bò: traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup
# Phở Gà: a variation of pho made with chicken instead of beef Meats

Types of Meat used:
# Tái: rare beef steak slices
# Nạm: sliced flank
# Vè Dòn: crunchy flank
# Gầu: fatty flank
# Chín Nạc: sliced beef brisket
# Gân: tendon
# Sách: tripe
# Bò Viên: beef meatballs

Vegetables used:
# Quế: basil
# Ngò gai: sawgrass or saw leaf herb
# Giá: bean sprouts
# Hành: scallions
# Ngò: cilantro
# Ớt: chili

# Chanh: lime
# Tương Ớt: chili sauce (usually Sriracha hot chili sauce)
# Tương Ăn Phở: literally translated it means "sauce with which to eat phở," but more specifically means hoisin sauce or "plum sauce"

Varieties of phở by ingredients

* Phở bò tái: Phở with half-done beef fillet.
* Phở bò chín nạc: Phở with well-done beef brisket.
* Phở bắp bò: Phở with beef muscle.
* Phở nạm bò: Phở with beef flank.
* Phở gân bò: Phở with beef tendon.
* Phở bò tái: Phở with half-done beef fillet.
* Phở bò chín nạc: Phở with well-done beef brisket.
* Phở bắp bò: Phở with beef muscle.
* Phở nạm bò: Phở with beef flank.
* Phở gân bò: Phở with beef tendon.
* Phở sách bò: Phở with beef tripe.
* Phở bò viên: Phở with beef meat balls.
* Phở gà: Chicken phở.
* Phở sot vang: Phở in beef stew soup
* Phở tái: Phở with raw beef fillet.

Phở without visible pieces of meat (called phở rau), or vegetarian phở (called phở chay). Phở rau (rau literally meaning "leafy greens," but implying vegetables) may use a meat-based broth, while phở chay (literally "Buddhist vegetarian phở") features a non-meat broth. Preparation time the non-meat-based broth is much shorter and simpler, but results in a different and lighter broth taste compared to the traditional beef noodle soup.

Seafood-based phở is now also commonly available.


The origin of Phở was not documented, and remain unknown. The first phở restaurant was opened in the 1920s in Hanoi

The specific place of origin appears to be southwest of Hanoi in Nam Dinh province, then a substantial textile market, where cooks sought to please both Vietnamese (local rice noodles - originally of Chinese origin) and French tastes (cattle before the French arrival being beasts of burden, not sources of beef). Phở did not become popular in South Vietnam until the mid-1950s, when some North Vietnamese came to the south when communist took over North Vietnam. Now even Pho restaurant chains, known as Pho 24 is popular as fast food chain in Vietnam.

Pho has become popular in the United States, especially on the East and West Coast; pho was introduced by Vietnamese refugees who settled there from the late 70s onwards, during and after Vietnam War.

1 comment:

  1. hi Mr Boon I was asked to find out Vietnamese refugee camp in Malaysia and noted you have a very interesting blog on it, is there anyway my friend can get in touch with you to discuss this matter?