Pho is the national dish of Vietnam – comforting, fulfilling, incredibly intense and with humble beginnings.
The first record of pho was noted just over a century ago during the unification of Vietnam under French rule in 1887. It is theorized by culinary experts that the word pho comes from the French “feu” or “fire,” or was adapted from “pot au feu”, a French beef stew. It took on new forms lent from both sides of the separation of Vietnam (north and south) in 1954. And when Saigon fell in 1975, pho soupmaking traditions traveled out of the country with the masses and into large soup bowls across the world.
Pho (pronounced “fuh,”) is Vietnamese noodle soup traditionally set in a deep bowl with rice noodles and served with a mini soup ladle and chopsticks. The stock is made from beef marrow (calf bones simmered for hours to extract the fats,) thinly sliced raw beef that cooks when it hits the steaming broth, then flavored with spices and topped with herbs, lime juice, chilies and bean shoots. It is deceptively simple in its presentation and enormously complex to execute in a traditional form. Pho from two different kitchens will never taste identical – there are too many nuances.
To spot an authentic pho restaurant, look for menus with variations including tendon, tripe, and chicken heart. If you are lucky to live in an area with a large Asian population, you will probably find pho restaurants tucked in and around town. And if pho is not in your area, you can always pick up a copy of a southeast Asian cookbook or hop on a flight to Hanoi and slurp a bowl from the motherland.
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