Vietnamese Food Pho – Things not everyone knows about Pho Bo

Things not everyone knows about Pho Bo (Vietnamese food pho)

vietnamese food pho
A bowl of Pho Bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup)

It’s long since Vietnamese food Pho has become Viet Nam’s “national dish”, Pho has different variations but Ha Noi beef noodle soup is probably the most famous one. Let’s learn more about the origins, recipes and tastes …of such rather familiar beef noodle soup

vietnamese food pho
The late night Vietnamese noodle soup with the price of 5000 dong in weaving city (Nam Dinh)
vietnamese food pho
Beef meat and bones cast down on to the ground are immediately delivered to traditional noodle soup restaurants
vietnamese food pho
Pho Chửi, a famous noodle soup store in Nam Dinh, mainly sold to “bosses”

The origins of  Vietnamese food Pho

Pho is usually thought to have been invented in the early part of the 20th century. There are two different theories that either Nam Dinh or Ha Noi is the birthplace of Vietnamese food Pho in Viet Nam, which is also the place where Pho becomes well-known. As for the origins of this dish, an argument claims that Pho originated in a Guangdong dish called ngưu nhục phấn . Others believe that Pho evolved from “Xao Trau”, which is served with Bun (Vietnamese round shape rice noodles) and then it was adapted to “Xáo bò” using Bánh Cuốn (steamed rolled rice pancakes). Another theory proposes that Pho had its origin in the making of pot-au-feu, a French beef stew dish, served with Vietnamese condiments and aromatic herbs.
Despite many theories regarding the origins of Vietnamese food Pho, it is certain that Pho came from the North Viet Nam. Pho, then penetrated the Central and the South in the mid-1950s after the defeat of France in Indochina and Viet Nam was divided into two parts. Many Northerners migrated Southwards in 1954, bringing their Pho culture with them and Pho began to make a difference
Today, Pho has different spices and cooking styles. In Viet Nam, they are distinguished by names such as Pho Bac (come from the North), Pho Hue (come from the Central) and Pho Sai Gon (come from the South). Normally, the Northern noodle soup is typical of its salty taste while the Southern one with a lot of fresh vegetables has sweet flavor. Rice noodles (Banh Pho) in the South is smaller than those in the North.
In the past, only the well-done beef noodle soup with “chín-bắp-nạm-gầu” is served to customers. Later on, Pho tai (rare beef noodle soup) and Pho Ga (Chicken noodle soup) were also adopted by dinners. Afterwards, some restaurants tried on noodle soups with duck meat and swan meat but it was unsuccessful. Besides, there were some other dishes requiring traditional rice noodles like Pho cuon (pho spring roll), Pho Xao ( stir-fried pho) and Pho Ran ( pan-fried pho) which appeared in the 1970s and 1980s respectively.
Thach Lam, the author of Ha Noi- 36 districts wrote in her book that:
Pho is a special gift of Ha Noi, not just only in Ha Noi but only in Ha Noi is delicious. A delectable bowl of Pho must be Pho “Co dien” ( traditional noodle soup) cooked with beef meat, its broth should be pure and sweet, the rice noodles requires sotfty without being smashed, the bucket fat must be crispy and not tough, lemon, red hot pepper and onion are also needed. The dish is also garnished with ingredients such as “fresh aromatic herbs, peppers, lemon and some belostomatid essence”. In the 1940s, Pho became particularly popular in Ha Noi: “ it is an everyday snack for all kinds of people, especially civil servants and workers. Vietnamese people eat phở all the time: for breakfast, lunch and dinner…”. From the mid-1960s to before the 1990s, due to many reasons including shortcomings in administrative management of food during the “subsidy period”, in Ha Noi and the North Vietnam, private pho restaurants were nationalized (mậu dịch quốc doanh) and began serving “Pho khong nguoi lai” – a meatless variety of the dish known as “pilotless pho”. Meanwhile, in Ha Noi, people had the habit of adding glutamate to the broth. A the same time with “Doi Moi” period during the 1990s, Pho became more diverse and Ha Noi local residents  usually had the practice of dipping “quay” in Pho.
Pho is a special dish of Ha Noi people which nobody knows exactly how long it has existed. Pho is considered as a special dish for the breakfast, lunch or dinner and it is not served with other dishes. The broth of Pho is generally made by simmering beef bones consisting of neck, shrank and rib bones. Either beef meat or chicken can be included in Pho. Banh Pho should be thin, soft and tough; the extra spices consist of green onions, peppers, chili vinegar and some sliced lemon
Notable Pho shops
Some long-established Vietnamese food Pho brands which were preserved through 3 generations in Ha Noi: Pho Phu Xuan in Hang Da with the owners originally came from Phu Gia village, Phu Thuong, Tay Ho, Ha Noi; Pho “Ba Nam” on Ha ba Trung Street; Pho ga “ Nam Ngu”, Pho “Thin”. Pho “Ly Quoc Su” and Pho “Bat Dan”. Aside from those Pho restaurants, Pho Ganh used to exsist in Ha Noi. Pho was sold by roaming street vendors who shoulderd mobile kitchens on carrying poles or Ganh Pho. From the pole hung two wooden cabinets, one housing a cauldron over a wood fire, the other storing noodles, spices, cookware, and space to prepare a bowl of pho. Before the 1980s, Pho Ganh was served in every corners of Ha Noi by such vendors, becoming  a typical feature in Ha Noi’s late-night food culture.

vietnamese food pho
Pho Ly Quoc Su on a street in Ho Chi Minh city

Under Geneva Accords in 1954, Vietnamese people in the North migrated Southward, bringing Pho culture with them and Pho started to make some changes. In the South, Sai Gon in particular, depending on clients’ interests, beef meat would be “chin, tai, nam, gau, gan”. Apart from that, Extra-fatty broth (nước béo) can be ordered in case the customers would love to.
Southern Pho is usually served with tuong ngot (sweetened sauce), tuong ot do (red chili sauce) and lime , ot tuoi (fresh chili peppers), ngò gai (Eryngium foetidum), húng quế(Thai/Asian basil), thinly sliced onions, which are compulsory herbs and often put aside to a plate or a basket attached to each bowl of Pho, clients can choose whatever they want. Many restaurants even add “ngo om”, “hung lang”, hanh la dai (long leaved green oinion) and other aromatic herbs later. People do not put glutamte (mi chinh) into the broth as they do in Ha Noi and its color is not as clear as that of Pho Bac; southern broth is sometimes sweeter, fatter. It is made by simmering chicken bones with the addition of dried cuttlefish or grilled onion and ginger .
there are numerous well-known Pho shops in Sai Gon before 1975 like Pho Cong Ly, Pho Tau Bay , Pho Tàu Thủy, Pho Bà Dậu, Pasteur Street (phố phở Pasteur) was a street famous for its beef pho, while Hien Vuong Street (phố phở Hiền Vương) specializes in Pho Ga. Most of these Pho restaurants now still exsist, passed through generations but they no longer remained its unique favor in the past. Nowadays, Pho 5 sao, Pho Quyền, Pho 2000, Pho Hòa,… are one of the most popular Pho restaurant chains
After 1975, Pho Sai Gon crossed the border to the US, Canada and Australia. According to un-official statistics in 2005, total sales of Vietnamese Pho stores throughout the US were up to around 500 million US dollars per year

Feelings about Vietnamese food Pho

Throughout the country, most of Vietnamese food Pho shops gather around Ha Noi. Pho, both makeshift pho stands and ones in luxury restaurants can be found in almost every streets, alleys and even peddled wares in Ha Noi

Ha Noi local people can eat Pho for the whole day: breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and late-night meal. They eat Pho many times in a month, a year and over years, never has someone said they no longer like Pho. Even when they say that, it just happens in a short time, which likes a couple falls out with each other without reason but they can not separate from each other.

Hopefully, with a couple of things shared above, you will deeperly understand Pho in general and Pho Bo in particular, a rustic dish but imbued with national identity. Whenever savouring Pho, we can feel and fully awared of national soul and the quintessence of Pho so that when we go beyond our country, we still keep Pho , keep Viet Nam in our mind.