Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup dish made out of rice noodles and different types of meats in a rich stock served with bean sprouts, basil and lime. The most common meat used are beef (cooked and raw), chicken and assorted fish cakes.
Pho originated in the early 20th century in Nam Dinh province southwest of Hanoi. Cooks during that time created a dish to satisfy locals and the French colonizers that is why rice noodles was mixed with beef which was really unusual for Vietnamese as they never used cattle as a meat source before but as working animals that help them in their farms. Initially it was sold in boxes until a restaurant opened in Hanoi in the 1920′s. The word pho have several theories where it came from, one theory suggests that I came from the word called “feu” which means fire and it was said it was named such as one of the techniques in cooking this dish is by burning onions to give colour and robust flavour to the dish. Another theory suggest that it came from the Chinese dish called hofan, where it is made out of rice vermicelli, they said the name came from the word “fan” as it gives the same sound “ph”.
Traditionally it is served with a rice noodle called “banh pho” with thinly sliced beef. Then different variations have been introduced in southern Vietnam where they used tendons, meatballs and tripe. The beef broth is the key ingredient on this dish and it is usually made out of beef bones, charred onion and different spices such as cinnamon, star anise, ginger, fennel and cloves. It is then boiled very long periods. Pho will not be complete without the garnishes that are served separately; it is usually the diner who adds it on the boiling hot broth. These garnishes are onions, spring onions, cilantro, lime, bean sprouts and Thai basil to name some.
One of our favourite noodle soup dishes, this is what we usually order in our favourite Vietnamese restaurant (Hansan) in NZ, there’s an array of different combinations that you can choose from that restaurant but they all taste real good. But now I want to make it at home and here is my recipe.
2-3kg beef bones (mix of oxtail and leg bones)
1 thumb sized ginger, sliced
2 large onions, quartered
6 cloves garlic, pounded with skin on
6 pcs star anise
5 pcs cloves
1 pc cinnamon stick
4 pcs bay leaves
fish sauce, adjusted to your liking
500g minced beef
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper
12 pcs fish tofu
1 cup shrimps
2 stalks spring onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
150g sweet peas
2 limes, halved
1. In a pot add oil then sauté star anise, garlic, cloves, and cinnamon stick until toasted and fragrant.
2. Place all remaining broth ingredients into the same pot and add enough water to cover every ingredient. Bring to a boil then simmer for 3 hours, remove any scum that rises.
3. Once stock is ready, using a strainer drain stock into a large container. Let it cool then place on the fridge overnight.
4. Remove stock from fridge then remove the hardened fat on top, place the stock back to a pot together with the fish tofu then heat it up.
5. Mix all meatball ingredients, then from them into balls. In a pan add oil then shallow fry each meatball until brown on the outside. Remove from pan, drain then set aside.
6. Bring the stock to a boil add meatballs and shrimps. Simmer for 5 minutes.
7. Blanch sweet peas then set aside.
8. Cook rice noodles according to packet instruction. Then place on serving bowls together with bean sprouts, juice from half lime, sweet peas, Thai basil and spring onions.
9. Pour boiling broth over noodles then place the meatballs, fish cakes and shrimps. Then serve while hot.