Pho – exquisite culinary treat, a national heritage



The very word conjures up images of Vietnam, particularly of fragrance-laden street-side stalls selling steaming hot noodle soup consumed with concentration and relish by people sitting on small stools or benches.

Pho - a popular Vietnamese dish
Pho - a popular Vietnamese dish

Traditionally made only with beef, this formerly northern Vietnam staple has made its way around the country, taking on regional variances.

Pho plays an important role in the diet, health and the morale of the Vietnamese people, says Sofitel Metropole Hotel’s famous five-star chief Didier Corlou.

Pho is also seen as a mirror that reflects the Vietnamese heritage and way of life.

The dish appeared in Vietnam over a 100 years ago. Some people have speculated that it came from China, originally, but Vietnamese cuisine researchers have said that Pho made in Vietnam is very different.

Didier Coulou affirms that the birth place of pho is the northern province of Nam Dinh. He says it was born in a new urban setting out of a need for a dish more sophisticated than the traditional “rustic” soups of the Red River delta farmers like chao (rice porridge) or bun (round rice noodles as opposed to flat ones used in pho).

Pho has since cut across all barriers of race, class and creed to become a national staple.

The iconic noodle soup’s main ingredients are soft rice noodles called banh pho, soup stock made by boiling beef or chicken bones for hours on end, rich in amino-acids, spices that are roasted and added to the stock, and thin beef strips.

Even goumets like enjoying Pho at a street food shop

Even goumets like enjoying Pho at a street food shop

Having a steaming hot bowl of Pho is the perfect way to start a day. At the pho stall that is usually presided over by the vendor, cooked rice noodles are placed in a bowl, the stock poured into it with a ladle and, before a garnish of seasoning and spring onions (optional) is added, your choice of meat (beef, chicken or pork) is picked with chopsticks, placed into a large ladle, steeped in the simmering hot stock for a few seconds or more, depending on whether you want the meat cooked well or done rare. Then she leans across and hands you the bowl at you accept with eager anticipation no matter that you are having the same dish every day. Bottles of a sour chilly sauce as well as vinegar with garlic and red chillies are on the table for those looking for added spice to your dish.

After slurping in the last piece of noodle and lifting the bowl to your lips to drain of the remaining soup, you move to the tea shop next door for a cup of green tea or coffee, chewing on a toothpick.

In the past, Pho was mostly served in the morning and when Vietnam was experiencing difficult times Hanoians only had the soup on Sundays or when they were sick. Now, the time barriers have been crossed as well, and it is available at any time of the day.

Pho used to be sold by street hawkers with shoulder poles and accessories on either end, with utensils in the rare containing the bouillon and an earthen stove.

However, no matter when and how it is had, pho is firmly entrenched in the minds of the Vietnamese people and others who live in the country as the quintessence of Vietnamese cuisine.

And although it can be had all over the country, with pho chain shops established in all popular cities, the place for having pho is a street-side stall in Hanoi.

Some famous pho shops in Hanoi are located on Bat Dan, Ly Quoc Su, Nguyen Khuyen, Hai Ba Trung and Hang Bot streets.

Have a pho day!

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