Pho Viet Nam – The Most Famous Food In The World

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Phở is one of the most popular dishes in Vietnam and around the world. This simple yet flavorful combination of broth, rice noodles, and a variety of herbs and spices come together to create a comforting, nourishing meal. In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of Pho, how it’s made, and why it’s so beloved by so many people.


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Pho Viet Nam - The Most Famous Food In The World

The history of Pho

Nobody really knows the true origin of this dish. Food historians and gourmands argue heatedly about every facet of it to this day: its etymology, place of birth, composition, ingredients, and more.

Initially, phở was sold by traveling vendors carrying what were effectively mobile kitchens on poles slung across their shoulders. The vendors were eventually replaced by traditional sit-down eateries in the 1930-the 40s. (Today, many dishes are still sold this way, but not phở.) The name could have come from French feu (fire) as some of the vendors’ clientele were freezing French-speaking soldiers ordering a steaming bowl of noodles alongside starving factory workers, or an eventual corruption of 牛肉粉 (Cantonese: ngau4 yuk6 fan2). Some historians reject the foreign origin stories in favor of phở being a descendant of similar Vietnamese dishes consisting of strips of water buffalo or beef served over rice vermicelli, such as xáo trâu.

Because phở itself refers to the noodles (more accurately bánh phở), there is a dizzying array of dishes made from these broad, flat rice noodles, some not even involving broth. This blog post uses phở to refer to the original noodle bowl.

There are three main regional variations of phở. The North is home to Hanoi phở and Nam Dinh phở, and the South claims Saigon phở. The Hanoi variation has a clear savory broth, the Saigon version has a sweeter and cloudier broth, and the Nam Dinh version uses more fish sauce in the broth. Each variety is served with different garnishes of herbs depending on the region. In addition to the traditional phở noodles, the dish can even be served with hủ tiếu noodles in the South, and the Nam Dinh version has broader noodles. Related Tours: Hanoi Tours (Daily Tour)

The history of Pho


How to eat Vietnamese pho

Optional first step: This varies by region and preference, but before eating, you can add sriracha/chili sauce/hot sauce, and/or a squeeze of lime juice.

  1. Step 1:

    Hold your chopsticks in your dominant hand as if you were holding a pen and the spoon in your non-dominant hand.

  2. Step 2:

    Pick up a reasonable number of noodles and put them on your spoon. Make sure the noodles fit into the spoon without overflowing, while leaving room for toppings. Trim them with the edge of your spoon against the bowl if need be; many pho shops provide sharp-edged metal spoons for this exact purpose. Ideally, there should be a little broth at the bottom of the spoon.

  3. Step 3:

    Put a piece of protein (beef, chicken, meatball, or whichever your dish has) atop the noodles.

  4. Step 4:

    Top with fresh herbs typically provided on the side.

  5. Step 5:

    Eat the entire spoonful. Don’t open your mouth too wide. Chew with your mouth closed and quietly.

  6. Step 6:

    In Hanoi, you can ask for a quay when ordering. After you’ve cleared the bowl of noodles and protein, dunk the fried dough sticks into the broth until they’re soft (based on personal preference).

  7. Step 7:

    Food lovers disagree on whether you’re supposed to lift the bowl with both hands and drink the rest of the broth (considered rude), gradually sip with the spoon (waste of time), or even not finish the broth at all (high levels of sodium). Your writer personally sips as much of the broth as they can.

Tip: Discreetly watch your fellow diners for cues, if there are any! “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” applies especially well when you’re in completely unfamiliar surroundings. Many Vietnamese give a certain level of grace to tourists, especially non-Asian ones, but respect for other people’s cultures never goes amiss.

How to eat Vietnamese pho


Where to eat Pho in Ha Noi

Phở Gia Truyền Bát Đàn – 100-year-old heirloom Pho

Address: 49 Bat Dan Ward, Cua Dong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

This eatery gained the exasperated, affectionate name of “waiting phở” or “queueing phở” for good reason: the skillful chefs have not lost touch with their traditional recipe, featuring fragrant and flavorful broth made from beef bone and marrow (no MSG here), carefully chosen, hygienic, and melt-in-the-mouth meat, and chewy noodles. The long lines of diners waiting for their meal outside of the restaurant immediately evokes memories of the subsidized postwar 70s-80s, where everything – especially good beef like the kind served here – was a commodity.

Phở Nhớ – Eat once, remember forever

Address: 27 Huynh Thuc Khang Ward, Nam Thanh Cong Dormitory, Ba Dinh, Hanoi

This eatery was born as Phở Nguyên Hồng, and even from its inception was filled with customers. The noodles were a hit with older diners, who return here over and over again because the taste reminds them of what they used to have. Eventually, in 2000 it rebranded as Phở Nhớ, because customers thought the noodles were an “eat once, remember (nhớ) forever” affair.

Phở Thìn – The 40-year-old brand of pho in Hanoi, Vietnam

Address: 13 Lo Duc Ward, Pham Dinh Ho, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi

To many aficionados’ confusion, Hanoi has two famous phở places both called Phở Thìn, even in the same district, after the first names of their owner. The first is Phở Thìn Bờ Hồ at Hoàn Kiếm Lake/Sword Lake, founded in 1954 by Bùi Chí Thìn, famous for their classic beef noodles. The other one, Phở Thìn Lò Đúc, was founded by Nguyễn Trọng Thìn, and made their name with phở tái lăn, where the beef is quickly fried, creating an unique flavor that can be found nowhere else in the city. They also offer phở with free-range chicken as an equally delicious alternative to beef.

Phở Lý Quốc Sư – Familiar restaurant of the locals

Address: 27 Phung Hung Ward, Hang Ma, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

With over 300 franchised restaurants and growing across the country, Phở Lý Quốc Sư is an ever-present option for diners wanting a quick sit-down bowl in a clean, brightly-lit establishment. In addition to the namesake style, they also offer phở in Bát Đàn style, and phở made with Đông Tảo chicken.

Phở Bưng Hàng Trống – Eating pho Hanoi on the sidewalk

Address: 8 Hang Trong, Hang Trong Ward , Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

Here, diners cheerfully suffer the “indignity” of eating phở hunched over on plastic chairs and lifting the heavy, scorching bowl with one hand. Even getting a chair means you’re lucky; many have to stand around with their bowls, trying not to tip everything over. The quality is simply worth the experience. The broth is sweet, the noodles chewy, the quẩy ever-crispy. It’s no surprise that even in hot days where most people hide in air-conditioned rooms or sit directly in front of fans, the proprietors are still busily serving customers.