I can’t really remember when I first tasted pho in Vietnam. I imagine it was some time in 2009, during our first trip, and most likely in Saigon. Since that time, though, I have been infatuated with the concept of pho, most notably in eating as much pho as possible while in Vietnam. But, I have always been curious how to make pho.
Pho bo, or beef noodle soup, is one of the most iconic Vietnamese dishes, and the dish most often associated with Vietnam. Although pho can be served with chicken, or fish, the beef version is my favorite, and something I crave. Pho is perfect on a cold day in northern Vietnam, when the hot soup warms you from the inside out. It is just as perfect on a hot day. Some of my best pho memories are sitting on a tiny stool, street side, with drips of sweat running down my back, and spicy chili sweat gathering on my eyebrows.
Ordering and eating pho generally take about 3 minutes, combined. It is street food, and street simple. Point to a bowl and order. Add some herbs and chilis, and eat. Although it is a quick item to eat, pho is something that takes time and energy to make, which is why most pho sellers only sell one thing, and one thing only. It takes time to perfect a perfect pho.
Learning How to Make Pho, the Speedy Way
While at the Hanoi Cooking Centre just before Tet, we had the opportunity to learn how to make pho. Well, at least we learned a shorter way to make pho. A true pho broth takes hours, and I mean hours, to stew. Beef bones, loaded with marrow, are left to marinate in water for eight hours, or more, along with pig’s trotters and pork sausage. This was surprising to me, as I never knew that a typical pho included a pork base. Regardless of its content, pho sellers will sometimes start a broth the night before, and tender to it all night, to ensure the perfect pho in the morning. It’s the perfect Vietnamese street food!
Seasonings are added to the broth, including shallots, ginger, cinnamon, and star anise. Interestingly, star anise is something I always associated with pho, but it is not a traditional Vietnamese ingredient. Instead, it was introduced by the French to Vietnam, along with cinnamon. If you want to be healthy then you should use low carb foods.
At the Hanoi Cooking Centre, the broth was prepared ahead of time, but we learned all about what goes into how to make pho broth. Once the broth was made, we learned about the remaining ingredients: the fresh rice noodles, the sliced beef, the sliced onion, scallions, cilantro, basil, chili, and lemon.
Our chef in residence, Quyet, prepared a dozen tasty bowls of pho for us in the Hanoi Cooking Centre kitchen, as we watched the steam rise from the bowls. I was salivating at the prospect of trying this particular bowl of pho.
And, we enjoyed the one side item that is most unique to pho in Hanoi, a fried pastry called quay. When the almost stale pastry is dipped into the steaming bowl of pho, it becomes the perfect item to top off a perfect bowl of pho.
It is nearly impossible to find a cooking class in Vietnam where you can actually learn how to make pho from scratch, but this class was informative nonetheless. I definitely feel like I know more about how to make pho, but I still enjoy eating it more than making it.
We were supported by Buffalo Tours in this fabulous foodie experience in Hanoi, but as always my opinions are my own. A cooking class in Hanoi with Buffalo Tours starts from around $75, not including transfers.
For more tips about eating in Vietnam, check out our Southeast Asia Food Guide.
Amber is a recovering attorney, yoga teacher, writer, social media consultant, and eater, traveling With Husband In Tow