|Place of origin||Vietnam|
|Region or state||Hanoi, Nam Dinh|
|Main ingredient(s)||Noodles (rice flour), beef or chicken|
|Variations||Beef pho, chicken pho, phở tái (pho topped with sliced rare beef)|
|varies by recipe|
Phở (//; [fəː˧˩˧] ( listen)) is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, a few herbs, and meat. It is a popular street food in Vietnam and the specialty of a number of restaurant chains around the world. Pho is primarily served with either beef or chicken. The Hanoi and Saigon styles of pho differ by noodle width, sweetness of broth, and choice of herbs. The origin of pho and its name is a subject of scholarly debate.
Pho originated in the early 20th century in northern Vietnam, apparently southeast of Hanoi in Nam Định province, then a substantial textile market. The traditional home of pho is reputed to be the villages of Vân Cù and Dao Cù (or Giao Cù) in Đông Xuân commune, Nam Trực district, Nam Định province. According to villagers, pho was eaten in Vân Cù long before the French colonial period when it was popularized.
Pho was originally sold at dawn and dusk by roaming street vendors, who shouldered mobile kitchens on carrying poles (gánh phở). 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. Pho vendors kept their heads warm with distinctive, disheveled felt hats called mũ phở.
Hanoi's first two fixed pho stands were a Vietnamese-owned Cát Tường on Cầu Gỗ Street and a Chinese-owned stand in front of Bờ Hồ tram stop. They were joined in 1918 by two more on Quạt Row and Đồng Row. Around 1925, a Vân Cù villager named Vạn opened the first "Nam Định style" pho stand in Hanoi. Gánh phở declined in numbers around 1936–1946 in favor of stationary eateries.
Chicken pho appeared in 1939, possibly because beef was not sold at the markets on Mondays and Fridays at the time. Phở tái, served with beef cooked rare, may have been introduced around 1940–1946.
With the Partition of Vietnam in 1954, over a million people fled North Vietnam for the South. Pho, previously unpopular in the South, suddenly took off. No longer confined to northern culinary traditions, variations in meat and broth appeared, and additional garnishes, such as lime, bean sprouts, culantro (ngò gai), cinnamon basil (húng quế), and Hoisin sauce (tương đen), became standard fare. Phở tái also began to rival fully cooked phở chín in popularity.
Meanwhile, in North Vietnam, private pho restaurants were nationalized (mậu dịch quốc doanh) and began serving pho noodles made from old rice, while street vendors were expected to use noodles made of imported potato flour.
During the so-called "subsidy period", state-owned pho eateries served a meatless variety of the dish known as "pilotless pho" (phở không người lái), in reference to the U.S. military's unmanned reconnaissance drones. The broth consisted of boiled water with MSG added for taste. Bread or cold rice was often served as a side dish, leading to the present-day practice of dipping quẩy in pho.
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Vietnamese refugees brought pho to many countries. Restaurants specializing in pho appeared in numerous Asian enclaves and Little Saigons, such as in Paris and in major cities in Canada, the United States, and Australia.
In the United States, pho began to enter the mainstream during the 1990s, as relations between the U.S. and Vietnam improved. During the 2000s, pho restaurants in the United States generated $500 million in annual revenue, according to an unofficial estimate. Pho can now be found in cafeterias at many college and corporate campuses, especially on the West Coast.
The word "pho" was added to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in 2007. Pho is listed at number 28 on "World's 50 most delicious foods" compiled by CNN Go in 2011.
Etymology and origins
Reviews of 19th and 20th century Indochinese literature have found that pho entered the mainstream sometime in the 1910s. Georges Dumoutier's extensive 1907 account of Vietnamese cuisine omits any mention of pho, while Nguyễn Công Hoan recalls its sale by street vendors in 1913. A 1931 dictionary is the first to define phở as a soup: "from the word phấn. A dish consisting of small slices of rice cake boiled with beef."
Possibly the earliest English-language reference to pho was in the book Recipes of All Nations, edited by Countess Morphy in 1935. In the book, pho is described as "an Annamese soup held in high esteem ... made with beef, a veal bone, onions, a bayleaf, salt, and pepper, and a small teaspoon of nuoc-mam."
There are two prevailing theories on the origin of the word phở and, by extension, the dish itself. As author Nguyễn Dư notes, both questions are significant to Vietnamese identity.
French settlers commonly ate beef, whereas Vietnamese traditionally ate pork and used cattle as beasts of burden. Gustave Hue (1937) equates cháo phở to the French beef stew pot-au-feu (literally, "pot on the fire"). Accordingly, Western sources generally maintain that phở is derived from pot-au-feu in both name and substance. However, various scholars dispute this etymology on the basis of the stark differences between the two dishes. Ironically, pho has long been pronounced [fo] in French: in Jean Tardieu's Lettre de Hanoï à Roger Martin Du Gard (1928), a soup vendor cries "Pho-ô!" in the street.
Many Hanoians explain that the word phở derives from French soldiers' ordering "feu" (fire) from gánh phở, referring to both the steam rising from a bowl of pho and the wood fire seen glowing from a gánh phở in the evening.
Food historian Erica J. Peters argues that the French have embraced pho in a way that overlooks its origins as a local improvisation, reinforcing "an idea that the French brought modern ingenuity to a traditionalist Vietnam".
Hue and Eugèn Gouin (1957) both define phở by itself as an abbreviation of lục phở. Elucidating on the 1931 dictionary, Gouin and Lê Ngọc Trụ (1970) both give lục phở as a corruption of ngưu nhục phấn (Chinese: 牛肉粉; Cantonese Yale: ngau4 yuk6 fan2; literally: "cow meat noodles"), which was commonly sold by Chinese immigrants in Hanoi.
Some scholars argue that pho (the dish) evolved from xáo trâu, a Vietnamese dish common in Hanoi at the turn of the century. Originally eaten by commoners near the Red River, it consisted of stir fried strips of water buffalo meat served in broth atop rice vermicelli. Around 1908–1909, the shipping industry brought an influx of laborers. Vietnamese and Chinese cooks set up gánh to serve them xáo trâu but later switched to inexpensive scraps of beef set aside by butchers who sold to the French. Chinese vendors advertised this xáo bò by crying out, "Beef and noodles!" (Cantonese Yale: ngau4 yuk6 fan2; Vietnamese: ngưu nhục phấn). Eventually the street cry became "Meat and noodles!" (Chinese: 肉粉; Cantonese Yale: yuk6 fan2; Vietnamese: nhục phấn), with the last syllable elongated. The French author Jean Marquet spells it "Yoc feu!" in his 1919 novel Du village-à-la cité. This is likely what the Vietnamese poet Tản Đà calls "nhục phơ" in "Đánh bạc" ("Gambling"), written around 1915–1917.
To Nguyễn Dư, two folk art paintings in Henri Oger's Technique du peuple annamite (1909) prove that the dish itself came from ngưu nhục phấn. In the first illustration, a street vendor is seen squatting at something resembling a gánh phở, replete with a chef's knife and a vial (presumably of fish sauce). The second illustration is a closeup of the cabinet housing the cauldron, which is labeled "行肉粉" (Vietnamese: hàng nhục phấn; literally: "meat noodles shop"). However, Vương Trung Hiếu points out that the first illustration is captioned "Chinese peddler at nightfall" and depicts a man wearing a queue. Therefore, the illustrations merely prove that Chinese immigrants also sold nhục phấn at gánh. Furthermore, he argues that phở was written as or 頗 in the Nom script then in use. Had pho really been related to the soup known as phấn, Vietnamese writers would have simply borrowed the character 粉.
Ingredients and preparation
Pho is served in a bowl with a specific cut of white rice noodles in clear beef broth, with slim cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket). Variations feature tendon, tripe, or meatballs in southern Vietnam. Chicken pho is made using the same spices as beef, but the broth is made using only chicken bones and meat, as well as some internal organs of the chicken, such as the heart, the undeveloped eggs and the gizzard.
The broth for beef pho is generally made by simmering beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, charred ginger and spices. For a more intense flavor, the bones may still have beef on them. Chicken bones also work and produce a similar broth. Seasonings can include Saigon cinnamon or other kinds of cinnamon as alternatives (may use stick or powder), star anise, roasted ginger, roasted onion, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed, and clove. The broth takes several hours to make. For chicken pho, only the meat and bones of the chicken are used in place of beef and beef bone. The remaining spices remain the same, but the charred ginger can be omitted, since its function in beef pho is to get rid of the "cow's smell".
The spices, often wrapped in cheesecloth or soaking bag to prevent them from floating all over the pot, usually contain: clove, star anise, coriander seed, fennel, cinnamon, black cardamom, ginger and onion.
Careful cooks often roast ginger and onion over an open fire for about a minute before adding them to the stock, to bring out their full flavor. They also skim off all the impurities that float to the top while cooking; this is the key to a clear broth. Salt, or preferably nước mắm (fish sauce) is added toward the end.
Vietnamese dishes are meals typically served with lots of greens, herbs, vegetables, and various other accompaniments, such as dipping sauces, hot and spicy pastes, and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice; it may also be served with hoisin sauce. The dish is garnished with ingredients such as green onions, white onions, Thai basil (not to be confused with sweet basil), fresh Thai chili peppers, lemon or lime wedges, bean sprouts, and cilantro (coriander leaves) or culantro. Fish sauce, hoisin sauce and chili sauce may be added to taste as accompaniments.
Several ingredients not generally served with pho may be ordered by request. Extra-fatty broth (nước béo) can be ordered and comes with scallions to sweeten it. A popular side dish ordered upon request is hành dấm, or vinegared white onions.
The several regional variants of pho in Vietnam, particularly divided between northern (Hanoi, are called phở bắc or "northern pho"), and southern pho (Saigon, called phở Sài Gòn). Northern pho tends to use somewhat wider noodles and much more green onion, and garnishes offered generally include only vinegar, fish sauce and chili sauce. On the other hand, southern Vietnamese pho broth is slightly sweeter and has bean sprouts and a greater variety of fresh herbs. The variations in meat, broth, and additional garnishes such as lime, bean sprouts, ngò gai (Eryngium foetidum), húng quế (Thai/Asian basil), and tương đen (bean sauce/hoisin sauce), tương ớt (hot chili garlic sauce, e.g., Rooster Sauce) appear to be innovations made by or introduced to the south, also called Pho Sai Gon ("Saigon Style" Pho).
International variants include pho made using tofu and vegetable broth for vegetarians, and a larger variety of vegetables, such as carrots and broccoli.
One of the largest restaurant chains in Vietnam is Pho 24, a subsidiary of Highlands Coffee, with 60 locations in Vietnam and 20 abroad. The largest pho chain in the United States is Phở Hòa, with over 70 locations in seven countries.
Aside from pho, many other Vietnamese dishes make use of pho noodles, including stir-fried pho (phở xào), sauteed pho (phở áp chào), and sour pho (phở chua). Other popular Vietnamese noodle dishes include bún riêu, bún bò Huế, and bún chả.
- Vietnamese cuisine
- Bánh mì
- List of Vietnamese culinary specialities
- List of Vietnamese dishes
- Changde beef noodle soup (Chinese: 常德牛肉粉; Cantonese Yale: seung4 dak1 ngau4 yuk6 fan2; Vietnamese: Thường Đức ngưu nhục phấn)
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- CNN Go.World's 50 most delicious foods. 21 July 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
- Scripter, Sami; Yang, Sheng (2009). Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America. University of Minnesota Press. p. 25. ISBN 1452914516. "Phở is made with small (1/16-inch-wide) linguine-shaped rice noodles labeled ‘bánh phở’."
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"pho", The American Heritage Dictionary, "A soup of Vietnamese origin typically consisting of rice noodles, onions, herbs, seasonings, and thinly sliced beef or chicken in a clear broth."
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