Most South Asian countries have their own distinctive noodle dishes. In Malaysia it’s laska, in Thailand it’s pad thai, and in Vietnam its pho. In Vietnam you will find pho served everywhere generally in the mornings by street vendors, but also increasingly in formal restaurants throughout the day.
Pho is an unusual and distinctive dish quite unlike any of the other better known South East Asian noodle soups, of which there are many. The dishes is most likely influenced by many culinary traditions. The practice of boiling bones to make stock has its Asian origins in China. France is commonly associated with clear soups, like the one in pho. The use of herbs, rice noodles, and finely sliced meats quick to cook in hot liquid are distinctive features of the broader culinary traditions native to Vietnam.
Pho at its best is a subtle and fresh dish emphasising the flavours of the ingredients, not over powered by chilli or other spices. The dish when served outside of Vietnam is typically accompanied by table sauces, which is a practice much less common in Vietnam.
History of Pho
Pho is commonly believed to have originated at the very start of the 20th Century in the north eastern Vietnamese villages of Vân Cù and Dao Cù. The origins are probably older, but not the identification of the dish in its current form and its current name. The spread of the dish internationally is better known. The partition of Vietnam into North and South, and the subsequent war on the journey to reunification, displaced people internally, causing the dish to be spread across the country, and also lead to many Vietnamese seeking a better life abroad. Many Vietnamese people fled to he USA and pho is widely eaten there, although the original dish has changed almost as dramatically as Chinese cuisine did when it started to be cooked commercially in North America.
Types of Pho
There two major ways in which pho can differ:
- The first of these is in terms of ingredients. The two most common used ingredients are beef and chicken, with the broths made from the bones of each animal. The taste of pho made from chicken is different from the one made from beef. In more modern times people have started consuming vegetable pho, which again tastes different.
- The other major difference in the pho dishes cooked in Vietnam is whether they are made in the Hanoi style or the Saigon style. The Hanoi style of pho uses a fatty stock, balanced whole green onions and a small range of fresh herbs and chilli. The Saigon version is lighter using a wider range of herbs, a clearer stock, bean sprouts and fresh chillis. Geography plays a part in these regional differences. Hanoi is closer to China and its style of pho is more Chinese influenced, whilst the Saigon style of pho has flavours more reminiscent of South East Asian food, particularly that of Thailand.