What the Phó?

It’s Sunday and that means SPOTLIGHT SUNDAY!

Today’s Spotlight is a food Spotlight: Phó.

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What is Phó?

Phó is one of the best things I ate in Vietnam. It’s soup. But it’s not just any soup. Phó is the essence of life.

Actually it can be any soup! Phó can be any kind of soup and it is as close to a national dish as this nation gets. Phó is eaten for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for supper and any time in between.

Normally the stock is watery, it has noodles, green leafy veg, carrot, and can also contain chicken or other meat, bean sprouts and anything else that’s available. Sometimes it has lemongrass or coriander and it is always garnished with spring onion and bean sprouts.

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Pho originated in the early 20th century in northern Vietnam, apparently southeast of Hanoi, then a substantial textile market. At first, it was sold by vendors from large boxes and then Pho restaurants opened in Hanoi in the 1920s.

The variations in meat, broth and additional garnishes, such as lime, bean sprouts, coriander, Thai/Asian basil and bean sauce/hoisin sauce appear to be innovations introduced in the south. Pho did not become popular in South Vietnam until 1954.

Possibly the earliest reference to pho in English was in the book Recipes of All Nations, edited by Countess Morphy in 1935. In the book, pho is described as “an Annamese [Vietnamese] soup held in high esteem … made with beef, a veal bone, onions, a bayleaf, salt, and pepper, and a small teaspoon of fish sauce”.

After the Vietnam war, pho was taken to many countries by Vietnamese refugees fleeing Vietnam from the 1970s onwards. It is especially popular in large cities with substantial Vietnamese populations such as Paris, major cities in Canada, the U.S, and Australia. Pho is listed at number 28 on “World’s 50 most delicious foods” compiled by CNN Go in 2011.

How to eat phó

Eating PhoPhó is normally eaten with chopsticks (yes, it’s soup!). The noodles, chicken, etc is all fished out and wolfed down and then the left over stock with small floaty bits is noisily slurped down straight from the bowl. Only expert phó-natics can slurp really well! Don’t try to run before you can walk because those who are not used to drinking out of a bowl will tip it all down themselves in their haste to join in the slurp-fest!

Phó is not spicy, but of course it can be if you throw in half a pot of black pepper or a good dash of chilli sauce. Phó is made and served in restaurants every day by the bucket load. Phó is always tasty, fresh, cheap and filling. Fresh ingredients are so readily available that they are not bought once every day, but can be bought up to five or six times a day from markets and street sellers.

Phó is the dish that sustains this nation so when in Vietnam, stop at any little street bar, sit practically on the floor on those crazy stools, choose a couple of worn and over-used chopsticks from the communal stash and get slurping!

Check out more delicious Vietnamese street food here.

I have many food-related adventures from all over the world. Click here to read them.

Filed Under: asiafeaturedfood and drinkSpotlightStreet Foodvietnam


About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....

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  1. […] amb oli is the dish that sustains a nation (well, island). Pa amb oli is for Mallorca what Phó is for Vietnam: the signature dish and absolutely indispensable. Pa amb oli is the foundation of […]

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