Pho consists of flat rice noodles in a light, meat-based broth. The dish is usually accompanied by basil, lime, chili, and other extras on the side so that eaters can season the soup to their own taste. The balanced tastes of sweet, salty, spicy, and citrus are highly contagious; pho usually becomes an instant favorite for anyone visiting Vietnam!
Pronounced something like “fuuuh” with a drawn-out vowel, pho is difficult for Westerners to say correctly because of the tone. Luckily, pho is easier to eat than to pronounce. Traditionally, pho noodle soup was eaten by Vietnamese people for breakfast and sometimes lunch, however both locals and foreigners alike can be found hunched over steaming bowls of pho at street carts throughout the night.
Some squeamish eaters may balk at authentic pho which is made from beef bones, tendons, tripe (stomach), fat, and sometimes ox tail. Bones and lesser-quality cuts of meat are simmered for hours to produce the soup broth. With pho’s popularity, many chain restaurants catering to tourists now omit ingredients that may frighten business away. Broth is commonly made from beef, pork, or chicken bones; only lean pieces of meat are added.
To keep up with the eating trends of tourists, vegetarian and tofu pho can now be found in big cities such as Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City.
The broth used in pho preparation is thin and light, with a slight flavor provided by cilantro, onion, ginger, and sometimes cinnamon. The key to enjoying a tasty bowl of pho is to toss in the ingredients given to customers on the side. Practices vary between eateries, but most include bean sprouts, basil leaves, hot peppers, green onions, and a lime wedge on the side.
Ingredients and styles of pho noodle soup vary by region throughout Vietnam. Ga typically means that the dish contains chicken; bo means the dish is prepared with beef.