I've been in love with Vietnam since first sight. I was lucky to travel in this beautiful country with locals and to visit places where foreigners rarely get to. I love how you can get the most amazing food in some “hole in the wall”, somewhere on the road in rural Vietnam. I love a huge variety of fresh herbs which complement many dishes. And if I had to choose only one dish to eat for the rest of my life, it would probably be stir-fried water spinach with garlic and fish sauce – seriously, this is so tasty!
Rice-noodle soup - pho is one of the traditional Vietnamese dishes, and it is probably the one most known abroad. It comes in several varieties, the two most common ones are with beef (pho bo) and with chicken (pho ga). It can be eaten any time of the day. In one village in Northern Vietnam where I was staying for a few days it was the only dish served for breakfast in the local eatery. The great thing about this soup (as with many Vietnamese dishes) is that it is rather mild (but very fragrant) and you can adjust the seasoning yourself by adding chillies, lime juice, herbs and different sauces which are served separately.
It’s been already 2 years since my last trip to Vietnam and last time I ate a relatively good pho was in London last year. So I thought it was time to make pho myself. I found a couple of recipes online which looked trust-worthy and I was happy with the result.
Vietnamese beef noodle soup (pho bo)
2 onions, halved
10 cm nub of ginger, halved lengthwise
1 kg marrow bones
½ kg oxtails
3 litres of water
1 small piece of cinnamon stick (about 5cm x 0.5 cm)
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 whole star anise
1 cardamom pod
4 whole cloves
1 roughly sliced stalk of lemongrass
1/2 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt (halve if using regular table salt)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2.5 cm chunk of yellow rock sugar (about 30 g), or 30g of regular sugar
375 g rice noodles (dried or fresh)
300 g flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round, sliced as thin as possible (I used flank)
Big handful of each: mint, cilantro, Thai basil
1 lime, cut into wedges
1-2 chili peppers, sliced
1 big handful of bean sprouts
3 or 4 scallions, green part only, cut into thin rings
Sriracha hot sauce
- Char onion and ginger. Use an open flame on grill or stove. Place onions and ginger on cooking grate and let skin burn. After about 15 minutes, they will soften and become sweetly fragrant. Use tongs to occasionally rotate them and to grab and discard any flyaway onion skin. You do not have to blacken entire surface, just enough to slightly cook onion and ginger. Let cool. Under warm water, remove charred onion skin; trim and discard blackened parts of root or stem ends. Remove ginger skin, running it under warm water to wash off blackened bits. Cut onion and ginger halves in smaller chunks and set aside.
- Parboil the bones. Place bones in a large pot (6 litre capacity) and cover with cold water. Over high heat, bring to boil. Boil vigorously 2 to 3 minutes to allow impurities to be released. Dump bones and water into sink and rinse bones with warm water. Quickly scrub stockpot to remove any residue. Return bones to pot.
- Simmer broth. Add 3 litres of water to pot, bring to boil over high heat, then lower flame to gently simmer. Add remaining broth ingredients and cook, uncovered, for 3 hours, checking every 30 mins - 1hr to skim any scum that rises to surface. Taste and adjust flavour with additional salt, fish sauce and yellow rock sugar. The pho broth should taste slightly too strong because the noodles and other ingredients are not salted. Strain the pho broth through fine strainer. Discard solids.
- Discard fat. Cool the broth and refrigerate it overnight. Use ladle to skim as much fat from top of the pho broth as you like.
- Assemble pho bowls:
- Prepare the noodles following directions on the package.
- Put noodles into bowls. Noodles should occupy 1/4 to 1/3 of bowl.
- Place very thin slices of raw meat atop noodles. Garnish with scallion and chopped cilantro.
- Arrange all other ingredients on a platter for the table.
- Bring broth to rolling boil. Check seasoning. Ladle broth into each bowl, distributing hot liquid evenly so as to cook raw beef and warm other ingredients. Serve your pho with the garnish plate.