Phở: The Ultimate Guide to Vietnam’s National Dish

Last updated on October 6th, 2023 at 02:36 pm

Phở, the national dish of Vietnam, is a culinary delight that has captured hearts worldwide. This aromatic soup, with its rich broth and tender slices of meat, offers a taste experience that is both comforting and invigorating.

Its origin is as captivating as its flavors. It emerged in early 20th-century northern Vietnam, influenced by both Chinese and French cooking techniques. This fusion mirrors Vietnam’s complex history and culinary diversity.

Our team at Remitly presents this guide as part of our series celebrating global culinary treasures. Discover the world’s most iconic and intriguing dishes, and learn how to prepare them in the comfort of your home.

The Origins of Phở

The origin of phở, as we know it today, continues to be a subject of debate among food historians. While noodles have long been a part of the Vietnamese diet, the addition of meat to this dish is often attributed to the French influence during their presence in northern Vietnam.

After World War II and the migration of people from the north to the south of Vietnam, phở became popular throughout the country. With this diffusion, numerous variations of this beloved recipe emerged.

Nowadays, phở is not only Vietnam’s most beloved dish but can also be found worldwide, from upscale restaurants in New York to street food stalls in Melbourne, each offering a unique version of this Vietnamese classic.

Ingredients and Preparation of Phở

At its core, phở consists of three main components: broth, rice noodles (bánh phở), and meat, usually beef or chicken. The broth is meticulously prepared over several hours using bone marrow or chicken carcass along with various spices like star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and cardamom pods.

The noodles used are flat rice noodles similar to those found in Pad Thai. As for the meat component—it can range from thinly sliced rare steak (tái) to brisket (gầu) or even tripe (sách). A plateful of fresh herbs such as basil and cilantro accompanies the bowl for garnishing as per individual taste.

Phở varies significantly across different regions of Vietnam. In the north, phở is typically simpler and more about the purity of flavors. The broth is clear and light, with fewer garnishes, allowing the taste of beef or chicken to shine through.

In contrast, southern-style phở is a riot of colors and flavors. The broth tends to be sweeter and more robust, served with an array of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and fiery chili peppers.

Crafting Your Own Phở at Home

Making a bowl of phở in your home kitchen might seem intimidating at first. However, despite the seemingly long list of ingredients and steps, the process is surprisingly straightforward. Here’s a simplified recipe for you to dive into.


For the broth:
– 2 kg beef bones
– 1 onion, halved
– 4 cloves of garlic
– 5 star anise
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 3 cloves
– 2 cardamom pods
– Salt to taste

For the bowl:
– 500g flat rice noodles (bánh phở)
– 500g beef sirloin, thinly sliced

– Fresh basil leaves
– Fresh cilantro leaves
– Bean sprouts
– Lime wedges
– Sliced chili peppers


  1. Rinse the beef bones under cold water.
  2. In a large pot, add bones and enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil.
  3. Once boiling, drain and rinse the bones again.
  4. Return cleaned bones to the pot and add fresh water.
  5. Add onion, garlic, star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom pods and salt.
  6. Simmer for at least six hours—longer if possible—to extract maximum flavor from the ingredients.
  7. Strain broth through a fine-mesh sieve into another pot; discard solids.
  8. Prepare rice noodles as per package instructions; set aside.
  9. Arrange noodles in bowls; top with raw beef slices.
  10. Pour hot broth over noodles and beef—the heat will cook the meat slices.
  11. Serve with garnishes on the side for individual customization.

Remember: patience is key when preparing phở—the longer you simmer your broth, the richer it will be.

Serving and Eating Etiquette

Eating phở is an art in itself. It’s customary to first sample the broth before digging into the noodles and meat. A spoon in one hand scoops up the soup, while chopsticks in another pick up noodles and meat—a harmonious dance that adds to the overall experience.

Phở holds a special place not just on every day dining tables but also during celebrations. It’s often enjoyed as a breakfast meal on Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, as it’s believed to bring good luck for the year ahead. Moreover, due to its labor-intensive preparation, phở is also served on special occasions like weddings and anniversaries, making it a dish that truly brings people together.

Each place has its unique style of serving phở, providing a different experience every time you indulge in this delightful dish

A Glimpse into Vietnamese Cuisine

Vietnamese cuisine is a fascinating blend of flavors, textures, and colors. It’s characterized by its balance of five elements—sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty. Each dish aims to engage all five senses, creating a harmonious dining experience.

Street Food Culture

Street food plays a significant role in Vietnam’s culinary scene. From bustling cities to quiet rural towns, you’ll find vendors selling everything from Bánh mì (a baguette sandwich) to Bún chả (grilled pork with rice noodles). These dishes are not only delicious but also offer insight into the local culture and lifestyle.

Regional Variations

Just like Phở, many Vietnamese dishes vary by region. Northern cuisine tends to be lighter and more subtle, while southern dishes are often bolder and more robust. Central Vietnam is known for its complex dishes with many ingredients—reflecting the royal cuisine once served in the imperial city of Hue.

Fresh Ingredients

Freshness is paramount in Vietnamese cooking. Most dishes feature an abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables—providing vibrant colors and crisp textures that contrast beautifully with cooked meats or seafood.

Health Conscious

Vietnamese cuisine is frequently acknowledged for its health benefits due to the use of fresh ingredients and minimal oil. Many dishes are steamed or boiled rather than fried—making them lighter yet still flavorful.

In conclusion, Vietnamese cuisine offers a diverse range of tastes and experiences—from hearty bowls of phở to refreshing spring rolls (Gỏi cuốn). Each dish tells a story about Vietnam’s rich history and culture—a narrative that continues to evolve as it spreads across the globe.

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