Sunday, January 15, 2012

pho fantasy

If there is one soup I can't ever live without, that brings so much hot, slurpy, soupy pleasure to my life, and has even brought a tear of joy to my eye, is the mighty, unequivocal, irresistible pho. I love this soup. No, you don't understand. I LOVE this soup. Ever since I tasted what I consider to be the original pho back in 2009, I have dreamed of trying to recreate it; that full, deeply flavourful broth, the green, lively herbs brightening up the taste of the soft and yielding rice noodles, the paper thin beef slices cooking instantly from the ladles of hot broth showered on them... I could write an ode to this soup. But instead, as is customary on this blog of mine, I will show you how I made some pho 'fo my fine self!

Using and adapting a recipe found on, here's what happened.

Charring onions and ginger. I imagine that back in the day, pho would have been made over an open fire, thus making it quite easy to blacken the onions and ginger. The modern version saw me broiling these guys until they got smokey and black. Then I peeled them and they went into the stock pot.

Toasting the spices to go into the broth. Do not underestimate the power of a medium heat applied to fragrant cloves, anise seeds and cinnamon. By throwing this trifecta of deliciousness into a hot pan, you release all of its oils and somehow, the secrets of the universe come wafting into your nostrils. You smell this, and you just KNOW it's going to taste good. These spices go into cheesecloth and basically brew in the beef stock, elevating a beef bone tea into delicious pho juice. 

Starting the broth. Beware, this blog is becoming very very non vegetarian. After a visit to the local butchers, where we bought some beef bones, some flank roast, and some sirloin, we came home and started the broth.

The broth takes hours, people. Hours wherein you skim the scum and fat from the liquid, transforming bones and bringing them one step closer to some Vietnamese fantasy.

Repeat after me: Pho juice! Pho juice! Pho juice! The broth's been strained, the cheesecloth with spice trifecta has been removed, and it's piping hot, ready to be made into pho.

This isn't just about the beef broth and the noodles. Oh, no. Pho is all about the garnishes. When I ponder the mysteries of the beautiful pho, I realize that it's the perfect combination of soup AND salad in one bowl. 

When I was in Vietnam I was amazed at the variety of greens that you could throw into your bowl: mustard greens, dandelion leaves, mint, holy basil, coriander, beansprouts...and those greens just kept on coming, appearing in huge wet piles on white plastic dinner plates. 

You mustn't forget about balancing the flavours with some lime, chillies, hoisin and hot sauces too!

Steamed some properly cut (lengthwise!) baby bok choi to add even more greenery to the pho.

Pho assembly line action. Getting all the ingredients in the bowl before pouring the broth.

  That flank roast bubbled away in the stock pot for over four hours. It tasted like heavenly cows. Please note the raw, paper-thin sirloin. Just a bit in the bowl, save some for the others!

My bowl, post-garnishing. I was so excited to finally taste it!

Ah...perfectly nourishing, just the right amount of heavy and light, of crisp and soft, of spice and sweetness. If this soup was a gesture, it would be a hug.


  1. I love pho so much! It is my comfort food. Thanks for sharing. I've never thought of trying to create this dish at home but wow. you've inspired me.

    1. glad i could provide some inspiration! it was really worth the effort to make this dish--too good for words.

  2. Any tips for those who do not want a hug from a heavenly cow? Would it work with chicken? I am already repeating pho juice! pho juice! pho juice!, and as tempted as I am to try this one, I really doubt I'd enjoyed it with the highland coo pho juice... It looks absolutely fab though!
    Greetings from the northern girl from Regent's Park

    1. hey! it would totally work with chicken stock, especially if you made it by hand. you could even do a veggie version with tempeh or tofu. mmmmm

  3. ive never really had pho, i sat across from someone having it and had a taste, whats the big deal it's soup with everything in it but now that i know you make it, give me it!

    1. ah, i managed to convert raymi! holy shit, you made my day :)