A Beginner’s Guide to Pho

what is pho?

In this installment of “What’s That?” we are going to take a dive into the chicken noodle soup of South East Asia: Pho. What is it? How do you pronounce it? What do you do with all the sides? All of these questions and more will be answered below.

Pho (pronounced FUH) is a simple, delicious dish that fills your soul with warm noodly goodness. At its core, pho consists of bone broth, rice noodles, and an assortment of meats. From there, it becomes a choose your own adventure of filling and sides.

Add-Ins: The “Big Four”

Let’s take a dive into the different meat options and what they have to offer your Pho. There are a variety of other add-ins, including chicken and seafood, but below we are going to focus on the “Big Four.”

meatball pho

  • Thinly sliced or rare beef: Think of this as extremely thin roast beef or steak typically served in the pho almost raw– it cooks the longer it stays in the broth. For those who are not the most adventurous this will be your safest option.

  • Brisket: This is not the typical brisket that you are going to find at your local BBQ joint, but the brisket adds body to the soup and should tear apart almost like a pulled pork.

  • Beef Meatballs: Not quite a Swedish meatball, and not quite an Italian meatball, these small Vietnamese beef meatballs are a perfect counter balance to the thinly sliced beef. The meatballs add more heartiness to the dish.

  • Beef Tripe: Explicit food warning! Beef tripe is for only the most adventurous eaters. Tripe is the inner muscle of a cow’s stomach. It is extremely chewy and lacks any true flavor profile, so for those of you who have trouble with textures, stay away! However, it is the healthiest option and a great source of B2, iron, protein and calcium.

Don’t Forget The Sauces

green leafy soup

Now we are going to tackle what is for most people the most intimidating part of pho, the sides and sauces. Any reputable establishment will provide you with these four sides: basil, bean sprouts, jalapeños, and lime. Additionally, for sauces there will be some sort of chili-based hot sauces (think sriracha or something along those lines) and hoisin sauce (a thick salty-and-sweet dipping sauce).

Pho snobs will tell you two things:

  1. Always add basil to your pho
  2. Always taste your Pho before adding any additional sauces (The stingiest will only use the sauces to dip their meats on the side)

However, here at NearU we are not Pho snobs, so if you want to add a little heat go ahead and add some chili sauce. And, if the pho needs more saltiness then add that hoisin.

How Do We Handle The Other Add-ins?

  • Basil: It might seem like the restaurant gave you a ridiculous amount of basil leaves to add to your pho, and that is because they probably did. However, the basil gives a nice fresh taste to the dish, so we recommend ripping a few leaves off and adding them in.

  • Bean Sprouts: Sprouts add a great crunchy texture to the soup and absorb all the flavors of the broth. Go heavy bean sprout, or go light bean sprout, there is really no wrong way to sprout.

  • Jalapeños: This one is pretty straight forward. If you like spicy things add in the jalapeños, and if you don’t, leave them out. Either way, be careful of any seeds because those are where real the kick comes from.

  • Lime: Lime adds a great citrus element to the dish which works harmoniously with the saltiness. It can never hurt to add a little acidity to your pho.

Well now that you have the basics down, all that’s left is to go out and enjoy this delicious soup!

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