The History of Pho

Pho, spelled Phở in Vietnamese, was first made in North Viet Nam during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite the idea of Pho originating from the French dish Pot au feu, it actually was greatly influenced by both French and Chinese cooking. Vietnamese cooks blended Chinese, French, and native styles of cooking to make this beloved soup known today. Another factor that contributed to the making of this dish was the fact that the French influenced the popularity of eating red meat, one of the main ingredients used. 

Two differences highlighting the fact that Pho does not come from the dish Pot au feu are very noticeable. The first fact is Pho does not use as many vegetables as Pot au feu. The second fact is that Pot au feu is normally served with bread, unlike Pho. This creates a stark contrast between the two.

Pho is Viet Nam’s national dish, and each area has its own preferred ingredients and style. Back before it had a stable recipe, cooks added extra ingredients, refining it to the savory soup it is today. It is commonly made with either beef or chicken broth, basil, onions, coriander, cilantro, mung bean sprouts, and noodles. Some spices used in this dish include star anise, cinnamon or cassia bark, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, and black cardamom. The two types of meats used in pho are either beef or chicken. Beef Pho is commonly eaten with beef meatballs (spelled “bò viên”). 

There are quite a few differences between the Pho made in South Viet Nam compared to the Pho made in North Viet Nam. The Northern style appears to be more simple, prepared with fewer ingredients. There are not as many cuts of meat, and it is usually served with small strips of ginger on top. Instead of using bean sprouts and herbs as condiments, green chilies and lime are used as substitutes. The Southern method is quite the opposite. The recipe calls for dozens of ingredients and is a very complex dish. Basil, saw leaf herb, and bean sprouts are some of the many herbs used. Just as with the Northern Pho, lime and green chilies are used as sides too. 

Pho was introduced to the United States with the arrival of Viet Nam War refugees during the Spring of 1975. There are now multitudes of restaurants selling Viet Nam’s beloved national dish, a true sign of how a simple soup evolved into the popular dish it is today.