What is Pho? | Exploring Vietnam’s Signature Dish

Vietnamese cuisine is renowned for its vibrant flavors and aromatic dishes that tantalize the taste buds. Among the plethora of dishes that have gained international fame, “pho” stands out as a beloved and iconic Vietnamese noodle soup. But, what exactly is pho, and what makes it so special? Join us as we delve into the rich and flavorful world of pho.

The Origins of Pho

Imagine a steaming bowl of aromatic broth, tender slices of meat, and fresh herbs and spices mingling together to create a symphony of flavors – this is the magic of Pho. Still, where did this iconic dish originate? Let’s embark on a culinary journey to uncover the rich history behind one of Vietnam’s most famous culinary exports.

A Taste of Tradition

Pho’s roots can be traced back to the early 20th century in northern Vietnam, where it was initially sold by street vendors and small family-owned eateries. Originally a simple noodle soup made with affordable ingredients such as rice noodles, broth, and scraps of meat, Pho quickly gained popularity among the working class for its hearty and satisfying nature.

The Evolution of Pho

Over the years, Pho underwent various transformations as it spread to different regions of Vietnam. In the south, the dish took on a sweeter flavor profile with the addition of sugar and hoisin sauce, while in the north, a purist approach emphasizing the clarity of the broth and quality of the ingredients prevailed. These regional variations added depth and complexity to the dish, further cementing its status as a culinary icon.

Pho Goes Global

In the latter half of the 20th century, Vietnamese immigrants brought Pho to countries around the world, introducing new audiences to its unique blend of flavors and textures. Today, Pho can be found in bustling metropolises and quaint suburban towns alike, captivating diners with its comforting warmth and distinct umami taste.

The Anatomy of Pho

Picture a steaming bowl of Pho placed before you, the fragrant steam rising and beckoning you to take the first sip. What makes this dish so unique? Let’s delve into the anatomy of Pho and explore the elements that come together to create a symphony of flavors in every spoonful.

The Essence of the Broth

The soul of Pho resides in its broth, a labor of love that requires patience and precision. Beef bones, charred onions, ginger, and a medley of spices are simmered for hours, coaxing out their essence to create a clear yet deeply flavorful base. The result is a broth that is both comforting and complex, setting the stage for the layers of ingredients to follow.

Noodles and Meat – A Perfect Pairing

Thin rice noodles, delicate yet satisfying, are added to the broth, soaking up its robust flavors and providing a soft backdrop for the other components of the dish. Slices of tender beef or chicken, cooked to perfection, are added to the mix, infusing the broth with their savory essence and adding a meaty richness to each spoonful.

Garnishes that Elevate

No bowl of Pho is complete without its array of fresh garnishes. A handful of fragrant herbs, crisp bean sprouts, a squeeze of lime for a burst of acidity, and a touch of chili for a hint of heat – these garnishes add brightness and contrast to the rich broth, elevating the dish to new heights of flavor and texture.

10 Must-Try Pho Shops Around Vietnam 


  • Pho Gia Truyen
    • Location: 49 Bat Dan Street, Hoan Kiem District
    • Highlight: Renowned for its traditional northern-style pho with rich, clear broth and tender beef slices.
  • Pho Thin
    • Location: 13 Lo Duc Street, Hai Ba Trung District
    • Highlight: Famous for its unique stir-fried beef pho, giving the dish a distinct, smoky flavor.
  • Pho Bat Dan
    • Location: 49 Bat Dan Street, Hoan Kiem District
    • Highlight: Known for its authentic taste, this place often has long queues, indicating its popularity among locals.


  • Pho Sai Gon
    • Location: 10 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, Hue City
    • Highlight: Offers a central Vietnamese twist on pho, blending flavors from both northern and southern regions.

Da Nang

  • Pho 75
    • Location: 35 Tran Quoc Toan Street, Hai Chau District
    • Highlight: Known for its consistent quality and flavorful broth, catering to both locals and tourists.

Hoi An

  1. Pho Lien
    • Location: 12 Tran Cao Van Street, Hoi An Ancient Town
    • Highlight: Combines traditional Hoi An spices with classic pho ingredients, offering a unique take on the dish.

Nha Trang

  • Pho Hong
    • Location: 40 Le Thanh Ton Street, Nha Trang City
    • Highlight: Popular for its hearty portions and well-balanced broth, attracting both locals and visitors.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

  • Pho Hoa Pasteur
    • Location: 260C Pasteur Street, District 3
    • Highlight: One of the oldest and most famous pho shops in the city, known for its generous portions and rich, flavorful broth.
  • Pho Le
    • Location: 413-415 Nguyen Trai Street, District 5
    • Highlight: Famous for its southern-style pho with a slightly sweeter broth and an array of fresh herbs.
  • Pho Hung
    • Location: 243 Nguyen Trai Street, District 1
    • Highlight: Offers a wide variety of pho options with a focus on high-quality ingredients and a robust, savory broth.

These pho shops are renowned for their unique flavors and dedication to quality, providing an excellent taste of Vietnam’s beloved national dish from north to south.

Mastering the Art of Ordering Pho

Stepping into a Vietnamese restaurant, the menu filled with tantalizing options, you find yourself drawn to the comforting embrace of Pho. You may wonder how to navigate the choices and ensure that your bowl of Pho is a culinary masterpiece tailored to your preferences. Let’s explore the art of ordering Pho and unlock the key to a truly satisfying dining experience.

Decoding the Menu

The first step in mastering the art of ordering Pho is understanding the menu. Traditional Pho comes in various forms, from Pho Bo (beef) to Pho Ga (chicken), each offering a unique flavor profile. Take a moment to study the menu, noting the different types of meat, noodle options, and accompanying garnishes to tailor your order to your liking. Be mindful of the prices, which can range from 8 to 15 for a basic bowl, with added toppings and premium meats increasing the cost.

Customizing Your Bowl

Once you’ve chosen your preferred protein and noodle type, it’s time to customize your bowl of Pho with additional ingredients and flavors. Do you prefer your broth on the sweeter side? Add a dash of hoisin sauce. Craving a bit of heat? Reach for the Sriracha. Experiment with different combinations of herbs, bean sprouts, and lime to create a personalized bowl that suits your taste preferences.

Embracing Tradition

While customization is key to making your Pho experience unique, it’s also essential to respect the traditions that have shaped this iconic dish. Embrace the ritual of adding garnishes mindfully, savoring each bite with reverence for the craftsmanship that goes into every bowl of Pho. Let the flavors transport you to the bustling streets of Vietnam, where Pho is not just a meal but a cultural institution.

Pho Around the World

As Pho’s popularity has transcended borders, making it a beloved dish in countries around the globe, its versatility and adaptability have led to the creation of unique variations that pay homage to the original. From bustling street stalls in Hanoi to trendy restaurants in New York City, Pho has captured the hearts and palates of food enthusiasts everywhere. Next, we will embark on a culinary journey to explore the different interpretations of Pho around the world.

Pho in the Americas

In the United States, pho has become a mainstream phenomenon, with dedicated pho shops and restaurants popping up in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. The American twist on pho often features larger portions, with added toppings like cheese, sour cream, and even BBQ sauce. In Canada, pho is a staple in many Vietnamese-Canadian communities, where it’s often served with a side of fresh herbs and chili sauce.

Pho in Asia

In Japan, pho is known as “fu” and is often served with a sweet and savory sauce, along with a side of pickled ginger. In South Korea, pho is a popular street food, with vendors adding spicy kimchi and gochujang to give it a bold kick. In Thailand, pho is often served with a variety of meats, including beef, chicken, and pork, and is garnished with fresh herbs like basil and mint.

Pho in Europe and Beyond

In the UK, pho has become a trendy brunch option, with many restaurants offering vegan and gluten-free variations. In Australia, pho is a staple in many Vietnamese-Australian communities, where it’s often served with a side of fresh seafood. In the Middle East, pho is a popular comfort food, with many restaurants adding Middle Eastern spices like cumin and coriander to give it a unique flavor.

As I finish my bowl of steaming hot pho, I’m reminded of the power of food to bring people together. Whether you’re in Hanoi New York City, Tokyo, or London, pho is a dish that transcends borders and cultures, uniting us all in our love of delicious and comforting food. So the next time you’re traveling, be sure to seek out the local pho joint and experience the unique flavors and traditions of each region. Your taste buds will thank you!


Pho is more than just a dish; it is a cultural symbol that embodies the warmth and hospitality of the Vietnamese people. Its humble origins and global popularity speak to the universal appeal of simple yet soul-satisfying food. So, the next time you find yourself craving a bowl of comfort, consider embarking on a culinary journey through the world of pho. Your taste buds will thank you.