Looking to try your hand at a new recipe? Why not make it pho, the warming, moreish broth served on every street corner of Vietnam.

What is it?

The breakfast of champions, this fragrant spiced Vietnamese noodle soup topped with slices of beef, brisket, chicken or meatballs and a squeeze of lime is the perfect wake-up call. In truth, the dish can be enjoyed at any time, making an excellent quick lunch or warming supper.

Ingredients (serves 8)

For the broth: 
10cm (4in) piece of ginger root 
2 yellow onions 
cooking oil 
2.25kg (5lb) beef marrow or oxtail bones 
4.75L (5 quarts) of water 
1 cinnamon stick 
1 tsp coriander seeds 
1 tbsp fennel seeds 
5 star anise 
2 cardamom pods 
6 whole garlic cloves 
¼ cup fish sauce 
2 tbs sugar 
1 tbs salt

For the noodles & garnishes: 
230g (8oz) beef steak 
450g (1lb) dried flat rice noodles 
10 sprigs of mint 
10 sprigs of coriander (cilantro) leaves 
10 sprigs of Thai basil 
12 sawtooth coriander leaves 
½ yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced 
2 limes, each cut into 6 thin wedges 
2–3 chillies, sliced 
450g (1lb) beanshoots 
hoisin sauce 
hot chilli sauce

A side-on view of a bowl of pho stood on a tabletop in a Vietnamese restaurant. The pho contains thick noodles, veg and meat, and has a pair of chopsticks resting in it.
Pho can be made with a number of ingredients, with or without meat © Jana Kollarova / Shutterstock

How to cook

For the broth: 
Step 1:
Halve the ginger and onions lengthwise and place on a baking sheet. 
Step 2: Brush with cooking oil and put on the highest rack under a heated grill (broiler). Grill on high until they begin to char. Turn over to char the other side for a total of 10–15 minutes.
Step 3: Boil enough water in a large pan to cover the beef bones and continue to boil on high for five minutes. 
Step 4: Drain, rinse the bones and rinse out the pan. Refill the pan with the bones and the 4.75L (5 quarts) of cool water. Bring to the boil then lower to a simmer. Remove any scum that rises to the top
Step 5: Place the cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, cardamom pods and garlic cloves in a mesh bag (alternatively, pho spice packets are available at specialty Asian food markets) and add to the broth pan along with the charred onion and ginger and the fish sauce, sugar and salt. Simmer for 1½ hours.
Step 6: Discard the spice pack and the onion and continue to simmer for another 1½ hours.
Step 7: Strain the broth and return it to the pan. Adjust salt, fish sauce and sugar to taste.

For the noodles & garnishes: 
Step 1: Slice the beef steak as thinly as possible across the grain.
Step 2: Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, until tender.
Step 3: Bring the broth back to the boil.
Step 4: Arrange all the other garnishes next to your serving bowls.
Step 5: To serve, fill each bowl with noodles and raw meat slices. Ladle the boiling broth into the bowls – this will cook the beef slices.
Step 6: Garnish with the remaining herbs, onion, lime wedges, chillies, beanshoots and sauces, and serve immediately

A cafe in Hanoi's characterful Old Quarter. The cafe is very small (one single room) and basic, with people sitting outside on plastic stools huddled around small tables.
One slurp of pho will transport you to the characterful cafes of Hanoi's Old Quarter © Boris-B / Shutterstock

Tasting notes

Dawn is breaking across Vietnam and the hum of scooter engines has yet to reach its midmorning crescendo. The pho sellers have set up stalls, some little more than a battered collection of metal pans, while others include plastic tables and gleaming trolleys.

Whatever you choose, it’s the broth that matters. This is the heart and soul of pho and should be rich and deeply flavoured, hinting at star anise, cardamom and coriander. The noodles should be freshly made, while the chillies are mild, rather than fierce. Beanshoots add a satisfyingly crunchy texture. A dash of fish sauce, a squeeze of lime, and breakfast is ready. Grab a wobbly chair, sit back and slurp.

Other recipes to try:
Hungarian goulash
Turkish lahmacun
Polish pierogi

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Bowl Food.

This article was originally published in March 2020 and updated in November 2020. 

This article was first published March 2020 and updated November 2020

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