Home | Directory | Contact | FAQ | Recipes | Restaurants | Vietnamese Recipes | 100 Vietnamese Foods | Subscribe

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 1

Gloomy weather again today. And since I was already buying beef marrow bones for Borscht, I decided to make pho bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup).

(The ? accent over the O in phở makes it sound like a question, so to pronounce it properly, say phở as if you were asking a question. Remember phở is your friend, not foe so don't pronounce it that way. :P)

 Pho originated in north Vietnam, but really proliferated when 1 million refugees fled south when the country was divided in 1954. In Saigon, pho comes with a plate of basil, sawtooth herb, bean sprouts, lime, chili paste, hoisin sauce. The only greens in a Hanoi bowl of pho would be some scallions. So while pho originated in Hanoi, the pho that's served in America is heavily Saigon-influenced. I like my broth with lots of flavor from the spices so adjust yours accordingly. I also prefer to skim as much of the fat as possible so this is a two-day process. Start it the day before, refrigerate it overnight to remove excess fat, and reheat on the second day before serving.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 8

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

For a 7-quart pot, which makes roughly 4 - 6 bowls, you'll need:

About 3-lbs of beef marrow bones (These are sold in bags in Asian grocery stores. You can also substitute with the more expensive oxtail bones.)
1/2-lb eye of round beef slices (These are sold in Asian grocery stores already pre-sliced. If not, ask your butcher to slice them deli thin. Or use whatever meat you have on hand and slice it as thin as possible.)
1 package of Banh Pho (Vietnamese Flat Thin Rice Noodles). (If you buy them fresh, in Vietnamese it'll say "banh pho tuoi." Fresh noodles only need to be immersed for a few seconds very quickly in boiling water to soften.)
A dozen cloves, studded into an onion
1 stick of cinnamon
About 6 star anise pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
A 2-inch knob of ginger
About 6 cloves of garlic
1 carrot, cut into several sections
2 celery stalks, cut into sections
1 daikon, cut into sections
2 tblsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce), or more according to taste
2 tsp salt, or more according to taste

Optional: 3 cardamom pods. 1 small package of beef meat balls or beef tendon meat balls, book tripe, flank steak, any other meat parts you wish.

For serving:
Cilantro, finely chopped
Scallions, finely chopped
Half an onion, thinly sliced
Bean sprouts
Thai basil
Limes, sliced in quarters
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha chili sauce
Sliced chilies, bird's eye or jalapenos  
Ngo gai (Vietnamese sawtooth herb)

Wash beef marrow bones and place them in the pot with enough water to cover. Turn the heat to high and when the pot boils, turn down heat to medium, and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. The bones will start releasing impurities, which will rise to the surface. Dump out everything into a colander and wash the bones again thoroughly. Wash out the pot and put the bones back in, filling the pot with water until it is 3/4 full. Turn the heat to high.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 2

Using a pair of tongs, char the cinnamon, star anise pods, and cloved onion over a gas burner. The charring brings out the aroma in the spices. If you don't have a gas burner, you can dry-fry the spices to release their fragrance.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 3

Toss the spices, including a few teaspoons of coriander seeds, ginger, garlic, carrot, daikon, and celery, into the pot. You can add the spices into a mesh ball or cheese cloth and tie them up if you don't want loose spices.

At this point, if there's room left in the pot, pour in water until it's close to full. When the broth starts boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low, lightly cover, and allow it to simmer for two hours or longer. Ideally, the longer you allow the broth to simmer, the more flavor will be extracted from the bones. You want the heat to be low so that the broth will remain clear. After the broth has simmered for several hours, turn the pot off and let it cool down.

Then refrigerate overnight so that the fat rises to the surface like what you see below. The fat will be a solid layer that you can just remove with a spoon.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 4

Once the fat is removed, turn the heat on high. When the broth boils again, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it simmer for several more hours. Add salt and fish sauce to taste. You can check on the broth periodically and season it. If the broth looks really greasy, let it cool down and refrigerate and skim the fat again.

A few hours before you're ready to eat, remove the beef bones. Using a slotted spoon, remove the spices. Or if you have a second pot, place a small colander in the pot and pour the broth into the colander. When you remove the colander, all the spices and any other large pieces will remain in the colander, and the broth will be clear.

Strip any meat that's still on the beef bones and add it to the broth. Add beef meatballs. I cut my meatballs in half for ease in eating. Season again with salt or fish sauce to taste.

Thinly slice the eye of round. If it's not pre-sliced, put the beef in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm up for ease in slicing. Set aside.

When you're ready to eat, turn the heat to high to get the broth boiling. Make a garnish platter for the table of the bean sprouts, basil, and lime quarters.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 5

For additional garnishing, slice onions, and chop cilantro, and scallions.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 6

Boil the rice noodles. When dumping out the rice noodles, upend a rice bowl into the colander to keep the noodles from clumping in the center. Fresh noodles only have to be immersed for a few seconds until softened.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 7

Crank the heat back on high so the broth is at a roiling boil. Assemble your bowl with the noodles on the bottom, then raw beef slices on top. When you pour the boiling broth over the meat, the hot broth will cook the meat.

Top with the chopped cilantro and scallions and onions slices. At the table, squeeze in some lime, add bean sprouts and basil, a few squirts of hoisin sauce and chili sauce.

A perfect spoonful of pho should have a few strands of noodles, some beef slices, a sprout or two, a basil leaf. Dip the spoon into the broth to fill it, and you've got a little bit of everything in one mouthful.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 9


If you're feeling lazy, try my Crock Pot Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup).

Or if you prefer chicken, you can try my recipe for Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup). It's pretty much the same thing.

Who made my recipe for pho bo?
Oanh of Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon cobbled together my recipe and another, and declared it a success.
The Baltimore DIY Squad said, "Although this meal was a definite production, it was a very special meal worth sharing with friends."
Christine of Kits Chow said, "It is a lot of work to make the Pho Bo and it is unlikely that I'll be making beef broth again soon. Everyone enjoyed the light yet rich beef soup so it was worth the effort."


  1. i have not had pho in ages. yummi!

  2. What wonderful step-by-step instructions! And I am so glad to see a fellow Vietnamese American food blogger who really knows how to cook! I love your tips about putting the bowl in the middle of the colander. My family also adds lemongrass to the pho base, but I learned so many new tips from you just now!

  3. BC,
    I haven't made it in a really long time.

    Thanks. Hope it's useful. I started doing the step-by-step for non-Asian readers but the Asian ones seem to find it the most useful. Go figure. :)

    Hmm. Lemongrass would be good, but that's too close to bun bo Hue to me and I like to keep my broths separate. :)

    1. Thank you - it's very clear and concise. My favorite Vietnamese Grocery Store is 50 miles away. I better get a list together

  4. Looks like a lot of work.
    Need to ask u ...is pho pronounced as "fold" or "far"?

  5. Mmmmm! Your pho looks so scrumptious! I want to try pho with those noodles. I've only had either the really wide ones or the skinny ones that are more common. I'm not too keen on the wide ones because you can't get a lot of it in one scoop and they tear more easily.

  6. Tigerfish,
    It is a lot of work. That's why most people just go out to eat it. :P

    As for pronunciation, it's probably closer to "fold" than "far" but neither of those are quite right either. The O has a ' hook (There's 3 O's in the VNese language), which makes it more of an "uh" sound. Combined with the ? accent. So if you were to say "pho king" and make it into a question, you'd be closer to the proper pronunciation. Oh, and then Northerners pronounce the ? accent as if it were cut off, while Southerners tend to stretch it a little so ? and ~ accent are almost indistinguishable. Hehe. I just confused you more. :P

    Haha! I was just thinking my pho didn't look so nice b/c I didn't have the broth showing in the pictures. And I used deer meat, which is tender, but doesn't look as juicy as beef.

    Apparently wide noodles are a northern thing, while skinnier ones are southern.

    I got mine from mommy who sent me a big grocery bag full of individually packaged noodles. :P

  7. I like the trick with the upturned bowl. GENIUS! I'm going to have to try this myself, when I summon up the courage and clear up some time! THANKS!

  8. I asked coz I usually pronounced it closer to the "ph" (with the "h")...but I saw a pgm in Foodnetwork and they pronounced it as "fa.." (with the "ah")...
    Anyway, sometimes, I just point to the picture (if any) or tell them the item number. :D ...when I'm in a Vnese rest. Thks for your explanation!

  9. Awesome. Good job.

    The rice bowl in the colander? Pure genius - I'm stealing that, though usually I'm just cranking out single servings for myself.

  10. Elmo,
    It's not difficult. Just takes a lot of time.

    Ack! Food Network isn't VNese. There's no "fa" sound.

    And even when I order in VNese, I just say the number too. :)

    Steal away. Recipes and cooking tips are meant to be shared. Just as long as you give proper attribution. Ahem, and include that sentence about how I'm a genius. ;)

  11. oh thank you for such g reat instructions!!! i am droooling now... i love pho!

  12. Hey Angela,
    I hope you get around to trying it someday soon!

  13. The weather is getting colder and I really want to try and make this. I love the interesting tips like toasting the cloves. Thanks for the recipe! I hope to make it soon.

  14. Maggie,
    Let me know how it turns out. I hope you like my recipe. I tend to be heavy-handed with the spices.

  15. Living abroad, I crave for Asian food from time to time and now I do not have the luxury to visit a Vietnamese restaurant in the surrounding, so I hope to make a pho myself shortly. Peter from Kalofagas referred you blog to me. Great recipe, I am intrigued with the cloves on the onion. Will definitely try out and let you know.

  16. Found your recipe through Oanh's website. I'm going to try it today. I've been craving pho for a long time now

  17. Janet,
    I saw your version. Great job!

    Strong Coffee Please,
    Oanh is the best! I hope you try the recipe. It's not difficult, just needs lots of time to simmer.

  18. genius!! the star anise in the onion and the bowl in the colander is genius!

  19. Caroline,
    Thanks! But that's nothing compared to all your fabulous photos! You're a genius! Truly!

  20. This is wonderful. I definitely want to try it, but I have a very BIG family. Would it be okay to just double the recipe and cook it in a larger pot, or do you thing it would be a problem (with the spices in particular if they are doubled)?

  21. Pandamonium,
    You can use a larger pot just fine. You might not need to double all the spices since they're pretty strong. I suggest using your larger pot and roughly the amount of spices I have in this recipe. Then a few hours into the simmering process, taste and see if you'd like to add more spices. Just remember that if you're simmering the broth for a long time that the spices will just get deeper in flavor.

  22. I like to put an onion and a dried squid into my broth :)

  23. Vivian,
    Dried squid adds more umami flavor. I like to do that with pork broth for hu tieu.

  24. I'm making stock more or less to your specifications right now (I added some dried anchovies and some hambones I had in the freezer). Thank you for such a clearly written and well illustrated guide. I can't wait to taste the finished product.

  25. Sweet Abraham's minivan, this stock is the greatest thing I have ever tasted. Wow.

  26. Reverend Frag,
    Haha. That's the best exclamation I've ever heard. I'm so glad you made pho and that it turned out so well.

  27. I just found your blog somehow. And I am very excited to make this. Pho Tai is definitely my hero.

  28. Holy guacamole. I had dinner just a while ago, but this post leaves me feeling famished and missing my Mom! Just had her here (in France) over the holidays, but I must say, she doesn't do the bowl in the strainer trick. Nifty; I'm going to tell her. Also, she and I toast the spices in the pan (I always add cardamom), and so I never thought of putting the cloves in the onion (even though I do that for mulled wine...)

    Satisfaction in a bowl. Just wish it didn't take so much time to make..Excellent, clear and detailed post!

  29. Banh Pho Tuoi is always expensive than the dry ones.

    What I discvoer is buy the Banh Pho (dry), soak it in warm water at least an hour if you are in hurry use hot water from the faucets. When you are ready to eat drain the noodle, put in in the bowl and heat it in the microwave for 1-2 minute. Perfect noodle everytime!

  30. Tammy,
    You can toast the cloves in the pan too. Probably better that way. But I'm silly, I just like how pretty the cloves look studded into the onion. :P

    Sweet Mango,
    Depends on where you live. In SoCal, fresh and dried noodles are pretty much the same price and fresh is infinitely better.

  31. Hi there. Dumb question but with the knob of ginger and 6 cloves of garlic, you don't mention anything about dicing it up. Do we really put it in whole or is it just assumed that we dice it up? thanks!

  32. Debbie,
    Nope. Ginger and garlic should be left whole so they can be fished out of the broth along with the spices and onion when it's time to eat.

  33. when i was simmering the beef bones, i noticed that it seemed like a lot of the soup was boiled away...and i added some more water because at that point the beef bones weren't fully submerged in water anymore..and i gave the broth a taste and it tastes blander than the Pho you get at restaurants...was this just because of the extra water or not having MSG in it?

  34. Got Milk 4 Al,
    If you add water, that waters down the broth. So you need to add salt or fish sauce to season it again.

  35. Can I do the first simmer for 4 hours then refrigerate, and the next day do a8-10 hour simmer? or are all the flavors focused more in the first simmer?

  36. Hsnopi,
    You can. Just make sure to skim the broth more at the end so it's clear. The first boil removes a lot of the impurities, which solidify into the fat layer when it's refrigerated.

    The flavor just gets concentrated the longer it simmers.

  37. All right, finally made this! A complete sucess...hubby and kids said it was better than our usual weekend bowl of Pho at the resteraunts we frequent...(But don't tell my relatives that own it!!! haha) Thanks for the great instructions, helped me a bunch. I will now be a regular maker of this...easy peasy!

  38. Natasha,
    Yay! Great to hear. Shh! I won't tell your relatives you like my pho more. :P

  39. can you leave the spice ball in when refrigerating overnight??

  40. Hope,
    I would take the spice ball out because the cloves can make the broth taste bitter. You can set the spice ball aside and plop it back in when you reheat it the next day. But taste first and if the broth is already to your liking, just discard the spice ball.

  41. Thank you wandering chopsticks! Your tips helped me cook Pho for the first time!! and it turned out really good!! At first I was going to cook for myself and my sister but all of the sudden I saw myself cooking for more than 10 people! They all liked it! I will definitely come back and use some more of your tips!
    thanks from Brazil

  42. Nato-gohan,
    Glad it turned out well for you! And so cool that you tried this all the way from Brazil. :)

  43. Just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to take pictures, and write down the recipes in english and parts of it in viet....my problem is I know the viet for it but I don't know the english sometimes or sometimes the opposite. Most of your instructions are very clear...I just didn't know what to do with the Daikon (I've never cooked it before so I just had to improvise).

    It's cooking right now...smells amazing...and I love the tea ball idea...and the coriander in the onions...so clever! Now let's hope I did everything else right...... =) oh and my husband wouldn't let me make the crock pot pho....he um...rolled his eyes at me HA!

    I will make it a mission to cook ALL of your recipes slowly...I'll let you know how that goes! It's my first time! I'm so excited!!!!!

    Thanks again for teaching me something my mom should have taught me...but instead kicked me out of the kitchen all the time when I was growing up HA!

    1. husband loved it!!! thanks again! it was delicious!

  44. RadishGirl,

    Hey, the Crock Pot pho is totally authentic. It's the same principle - low and slow. All of my recipes? Ha! That's dedication! Let's see how that goes. :P

    Glad my recipe turned out well for you!

  45. Hey wandering chopsticks,

    Could I use a sieve to skim the impurities out instead of boiling the beef bones for a second time?


  46. Nolondon,
    Yup, you can. You just have to skim a lot more.

  47. I will be trying your recipe this weekend, very excited. Quick question though- you mentioned that we could just drop the spices in the water instead of wrapping them up, would this be OK while it refrigerates over night or should I try to fish everything out beforehand? Thanks in advance!

  48. Buttermeat,
    You can remove the spices before or after refrigeration. Depends on how much more simmering you expect to do. If the broth has simmered all day, and you refrigerate to solidify the fat and plan to just heat it up again, then remove the spices first. If you plan to let the broth simmer a lot longer the second day, then keep the spices in to flavor the broth more.

  49. I made this soup and after a three day process (I used oxtail) I found very little actual broth left over after all the simmering. I wasn't sure if I need to cover the pot or not so I didn't. I found the broth to be very oily even after skimming the fat off twice. Then I realized that you could probably get the same flavor profile by taking already made beef stock and adding the spices to the stock without having to boil bones for hours on end. This just didn't do it for me. Like I said the broth was very oily and by the time I was ready to actually eat it I was over the smell and didn't even want it anymore. C'est la vie.

  50. Sandy,
    Sorry the recipe didn't work for you, but you shouldn't remove the cover on a pot if you're making broth. Cooking without the lid reduces stock and thickens it, that's why you didn't have any broth left, especially if you were doing that for three days. Did you dump the initial boil, clean the bones, and then start the process again per the directions? And also refrigerate the broth in between those days of simmering so that the fat could form a thick layer that you could easily remove? Skimming twice won't remove enough fat, especially since by removing the lid, you've essentially concentrated the fat.

    There's no need to simmer it for three days, especially if you didn't like the smell. Simmer on low for one day. Refrigerate overnight to get rid of excess fat. Then heat up the next day to eat.

    But thanks for pointing out where the recipe can be a little confusing, I'll make sure to clarify.

  51. I live with a Thai family that loves pho, so I always end up making it. I remember being out at Whole Foods some months ago and tasting their vegan pho broth. Loved the smell, it was especially heady, but it had little actual flavor. My own recipe gives me more flavor, but is not as heady. For one gallon of final broth, which makes about eight servings for us, I was using three cinnamon sticks, eight cloves, and five star anise. Just not doing it. So I doubled this time and will be fishing out the spice bag early if it gets to be too much.

    (If inquiring minds were wanting to know, vegan pho broth is made with a flat of shiitake mushrooms and vegetable broth, tastes just the same and is otherwise made the same way, simmered the same amount of time.)

    Anyway, I and my in-laws love your recipe. I'm glad to see that it's been up for so long. Sometimes I go back to my favorite recipes and can't find them any more. Kudos.

  52. Zindagi,
    I've heard of the Whole Foods pho when they launched it and have been curious. It probably didn't have flavor because they didn't use fish sauce, which they obviously can't if it's vegan. I've got a few ideas to add savoriness and still be vegan, but haven't experimented with a vegan pho yet.

    Thanks for your comment! That's why I'm on Blogger still. In case anything happens to me, the blog and all my recipes will still be there.

  53. Stumbled upon your blog after looking for an amazing Bo kho recipe. It was perfect.
    Then made your pho ga recipe. And today, your canh chua recipe.
    All are perfect and I am loving your blog. Thanks for sharing.
    My mothers recipes are not measured, she tells me it's just a little of this and a bit of that, so they are hit and miss.
    Your recipes always work out.

  54. Foodie Nutritionist,
    Yay! What a lovely comment to wake up to and read such praise. My mom's advice was much the same, but I think that's pretty much every Vietnamese mama's directions. :P

  55. Hello,

    I am thinking of trying this pho recipe for my boyfriend and I's anniversary dinner.... I'm nervous though, because I don't want to screw it up! He really loves pho though, so I think it'll be worth the risk.

    Just had some questions for you. Do you think it'd be okay to do a mix of marrow bone and oxtail? Or should I just stick to one or the other? I just want to make it really flavorful!

    Also, I've been searching for pho recipes all day, and some people were saying how, when you refrigerate the broth, it causes it to lose flavor.... do you know if this is true at all? Also, does roasting the bones before boiling them of the impurities add any flavor, or is this an unnecessary step?

    Sorry for all the questions, hope you don't mind... I just want to make the best pho possible! And if I do end up making it, I'll definitely let you know how it turns out :)


  56. Shannon,
    You can always try my Crock Pot Pho recipe if you're afraid of too much fiddling. You can mix marrow bones and oxtails! I do sometimes. More beefy flavor. Hmm. I've never thought refrigerating the broth loses flavor, unless those people think the extra fattiness makes it more flavorful? I'd rather skim that thick layer of fat, honestly. And then when reheating it, you should taste the broth and adjust salt or fish sauce until it's to your liking anyway. None of my family members roast the bones before making the broth, we just prefer it that way. I know it can be a little intimidating, but I hope you try! And happy anniversary!


Thank you for stopping by. I try to respond in a timely manner, but am not always able to do so. If you're awaiting a response, check the post in which the comment is made or click the "Notify me" option.

If you're not a blogger and you'd like to leave a comment, you can do so using your Google/Gmail account.

I welcome questions, discussions, and feedback, but please be mindful that this is my home online. I reserve the right to delete any comment that is anonymous or unknown, rude, promotional, or has a link.

Thank you for reading!