Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pho Bo: Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Four years back, my hubby and I took a free and easy trip to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.  There, I had my first taste of the classic Vietnamese dish, Pho Bo or Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup.  It was love at first sight!  I like the noodle soup so much, that I had a bowl every other day during my stay in Vietnam.  You see, I love good soup and I love noodles.  Putting these two items together is simply a match made in heaven!  Plus, when one is on overseas holiday, it is better to stick with hot cooked food rather than non-cooked cold dishes, just in case our stomach is not as strong as the locals.  I will tell you a little bit more at the end of this post, with photos illustrations ;)

Ingredients for the broth

Preparation starts with making the broth.  The broth is usually made by simmering beef bones and meat, with charred ginger, charred onion and spices for a few hours.  I did not have any beef bones on hand, so I used chicken bones instead.  Since this is my first attempt with preparing Pho Bo, I took reference over here.  I added my own special spice - lemon grass, as I love the lemony fragrance that it imparts to the chicken broth.  

Sliced beef and garnishes to go with my rice noodles

Once the broth is ready, making a bowl of pho is easy.  I used dried rice noodles and pre-soak the noodles to soften and separate the noodle strands.  It took less than a minute in boiling hot water to cook the rice noodles.  Drain the noodles and place in a deep soup bowl.  The thinly sliced beef needs no cooking at all.  Just place the sliced beef on top of the cooked noodles and pour boiling hot broth over the beef.  See the instant change in colour of the sliced beef from dark red to pinkish red and that's it!  Serve your bowl of piping hot beef noodles soup with fresh mint leaves, basil leaves, red cut chillies, lime wedges and bean sprouts.  I added some baby romaine lettuce for extra greens.

This is the packet of dried Vietnamese rice noodles that I used

(serves 4 to 5 persons)

Preparing the broth
Chicken bones (3 sets of neck, front and back bones)
1 to 2 stalks of lemon grass, crushed
2 medium onions, cut into quarter
3 thick slices of ginger
1 to 2 cinnamon sticks
1 to 2 star anise 
Few cloves
3 cardamom
A small piece of yellow rock sugar
Salt to taste

1) Blanch the chicken bones in hot boiling water for a few minutes to remove impurities.  Remove bones and discard water.
2) Bring a pot of hot water to boil (about 3 litres).  While waiting for water to boil, place the cut onions and sliced ginger in an ungreased non-stick pan and lightly toast the pieces over medium heat.  Turn the onions and ginger pieces to toast on all sides, so that they are slightly charred.  Remove and set aside.
3) Add the chicken bones, charred ginger and onion, and all the ingredients into the boiling water.  Cover and bring to boil on high heat for about 5 minutes.  Skim surface scum, cover, then adjust to low heat and simmer for another 90 minutes.  Add salt to taste.
4) Strain the broth.  Discard the bones and spices.  

Other preparation
1 packet of dried rice noodles
Thinly sliced beef (quantity depends on your preference.  I allocate about 5 to 6 slices per bowl)
Thinly sliced onions, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes, drained

1) Soak the dried rice noodles in cold water for about 20 minutes to soften and loosen the strands.  Drain away the water.
2) Bring a pot of water to boil.  Lightly cook the noodles in the boiling water (takes less than a minute).  Drain and place noodles in deep soup bowl.
3) Place beef slices on top of the noodles.  Add some sliced onions on top.  Ladle hot boiling broth into the bowl.  Serve with a plate of fresh herbs (basil, mint leaves), bean sprouts and lime wedges.
4) To eat, add fresh herbs, bean sprouts to the bowl and squeeze in the lime juice.  Enjoy your hearty noodle soup!

One thing I remember most about Ho Chi Minh City is the insane, unbelievable traffic!  There were cars, vans, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and human traffic, all moving at the same time, at various directions, without much traffic control!  Crossing the roads is by far my most challenging experience on a holiday trip.  There was never a moment where we can wait for the roads to be cleared of traffic.  I just held my hubby's hand tight, closed my eyes and crossed!  And yes, we survived the traffic nightmare. Despite the chaotic traffic, we seldom heard drivers blasting their car horns at each other.  At most, there were a few light beeps here and there as gentle warning.  This friendly gesture is something missing in Singapore.  

The obvious difference is the relaxed and simple lifestyle in Vietnam.  As we took a cruise down the Mekong River on a sampan ride, we were greeted with many smiles and interesting sights along our way.  There was an elderly woman washing her laundry along the river.

Kids playing in the water.  

Washing hair with water from the dark murky river?  How about washing your pots, plates and bowls too?

I told you at the beginning of this post, that it is better to have piping hot food and avoid the cold, uncooked food.  No joke, this woman is cleaning fish over here.  We wondered if she knew what a little boy did along the same stretch of river, probably just a 100m away, on the upper stream .....

..... wee wee break!!!


  1. Wooo,hot beef noodle.Never try beef noodle in my life,not a beef lover,but now started to try
    meatball"hehhe.your chicken broth looks very interesting,even just the soup and noodle,should taste very good.Very well made.

    Vietnamese sandwich is so far the best.Their bread and the chicken liver pate....Have you try this along your journey?

    1. oh yes, I love their crispy baguette sandwich. Very light and crispy. With a spread of a little pate, some herbs and pickles sandwiched in between, the taste is fantastic. We had it between meals as a snack.

  2. I love beef pho noodle soup, especially with lots of basil leaves. You know there is a stall at Sim Lim Square selling Vietnamese food? I love their beef pho and curry chicken noodle. Have a try when you're around there.

  3. Wow Fong! I like both your Vietnamese noodles and holiday shots!

  4. Beautiful shots...n pho looks yummy :)

  5. Lovely pictures of Ho Chi Minh!! and your noodles sound so yummy too..

  6. Happy that U loved our tradition noodle. To make a true authentic beef noodle took us a long time. As my mom uses to owned a restaurant in HCM before 1975. Now I still cook it when winter is here in US. Love your blog, wish I will visit Singaspore once day.

    1. Yes, I love this beef noodle soup very much. I had it almost everyday when I was in Vietnam!


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