Pho is generally the first Vietnamese cuisine that most travellers try when they first arrive in Vietnam. It’s a very simple dish and you can add as much or as little seasoning as you like. As a lover of the noodle dish I found myself curious about it’s origins.
The only thing known for certain is it does originate from Northern Vietnam. Depending on who you reference, it was created somewhere between the 1820’s and the early 20th century. The traditional home of pho is reputed to be the villages of Vân Cù and Dao Cù (or Giao Cù). Street sellers would carry a box at either end of a stick sell the noodle dish at dusk and dawn. It wasn’t until 1918 Hanoi found it’s first fixed stand.
When Vietnam was divided in 1954, millions fled North Vietnam for the South. Pho, previously unpopular in the South, suddenly became very popular . No longer confined to northern culinary habits, different types in meat and broth appeared, and additional garnishes, such as lime, bean sprouts, cilantro (ngò gai), basil (húng quế), and Hoisin sauce (tương đen), became standard fare.
Meanwhile, in North Vietnam, private pho restaurants were nationalized and began serving pho noodles made from old rice, while street vendors were expected to use noodles made of imported potato flour.
These days pho stands, mom and pop shops and the recent chain restaurants dot the landscape. Just for fun type in the word Pho into Google maps for Ho Chi Minh. We are talking thousands of locations!!!!
1. If you’re ever in Binh Thanh District of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), visit the unassuming no-name pho restaurant run by the five sisters at 17B Phan Boi Chau Street, near Ba Chieu Market.
2. For a more upscale pho experience, try Pho 24, a quality chain of pho restaurants with branches in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia. 24 supposedly indicates how many ingredients are in the pho as well as how long it’s cooked.
3. Pho made by northern Vietnamese will typically have less or no herbs with an earthier flavored broth. Look out for signs that say “Phở Hà Nội” or “Phở Bắc”.
4. My personal favorite is Quan Pho Thanh Canh on Nguyen Cu Trinh Street, across from the Pullman hotel.
By Glen Riley