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Through the Lens of Time: Vietnamese Culture

Beef Noodle Soup

Vietnam's national dish is pho – a noodle soup, served steaming hot.  The long noodles are cooked in a broth with chicken, beef, and other ingredients and spices. Each region produces its own version of pho.  Many Vietnamese city dwellers eat it daily, often for breakfast or a late snack.


Traditionally pho – pronounced "fuh" (rhyming with "duh"), rather than "fo"– is prepared by simmering the broth overnight, without allowing it to boil.  The complex broth is derived from boiling beef bones for hours. The meat topping is almost always beef – such as pho tai (uncooked thin slices of beef), pho nam (cooked beef), pho bo vien (meat balls).


The dish is relatively new and became popular in the 1950s.  Some experts claim it is a mixture of French broth mixed with Asian noodles and spices.  It is thought that the Chinese living in the north contributed the rice noodle component of the soup, while the French introduced beef, a previously extravagant meat, to this street food bowl.  In fact, the Vietnamese language probably acquired the word from French feu 'fire', as in pot-au-feu, a stew of meat and vegetables of which the broth is drunk separately as a soup (Vietnam was formerly a French colony).


After the Vietnam war, pho made its way to countries like France, the United States and Australia with Vietnamese refugees.




Banh Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup)

This dish is best started early in the day, as the stock needs to cook for 6–12 hours. You can also prepare the stock a day or two in advance of serving the pho.

·         3 large onions

·         1 tablespoon peanut oil

·         5 pounds beef and chicken bones, meaty combination

·         4 ginger slices, julienne sliced

·         2 carrots, julienne sliced

·         1 small cinnamon stick

·         1 star anise

·         2 whole cloves

·         1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

·         2 garlic cloves, smashed

·         1/2 pound fresh bean sprouts

·         1/2 pound beef sirloin, sliced very thin across grain, bite size

·         1 green onion, finely sliced

·         1/4 cup chopped cilantro 4 serrano chiles, sliced

·         2 limes, cut into wedges

·         8 ounces rice stick noodles

·         3 tablespoons nuoc mam (fish sauce)

·          freshly ground black pepper to taste

Slice two of the onions into 1/4 inch slices.  Heat oil in a frying pan.  Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring, until the edges brown.  Remove and drain.  Slice the remaining onion into paper thin slices and set aside.  Rinse the beef and chicken bones and place in a stockpot.  Cover with cold water.  Bring slowly to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered.  For a clear broth skim off foam.  After 10-15 minutes, add browned onion, ginger, carrots, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, garlic, and peppercorns.  Bring to a boil.  Simmer the stock, partially covered for 6 to 12 hours, skimming.