Phở, pronounced "fuh," is a Vietnamese soup that is normally made with a bone-beef broth, banh pho noodles, and thinly sliced beef, that's often served with bean sprouts and other fresh herbs on the side. Not to be confused with Japanese ramen, which is usually made with wheat noodles, pho is made with rice noodles. It is important to note that there are many variations of pho. The most common is pho nam, which originates in Southern Vietnam, and pho bac, which is from Northern Vietnam and considered to be the original pho.
According to Cuong Hyunh, creator of lovingpho.com, it is believed that pho originates in the Nam Dinh and Hanoi regions of North Vietnam after the French colonization of the country in the late 1880s. It is believed that the word "pho" comes from the French word "feu," meaning fire, and could possibly be a Vietnamese take on the French dish pot au feu. Pho bac, the original pho, is made by boiling beef bones for several days and has a heavy emphasis on the delicate and simple broth. The broth is accompanied only by rice noodles and and thinly sliced beef. After the second world war, many people from North Vietnam moved to South Vietnam to escape the communist rule of the North. This led to the creation of pho nam. Pho nam is usually made with a broth that is seasoned with many spices and heavily garnished with fresh herbs such as bean sprouts, basil, and cilantro. Pho nam became popular in southern Vietnam and is still commonly sold by street vendors due to its convenience. After the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnamese conflict, many people of the South fled to various parts of the world, allowing the spread pho along with other Vietnamese dishes. Pho is now easily found in many places of the world and is very popular on social media.
Pho bo (beef pho) is usually served with a large bowl of broth and rice noodles and is accompanied by a plate of thinly sliced raw beef and a plate of fresh garnishes like basil, cilantro, radishes, chilies, and lime. At most pho restaurants, there are also several condiments on the table, such as hoisin sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, Sriracha, and chili paste, to flavor the broth. Essentially, each bowl of pho is unique to you. With many different add-ins, you are able to adjust the pho to your preference. I recommend starting with adding raw meat to your broth.
Not a fan of beef? No worries! There are multiple variations of pho. The most common variations are pho ga (chicken pho) and pho chay (vegetarian pho). It is important to note, however, that not all Vietnamese noodle soup dishes are considered pho. For example, Bun Bo Hue is a pork base broth with rice noodles from the Hue region of central Vietnam and Hu Tieu is a pork and seafood noodle soup that is common in Southern region of Vietnam. Although these other dishes may look similar to pho, they differ in their flavors and are not always served with banh pho noodles (flat rice noodles).