No dish is more synonymous with Vietnamese cuisine than humble bowl of pho. The concept of noodle, broth and meat is amazingly simple yet the preparation and presentation involved is as complex as the broth it is served in. Hanoi and Saigon have their own take on pho and is indicative of the people that live there.
Pho Bac is indicative of the cooler, less agricultural north. Hanoian’s tend to only use beef bones to flavour the broth and use spices such as star anise to give slightly nuance to the broth. The noodles used in this region are generally wider but thinner than it’s Southern cousin and the selection of meats are simpler with many shops offering only pho bo tai (pho with rare sliced beef). The garnish you find on the side is also simpler with thai basil, green onion and chilis. But don’t put too much in. Hanoian’s will look down on you for ruining the subtle flavours of the broth!
Pho Nam is Pho Bac’s brash cousin from the south. Also indicative of the fast moving city, the broth is usually jacked up with chicken bones and dried squid to intensify the flavour. The noodles in Pho Nam tend to be thicker than and the garnishes reflect the abundance of vegetables in the south. Unlike in Hanoi, it is encouraged to put in as much as you want to reflect your taste. The amounts of meats available in Pho Nam is staggering and can be intimidating for a first timer. Basic selections are either tai (sliced of ground beef ), bo vien (beef meatballs) or nam (beef flank). More adventurous eaters have the option of more exotic fare such as gan (beef tendon), sach (thin sliced stomach lining) or ve don (flank with cartilage). Or get all of it in one bowl and order a pho thap cam! Chili sauce and hoisin sauces are usually found next to these garnishes and can be used to add a bit of kick to your bowl.
So which pho are you?