Monday, June 21, 2010


Phở, often written pho in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the U.S., is a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup. The soup includes noodles made from rice and is often served with basil, lime, bean sprouts and peppers that are added to the soup by the consumer.

Because not much was written about the origin of phở until recently, its beginnings are a bit murky and mostly culled from oral histories. Still, the consensus among academics, diners and restaurateurs is that it originated about a century ago in northern Vietnam. It was originally sold by vendors from large boxes, until the first phở restaurant was opened in the 1920s in Hanoi.

While a distinctly Vietnamese dish, phở has French and Chinese influences. The origin of the word was one subject in a seminar on phở held in Hanoi in 2003. One theory advanced at the seminar is that the name comes from the French feu (fire), as in the dish pot-au-feu, which like phở uses the French method of adding charred onion to the broth for color and flavor, one of the techniques which distinguishes phở from other Asian noodle soups. Some believe the origin of the word to be the Chinese fen (this character is pronounced phấn in Vietnamese.)

There are several regional variants of phở in Vietnam, particularly divided between northern (Hanoi, called phở bắc or "northern phở"; or phở Hà Nội), central (Huế)[citation needed], and southern (Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon). One regional phở may be sweeter, and another variation may emphasize a bolder and spicier flavor. "Northern phở" tends to use somewhat wider noodles and green onions. On the other hand, southern Vietnamese generally use thinner noodles, and add bean sprouts and a greater variety of fresh herbs to their phở instead. The variations in meat, broth, and additional garnishes such as lime, bean sprouts, ngò gai (Eryngium foetidum), hung que (Thai/Asian basil), and tuong (bean sauce/hoisin sauce) appear to be innovations introduced in the south.

The specific place of origin appears to be southwest of Hanoi in Nam Dinh province, then a substantial textile market, where cooks sought to please both Vietnamese (local rice noodles - originally of Chinese origin) and French tastes (cattle before the French arrival being beasts of burden, not sources of beef).

Phở did not become popular in South Vietnam until the mid-1950s.

Phở has become popular in Canada, particularly on the West Coast but also in any city and the United States, particularly on the East and West Coast; it was brought by Vietnamese refugees who settled in North America from the late 1970s onwards.

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