I got this recipe off an old lady who cooks it on the street in suburban Ho Chi Minh City.  I have been eating at her store (open air…about 3 square metres), sitting on her little red plastic chairs, on the street for the past 3-4 years.  Her name is Ms Thao, estimated age is 65-70.  We don’t speak each other’s native language, however, she knows what I like to eat and she can tell when I am satisfied…!  I had to take one of our local Thanh Loc Project volunteers with me after I promised you this, just so I could get the recipe translated.  We started with a basic recipe off the internet, and Ms Thao went to town reconstructing the recipe into how it is supposed to be…!

It is a bit of a project to cook this dish, however, the time for steps can be reduced to your liking … but it just may not taste the same as Ms Thao’s if shortcuts are taken.


Pho Bo

Here is a photo of the dish…it doesn’t look like much, but the flavour is simply amazing…

Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup)

Makes about 8 full bowls

For the broth:

2 medium yellow onions
4-inch piece ginger
5-6 pounds beef soup bones (marrow and knuckle bones)
5 star anise (traditional Vietnamese spice, available at Asian supermarkets in Australia)
6 whole cloves
3-inch cinnamon stick
1 pound piece of beef chuck, rump, brisket or cross rib roast, cut into 2-by-4-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1 ounce (1-inch chunk) yellow rock sugar, or normal sugar can be used

For the bowls:

1 1/2-2 pounds small dried or fresh banh pho noodles (“rice sticks”)
1/2 pound raw eye of round, sirloin,thinly sliced across the grain
1 medium yellow onion, sliced paper-thin, left to soak for 30 minutes in a bowl of cold water
3 or 4 scallions/spring onions, green part only, cut into thin rings
1/3 cup chopped cilantro (coriander)
Ground black pepper

Optional garnishes arranged on a plate and placed separately on the table:

Sprigs of spearmint and basil
Leaves of thorny cilantro (coriander)
Bean sprouts
Red hot chiles, thinly sliced
Lime wedges

Prepare the pho broth:

Char onion and ginger. Use an open flame on grill or gas stove. Place onions and ginger on cooking grate and let skin burn. (If using stove, I learnt to turn on exhaust fan and open a window…!) After about 15 minutes, rotated on both sides they will soften and become sweetly fragrant. You do not have to blacken entire surface, just enough to slightly cook onion and ginger.

Let cool. Under warm water, remove charred onion skin; trim and discard blackened parts. If ginger skin is puckered and blistered, smash ginger with flat side of knife to loosen flesh from skin. Run ginger under warm water to wash off blackened bits. Set aside.

Soup bones. Place bones in stockpot and cover with cold water. Over high heat, bring to boil. Boil vigorously 2 to 3 minutes to allow impurities to be released. Dump bones and water into sink and rinse bones with warm water. Quickly scrub stockpot to remove any residue. Return bones to pot.

Simmer broth. Add water to pot, bring to boil over high heat, then lower flame to gently simmer. Use ladle to skim any scum that rises to surface. Add remaining broth ingredients and cook, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours. Boneless meat should be slightly chewy but not tough. When it is cooked to your liking, remove it and place in bowl of cold water for 10 minutes; this prevents the meat from drying up and turning dark as it cools. Drain the meat; cool, then refrigerate. Allow broth to continue cooking; in total, the broth should simmer 3 hours.

Strain the pho broth through fine strainer. Use ladle to skim as much fat from top of the pho broth as you like. (Cool it and refrigerate it overnight to make this task easier; reheat before continuing.) Taste and adjust flavor with additional salt, fish sauce and yellow rock sugar. The pho broth should taste slightly too strong because the noodles and other ingredients are not salted. (If you’ve gone too far, add water to dilute.)

Heat the pho broth and ready the noodles. To ensure good timing, reheat broth over medium flame as you’re assembling the soup bowls. If you’re using dried noodles, cover with hot tap water and soak 15-20 minutes, until softened and opaque white. Drain in colander. For fresh rice noodles, just untangle and briefly rinse in a colander with cold water.

Blanch noodles. Fill saucepan with water and bring to boil. For each bowl, use long-handle strainer to blanch a portion of noodles. As soon as noodles have collapsed and lost their stiffness (10-20 seconds), pull strainer from water, letting water drain back into saucepan. Empty noodles into bowls. Noodles should occupy about 1/4 of bowl. If desired, after blanching noodles, blanch bean sprouts for 30 seconds in same saucepan. They should slightly wilt but retain some crunch. Drain and add to the garnish plate.

Add other ingredients. Place slices of cooked meat and raw meat, atop noodles. Garnish with onion, scallion and chopped cilantro. Finish with black pepper.

Ladle in broth and serve. Bring broth to rolling boil. Check seasoning. Ladle broth into each bowl, distributing hot liquid evenly so as to cook raw beef and warm other ingredients. Serve your pho with with the garnish plate.