Noodle soup (Phở) is one of the most common foods in Viet Nam . It could easily be called Vietnam’s national dish. Most often served in the early morning, it is available on any street corner, everywhere in Vietnam, all day, and is a staple of most Vietnamese restaurants outside of the country.
Phở appeared the first time at the beginning of the 20th century then was spread to Central and Southern Vietnam in the mid 1950s. As for the birthplace, someone said that it came from China but a couple of theories pointed to the small impoverished village of Van Cu in Nam Dinh province, southwest of Hanoi. However Van Cu villagers don’t know who created the dish. They only know that in 1925, a villager named Vặn became the first person move to Hanoi and open a stall on Hang Hanh street. About 70 % — 80 % Phở-vendors in Hanoi today are from that village. First, there was only beef noodle soup – “phở-bò” – and it was hawked around the streets – “Pho-gánh”. During the 1940s, eople started to make this dish with chicken because the beef was very rare. At that time, the soup had been become a feature of Hanoi and many people addicted to it.
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) and southern (Saigon). Its regional taste may be sweeter, and another variation may emphasize a bolder and spicier flavor. “Northern-phở” tends to use some what 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 dish instead.
A famous Vietnamese writer – Mr. Thach Lam (1909 – 1942) considered Phở a delicious speciality food of Hanoi. “There are many restaurants serving the dish around the country, but HaNoi’s traditional soup is the best”, he wrote.
Nowadays, Phở is so popular that it is available on any street corner, everywhere in Vietnam, all day from the early morning to the late night. Almost no street in my city – Hanoi – is without a Phở-Restaurant (there are even two noodle soup restaurants beside my home). But not every restaurant can satisfy the strict requirements of Hanoian gourmets who eat the traditional soup every morning or late at night during the four seasons.
A good bowl of the traditional soup must have tasty yet clear broth, supple but not crumbly noodles, the herbs and spices, and lemon, chili, and onion. The broth is the star of the soup and is in some cases a closely guarded family secret. The flavor of broth must come from simmering the beef (and sometimes chicken) bones, not from seasoning. Noodles must be fresh, soft and plastic. Next, brown beef is dipped into the hot soup, and finally spices, including onion and fines herbs (rau thơm). The southerners love to eat the soup with various types of vegetables like bean sprouts or Thai basil (húng quế) but Hanoian gourmets do not eat it that way. Looking at a bowl of the soup, you can see the white of noodle, the pink of rare beef, the green of herbs and the red of chili peppers… all mixed together. WOW, What a colorful delicious picture !!!
Hanoi’s traditional soup has a specific flavor that you will never forget if you have an opportunity to taste it. In my opinion, this noodle soup made in Hanoi has the special attraction that is found no where else in Vietnam. It’s really different.
Some types of Phở in Hanoi: Phở-bò-tái (rare beef noodle soup or half done beef noodle soup), Phở-bò-chín (well done beef noodle soup), Phở-bò-viên (beef meat balls noodle soup), Phở-nạm-bò (beef flank noodle soup), Phở-sốt-vang (beef stew noodle soup), Phở-gà (chicken noodle soup), …