Pho Pronunciation – How to Order Pho in Vietnamese

June 23, 2009


Pho Restaurant Open SignUpdated 04-02-14. Per a request from Barb Carter over at the “Tips on Ordering Pho” post, here are audio files to help with your pho ordering in Vietnamese language. The selection is based on a typical pho menu one may find at many Viet restaurants. So drop me a note in the comment if I missed anything and I’ll add it.

First a few words about convention. In Vietnamese, the word “tô” means “bowl.” When ordering a bowl of pho tai, for example, a Viet would call a “tô phở tái” or just “tô tái.” If you’re already in a pho restaurant, then saying “phở” is redundant and is really not necessary (but optionally okay.) If you’re in a Viet restaurant that also serves pho, then ordering a “tô phở tái’ would be more appropriate to make it clear that you want pho and not another dish. So for those who find saying pho a little challenging, “tô” will solve your problem!

Note: The “t” in “tô” pronounces as a hard t like in French (e.g., Tour de France) or in Spanish (e.g., Latino,) and not like a soft t in English (i.e., tow truck.)

For pho bo or beef pho, as noted in “Tips on Ordering Pho,” the seemingly endless pho options on the menu are really permutation and combination of the available meat cuts and types that you can mix and match. The most common options are:

  • bo chin (sliced well-done steak),
  • bo tai (sliced rare steak),
  • nam (flank),
  • ve don (crunchy flank),
  • gau (fatty brisket),
  • gan (tendon),
  • sach (tripe) and
  • bo vien (beef meatballs, normally with tendon).

So without further ado, here is the audio pho menu. As always each has the Southern Viet accent followed by Northern Viet accent.

  1. Tô Đặc Biệt Xe Lửa (pho dac biet xe lua) – special (combo) large size pho
    Click to play     
  2. Pronounce: Tô Đặc Biệt (pho dac biet) – special (combo) regular size pho
    Click to play     
  3. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Nạm, Gầu, Gân, Sách (pho Tai, Nam, Gau, Gan, Sach) – rare steak, flank, fatty brisket, tendon, tripe pho
    Click to play     
  4. Pronounce: Tô Chín, Nạm, Gầu, Gân, Sách (pho Chin, Nam, Gau, Gan, Sach) – well-done steak, flank, fatty brisket, tendon, tripe pho
    Click to play     
  5. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Chín, Gầu, Gân, Sách (pho Tai, Chin, Gau, Gan, Sach) – rare steak, well-done steak, fatty brisket, tendon, tripe pho
    Click to play     
  6. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Chín, Nạm, Gân, Sách (pho Tai, Chin, Nam, Gan, Sach) – rare steak, well-done steak, flank, tendon, tripe pho
    Click to play     
  7. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Nạm, Gân, Sách (pho Tai, Nam, Gan, Sach) – rare steak, flank, tendon, tripe pho
    Click to play     
  8. Pronounce: Tô Tái (pho Tai) – rare steak pho
    Click to play     
  9. Pronounce: Tô Chín (pho Chin) – well-done steak pho
    Click to play     
  10. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Chín (pho Tai, Chin) – rare steak, well-done steak pho
    Click to play     
  11. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Nạm, Gân (pho Tai, Nam, Gan) – rare steak, flank, tendon pho
    Click to play     
  12. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Nạm, Sách (pho Tai, Nam, Sach) – rare steak, flank, tripe pho
    Click to play     
  13. Pronounce: Tô Nạm, Vè Dòn (pho Nam, Ve Don) – flank, crunchy flank pho
    Click to play     
  14. Pronounce: Tô Chín, Nạm, Vè Dòn (pho Chin, Nam, Ve Don) – well-done steak, flank, crunchy flank pho
    Click to play     
  15. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Gầu (pho Tai, Gau) – rare steak, fatty brisket pho
    Click to play     
  16. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Nạm (pho Tai, Nam) – rare steak, flank pho
    Click to play     
  17. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Gân (pho Tai, Gan) – rare steak, tendon pho
    Click to play     
  18. Pronounce: Tô Tái, Sách (pho Tai, Sach) – rare steak, tripe pho
    Click to play     
  19. Pronounce: Tô Bò Viên (Southern)/Tô Phở Bò Viên (Northern) (pho with meatballs) – Viet meatball pho
    Click to play     
  20. Pronounce: Nước béo (fatty broth) – Southern/Northern similar
    Click to play     

    { 18 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Cynthia June 25, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Hi there: was trying to send you an email though the contact box but kept getting an error message. I’m a food writer in Orange County and would love to talk to you more about your post on why pho restaurants have numbers in their names. What a great topic!

    Please let me know if you’re interested. Thanks!

    2 Aaron June 29, 2009 at 5:32 am

    Good topic :). I typically just order a Pho Dac Biet, (or Xe Lua if my eyes are bigger then my stomach is) but I might try ordering some of the ingrediants I prefer individually. The Vietnamese have warmed up to me a bit since I’ve been coming in once or twice a week (and ordering the pho with extra gan :) ), so I might be able to get away with it.

    Good post though, I swear Pho is one of the very few foods that I actually physically start CRAVING if I don’t have it for a while!

    3 Cuong Huynh June 29, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Aaron: You’re definitely a pho hero! Xe Lua is always my favorite size, though I only order tai, chin, sach in my bowl. I don’t mind the other ingredients, but I’m fine with not having them so I can concentrate on those 3, plus lots of basil and culantro lol.

    By the way if you haven’t read “Tips on Ordering Pho” then I highly recommend it. Because once you know about them, I think you’ll love ordering those side dishes.

    4 eddie July 1, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    My husband has noticed that on a many, many vietnamese menus that the #16 is always the same. Pho with sliced well done steak. Is this some rule?

    5 Cuong Huynh July 2, 2009 at 12:34 am

    eddie: Wow that is a strange coincidence. AFAIK, there shouldn’t be any rule regarding which pho goes where. I’m looking at a menu in my hand right now and #16 is definitely not well done steak:) He’s just lucky is my guess, though 16 is one of my own lucky numbers lol.

    6 Inthewater July 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Love this site, and the articles. I am a recent pho addict, and I love the stuff. i have now moved on to trying all the other dishes, having become adventurous by trying som bun bo hue. I can not hear the audio recordings at work, but will check them out at home to see how to say the different dishes.

    Lots of great stuff here, thanks for the work.

    7 Cuong Huynh July 22, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Inthewater: Haha I hope by “I can not hear the audio recordings at work” you mean you don’t want to get in trouble at work, and not because of a problem with the recordings 😉

    Anyway, Thanks for the nice words, and don’t be afraid of the pork blood in bun bo Hue!

    8 Pho Fan April 11, 2010 at 4:44 am

    Excellent post, well done for teaching people.

    People now, learn this:

    “Chào em! (to waiter/waitress) Em khỏe không? Cho tôi một tô phở bò tái, với một dĩa giá chín, và một dĩa rau muống xào tỏi và dầu hàu cũng vậy. Cảm ơn!”

    9 Cuong Huynh April 11, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Pho Fan: I would do a full audio for your excellent phrase to order pho and ong choy dishes, but would caution the following 😉
    The word “em” is used to address either a younger person (male or female) or a younger woman (flirtatiously or not.) So be careful if the waiter is an older guy, an older woman, or my aunt ;-P

    10 Marina August 4, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    “Nuoc Beo” pronunciation

    I am a pho addict, love this site, really appreciate all the
    information you are posting here.
    Could you please post the sound file with the pronunciation of “Nuoc
    Beo” – just like you have for many other pho components in your post
    “Pho Pronunciation – How to Order Pho in Vietnamese”?

    Thank you so much,

    11 Cuong Huynh August 4, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    Hi Marina: Thanks for your request. Check out #20 above for the pronunciation of nước béo, the fatty broth, yum!

    12 John December 18, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Wow thank you so much for this. The recordings really help out alot

    13 Cuong December 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Hi John: Glad the recordings worked for you. Have a great pho day!

    14 lolsuz March 2, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Cuong, thanks so much for this excellent webpage! We live near the Chinatown Center in north Austin, Texas, so our neighborhood is practically swimming in Pho restaurants. We are so lucky! I can’t thank you enough for posting these pronunciations… and you speak slowly and clearly enough for us to wrap our brains and then our tongues around the sounds that are so hard for us. You are awesome!

    15 Cuong March 4, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Hi lolsuz: Wow thanks for the accolade! I’m glad the audios helped. I love your “practically swimming in Pho restaurants” expression, that’s what we want, yeah! 😉 You are awesome yourself. Have a great bowl of pho for me the next time you’re at it.

    16 Bear September 5, 2011 at 6:57 am

    Am I crazy (yes!) or is some of Southern Thai based (modified?) by contact with French? Some aspects of the language remind me of French…

    17 Cuong September 13, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Bear: When it comes to Thai culture, I am guilty of being ignorant, even though I do have some Thai friends. The possibility is always there. People move around fluidly with trades, cultural and other exchanges, so it’s entirely possible that your postulation is correct. For me, Southeast Asia region is a huge mixed bag of cultures, and the western influence there most likely came from the French, not the English, Spanish or Portuguese.

    18 Ernesto Mutter January 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    I really liked your article post.Much thanks again. Want more.

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