Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese Pho

Updated 06-19-19. There are three elements that make up a bowl of Vietnamese pho: the broth, the rice noodles and the toppings (meat, garnishes, etc.)

If you are a pho lover, you may be a fan of the noodles or of the way the meat, herbs and spices play together in your mouth as you slurp your pho to the last drop. Regardless, there's no denying that the pho broth is the most important element of Vietnamese pho. Pho broth is the soul of the dish. It is what makes the dish Vietnamese pho.

It's not a bowl of pho until the broth goes in.

Pho note: This article on Pho Broth is both a how to make pho broth and a philosophical look at the meaning of the broth in pho. If you are looking for the nuts and bolts of making pho, go directly to the latest Beef Pho Recipe infographic, or check out these 2 articles: Top Pho Bo and Pho Ga Recipes You Must Try Yourself and Quick Beef Pho Recipe with Quoc Viet Foods’ Pho Soup Base.

Giving Meaning to the Soul of Pho

Pho brothCan you imagine Vietnamese pho without its broth? It is probably impossible to do so. You may try to cook up all kinds of soups, pour it in the bowl and try to call it pho. You may resort to be creative with different meats and adding new herbs and garnishing to the mix, but it's just not pho. The pho broth is what gives the soup its distinct character. There's not necessarily only one way to make pho broth, but a good pho broth must follow certain rules and standards.

In fact, the key to a successful bowl of pho is the creation of a good pho broth. Pho lovers judge the bowl of pho served to them in a restaurant by sipping the broth first without putting in any seasoning or garnishing.

I see many people (mostly non-Viet and younger Viet generation) dumping in sriracha and/or hoisin sauce into their pho as the bowls arrive at the table. My question is, don't they wonder how the broth tastes? Is it good or is it not good pho broth? If it's not good pho broth then maybe they should try a better place.

But I digress. If there's any doubt about the quality of a bowl of pho, just take a sip of the broth to find out. If the pho broth is good, we feel immediately at home; the familiar, the warm, the good, the satisfying. But if the broth is not up to expectation, the pho eating experience becomes labored, beside the fact that one is wasting the time and money with this darn bowl of pho.

You can be forgiven for serving undercooked or overcooked banh pho (the pho noodle). You can be forgiven for not having all the right meat types or garnishing. But mess up the pho broth and your pho is ruined. Conversely, serving a great pho broth will make up for your other shortcomings many times over. There is no one perfect technique for making pho broth, but with practice and attention to to basic techniques, one can create a very good broth, with the right pho taste.

How to Make Pho Broth

There is no single perfect technique for creating good pho broth.

Many Vietnamese say that the best pho you will ever taste is the one cooked by your own mother, grandmother or other matriarch of the family. Such person would have very strong preference of how good pho broth is made. These ideas and knowledge, in turn, are handed down from generation to generation. I can tell you, this is more of a myth than fact, but will be the subject of a different post.

For now, let's move on to making a good pho broth.

Oh one more thing: the following is more applicable for home made pho. For restaurant operation which must produce very large quantity of pho with consistent quality day in day out, the specific process, procedures, equipment and number of staff/cooks are much different, more demanding, and certainly a lot more involved than shown here.

Clear pho broth potsAlmost all pho recipes will have many common elements between them, from the ingredients that go into the broth to the length of time required in making it. Vietnamese culinary experts Andrea Nguyen's and Mai Pham's beef pho recipes call for the following ingredients:

  • Yellow onions
  • Ginger
  • Marrow-rich beef bones and beef knuckle bones
  • Additional beef chunks
  • Star anise
  • Cloves
  • Salt
  • Fish sauce
  • Yellow rock sugar

Here's a generic process. Many recipes call for preparation using two stockpots of boiling water. The beef bones and chunks are parboiled in one pot in high heat for up to five minutes. This is to remove all the impurities on the outside of the beef. Andrea Nguyen recommends rinsing the bones in warm water before being transferred into the second stockpot, while Mai Pham says that it is fine to just transfer the bones and the chunks without rinsing. If you have room for 2 large pots, then use 2 pots; it will save you a lot of time while keeping your stock pure. But if you can use only one pot, then it will work too.

In any case, the second stockpot is kept at a simmer for an hour and a half, with any scum rising to the top skimmed out regularly. The spices are then added, either as they are or wrapped in cheesecloth. Before they are put into the broth, the onions and the ginger need to be charred in open flame. Mai Pham recommends toasting the star anise and the cloves lightly in a dry pan before they are put into the pot. Again techniques vary, but either roasting or charring will help release much more of spices'  fragrance.

After the hour and a half has passed, the boneless beef chunks are removed. The remaining broth is allowed to simmer for another hour and a half or so. The pho broth is then strained and seasoned with fish sauce, salt and rock sugar. At this point, the pho broth should look clear and free from impurities. It is perfectly acceptable for it to taste strong and even salty at this point as well because the taste will be toned down once the broth is poured over the unseasoned rice noodles and meat.

The procedure described above is the most generally accepted way of cooking pho broth. But no two bowls of pho made from two separate kitchens ever taste the same, and techniques on how to make the broth vary from kitchen to kitchen. Some cooks, for instance, do not put fish sauce in the broth but instead leave it up to the guest to season it as he or she pleases. Some cooks also skip on adding beef chunks into the simmering broth and rely solely on the flavor of the dissolved marrow.


You should never let water evaporate completely to dry-out condition. If your pot dries out after a few hours of “simmering” then you’re probably boiling it the whole time, or don’t have enough water to begin with. You should be keeping an eye on the simmering and skimming the scum as needed. So just turn down the heat to have just a light rolling action in the liquid.

Most recipes should specify a yield amount, such as yield = 3 gallons. This means that at the end (or sometime during simmering as needed), you’ll need to add water to bring up to the yield amount. If this is the first time you make pho broth, then I suggest to follow the recipe first and see how it comes out, then make adjustments to fit your taste.

Time Is Essential in Cooking Pho Broth

Clear pho brothPerhaps the one thing that turns people off from making their own pho at home is the amount of time it takes to create the pho broth. There are stories of people hailing from Vietnamese immigrant parents all over the Internet, which say that their own mothers have given up making pho because of the time needed to cook it. If they want pho, they all go to a restaurant that serves pho to fulfill their craving for the dish.

How long should it take for beef bones to simmer in order to come up with a good pho broth? Mai Pham and Andrea Nguyen both recommend at least three hours to simmer the broth, but there are other recipes that state that the beef bones must be boiled gently for six to eight hours. For restaurant-quality pho, the time required to simmer the broth can take up to 12 hours or more.

Why is it necessary for the boiling to take that long? The explanation is simple: It takes time for the marrow in the bones to dissolve into the water. You cannot force it with shorter but harder boiling because a hard boil distorts the flavor of the pho broth. The flavor of the marrow is the essence of the broth; it must be brought out gently and doing so takes time.

The time it takes to create pho broth is definitely worth it, though, and you will end up with a broth that is so tasty you will want to slurp up every last drop. Some people resort to buying so-called pho broth cubes or canned pho broth, but the taste is just not the same. It is thin and watery compared to homemade or restaurant-made pho broth. I know, I know. Those are just quick fixes for a quick pho but I just had to mention them.

Pho is not pho without its broth. The broth is the element that gives pho its life and soul. If you can enjoy the pho broth wholeheartedly, then the rest of the ingredients in the bowl will be enjoyable too.


  1. Are There Secrets to Making the Perfect Pho at Home? - Vietnamese Pho Noodles 21 July, 2009 at 15:05 Reply

    […] Because pho is essentially a dish that knows no language or boundaries, many non-Vietnamese have fallen in love with pho and have developed the desire to learn how to cook pho in their own kitchens. The thing is, it is far too easy to make a bad bowl of pho than it is to make a good one. To make good pho at home, one has to pay attention to the details of cooking it. And thanks to the Internet, good pho recipes can be found much more easily than at any time before. See my articles on Ten Pho Recipes from Around the Web and Pho Broth. […]

  2. Hung 26 April, 2010 at 00:55 Reply

    How come when i cook the bones to make the soup base, my soup turns ivory right? Not clear.. It’s like a white soup that i can’t see more than 1/2 inch down?
    How do i acheieve the clear soup??

  3. Cuong Huynh 26 April, 2010 at 08:07 Reply

    Hello Hung: The key to clear pho broth is the parboiling of the bones. To borrow Andrea Nguyen’s instructions on parboiling bones for pho,

    “Parboil bones. Place bones in stockpot (minimum 12-quart capacity) 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.”

    I can’t explain your “white” or “ivory” soup but you do need to parboil to get a clear pho broth. Good luck.

  4. Cuong Huynh 26 April, 2010 at 10:25 Reply

    Hi Hung: You said “… I did parboil the bone for 10-15 minutes.. very little residue. But as i boil the soup.. the water becomes milky…”

    Without addition information, and the specifics of your pot’s content, I can only suggest the following:

    Once you start with new water, first bring it to boil over high heat, then lower the flame to gently simmer. During this time, use a ladle to skim the scum on the surface. Once simmering, add the remaining broth ingredients and cook 1 1/2 hours, or however long your recipe calls for. Then do whatever else your according to your recipe.

    Again without specific details, I suggest that after parboiling, you bring it to a boil, then simmer and skim the scums. If you’re already doing this, then I’m not sure what else I can suggest. You sure you don’t have any “secret” ingredients in there that you didn’t share with us? 😉

  5. Craig 18 January, 2011 at 20:31 Reply

    Is it absolutely neccessary to have a clear broth? I ask because I’ve seen recipes that don’t require par-boiling the bones which makes for a more “murky” broth, or I assume? Will this affect the taste? Honestly, I’m just an average Joe that loves Pho and looks and esthetics aren’t on my top list of Pho greatness (compared to flavor and ingredients, which I care most about).

  6. Cuong 18 January, 2011 at 23:49 Reply

    Hi Craig: Yes there are many recipes that you can find online nowadays. That is not to say all of them are good and valid pho recipes. I would suggest you use recipes by the more respected food authors. But even so, do notice if the author really did describe his/her recipe as “fusion” or something similar, in which case the recipe is definitely not authentic.

    I think most of us would agree that, regardless of how average you may be ;), food should be enjoyed with all your senses, right? For pho, the bowl served to you should meet certain standards to be considered good quality pho, and clear broth is one of those qualities. “Murky” broth has its place in the world of noodle dishes, but pho is not one of those dishes. Pho broth should be clear from the simmering pot.

    Just like any other crafts, making pho requires certain skills to make it right, not just in your personal kitchen to serve a few, but in a commercial kitchen to serve many paying patrons, day in and day out. I think you should eat only pho with clear broth when served. This article may help: “Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese Pho.”

  7. jr 27 March, 2011 at 16:21 Reply

    I think this article is PHENOMENAL!! I didn’t realize that one should take hours to simmer the beef bones. I think it’s very important to learn some history about this magnificent dish. Thank you so much, I absolutely love Pho after tasting it for the 1st time about 4yrs ago. Now I’d like to try it at home!

  8. PT 12 June, 2011 at 01:36 Reply

    The cause of white or ivory broth is too high temperature during boiling. The high temp emulsifies the marrow causing the white color. Its like taking a blender to the marrow and broth.

    You don’t want to actually boil the bones. You want to very gently simmer. VERY GENTLY.

  9. Cuong 18 June, 2011 at 09:08 Reply

    Hello PT: I agree. It’s really simple for those starting out. I always suggest to people who have unclear broth problem: you need to parboil the bones and meat first, then wash and bring them to a boil again. After that, simmer and skim the scums.

  10. Cuong 16 October, 2011 at 22:31 Reply

    Hi melody: If you refrigerate your broth immediately after it cools down, I think it should last for 7 days or more in the refrigerator. The drawback is you’ll lose the initial fresh fragrance of the spices over time, but this is a minor drawback; no big deal. Assuming you’re making a big batch of broth (who would go through the trouble and then make only a small amount?) you can also try portioning your broth into smaller portions and freeze those, leaving only what you’ll enjoy in the next few days in the refrigerator. This way you can reheat what you want, and the frozen broth can be kept a long long time.

  11. Gene 6 April, 2012 at 17:20 Reply

    I’ve been starting to try to make my own pho broth at home. I use beef leg bones, knuckles and eye of round meat. My question is this – should the broth become gelatinous when refrigerated? Everytime I’ve brought pho home from a restaurant, the broth remains a liquid when refrigerated.

  12. Cuong 6 April, 2012 at 20:44 Reply

    Hi Gene: A gelatinous broth when refrigerated is the sign of a very good and hearty broth, with good quality ingredients that can only be found in home-made broths and soups. So your broth is just fine. In fact that’s the way it should be. Your restaurant bought broth remains as a liquid because the restaurant probably did not use bone, marrow and cartilage in making it. Keep doing what you’re doing, it sounds tasty.

  13. Gene 7 April, 2012 at 10:47 Reply

    Thanks Cuong for reassuring me. After several batches of pho broth, there still seems to be something missing from the all around flavor compared to my favorite restaurants. I would hate to think that it’s MSG!! Any thoughts?

  14. Cuong 25 July, 2012 at 08:26 Reply

    Hello h: That’s what I like! The passion about pho and making pho yourself. You can’t wait to get to the meat and bone of it (pun intended) to get your pho fix. Well I apologize that this article does not meet your needs. I would refer you to my 2 other sources to make your own pho broth. They are Top Pho Bo and Pho Ga Recipes You Must Try Yourself and Quick Beef Pho Recipe with Quoc Viet Foods’ Pho Soup Base.
    Let me know how you did. And thanks to your excellent and spot on comment, I’ve put a note at the top of this article to help future visitors go to the correct articles if making pho is all they want.

  15. Mike 8 October, 2012 at 04:25 Reply

    Wow…thank you thank you thank you….wonderful website and exactly what I was looking for! My wife and I are foodies…travel for food and love learning new recipes.

    I have long wondered how on earth they made this broth, I had ideas trying to deconstruct it, but I wasnt even close. Now I can finally do it the right way!

  16. Cuong 11 October, 2012 at 07:53 Reply

    Mike: I’m glad you found information about Vietnamese pho broth you can use. I admire you for trying to deconstructing pho broth, a futile effort 😉 but very deserving a big pat on the back, especially if you didn’t grow up in Vietnam where you may be more familiar with pho ingredients and their taste and function (I’m assuming you’re Caucasian; my apology if I’m wrong.) In any case, happy pho broth day to you Mike!

  17. Mike 30 October, 2012 at 15:30 Reply

    To make a clear broth follow these two steps;

    1. Par-boil the boes for 5 minutes, rinse in cold water and then either wash your stock pot or place the bones in a second clean stock pot. Cover with cold water.

    2. Bring to a simmer, not a full boil. A full boil will emulsify the bone marrow into the stock and make the stock coudy or milky. Especially if you are using the proper long marrow bones to make your stock.

  18. Cuong 30 October, 2012 at 16:04 Reply

    Agree with what Mike said about making clear broth. Full boil or frequent/aggressive stirring or mixing of the broth during simmering will have the same effect to emulsify the bone marrow or other solids into the stock. Of course for home cooking, it is really up to the home chef to cook the way he/she likes to enjoy with a few people. For commercial restaurants, there is no excuse for serving murky pho broth to customers.

  19. J-DuB 11 February, 2013 at 23:37 Reply

    When SIMMERING bones. knuckles/ cartilage/ etc… What you are looking for is the melting point of collagen: 160F and HOLD it at that temperature for as long as possible. This where the “good things” happen and you are rewarded with a rich and bodied broth.

    Crank you heat to high and impurities start to leach out into your broth, possibly even dissolving the calcium. Good broths and stocks cannot be rushed. The L O N G E R it goes at a l o w e r temperature is absolutely best.

  20. Dave 21 February, 2013 at 11:52 Reply

    Just my .02 cents, and as in brewing beer, in this soup
    one of the main ingredients is the water. When I attempt
    to make my Pho, I believe that I am going to utilize some
    water that would similiarly brew the finest beer i.e. a
    Light Pilsner where no flaws have room to hide….

  21. J-DuB 21 February, 2013 at 12:16 Reply


    Absolutely TRUE! It is ideal to use at least filtered water (through a Brita or similar) and it DOES make a real difference. Also, one really should invest in stainless or stainless clad stock-pots. The best have a HEAVY diffusing disc of layered/ composite metal at the bottom and thinner walls; like the Italy Made Centurion line (not inexpensive but worth it).

  22. Cuong 21 February, 2013 at 13:31 Reply

    @J-DuB: You are way too technical for my grandma (and many Vietnamese) to understand or care ;), but what you shared is very helpful for many others, including newbies. From generation to generation and between family and friends, it’s always been “add this and cook that until this soft and add that and simmer the other for so and so hours until tender and until it tastes like this,” etc. But now that Vietnamese pho is “out of the bag” so to speak, many non-Viet start to take interest in pho and the way it’s done, so I’m glad that together we can bring this great comfort food to a much larger mass.

    @Dave and @J-DuB: I understand your view, though I am not convinced filtered water will do much to pho broth, not the way it can do for beer anyway. In fact, if you don’t get the rest of the broth correct, filtered water will be a waste. In a restaurant, I’d rather they make the broth right, and I can drink the filtered water instead of the tap water they give me.

  23. J-DuB 21 February, 2013 at 14:04 Reply

    @Cuong: The whole idea with “filtered” is to just continue to use the best ingredients possible and realize the every ingredient; including the water you use or the pot you choose, makes a difference. Even if it’s very subtle in taste. As for technique; one wouldn’t necessarily have to even “boil/blanch bones/meats” first if you start your pot:

    With COLD water, cover your ingredients and bring to simmer (160 F) and leave it at that for about as long as you want. So yes, one could even do this in a Crock Pot on LOW and let it go.

    When making stocks/ broths, it’s very simple understanding of chemistry as well as a bit of physics.

    Agitation and excessive heat… BAD. That’s why one ends up with cloudy stocks. When you heat up bones/ proteins/ connective tissue TOO much, you 1) break down the collagen too far and 2) you are dissolving other proteins that bind, say the calcium, in the bones and so leads to cloudy appearance as well as muddy flavor.

    Once CAN clean up the broth by patient filtering through cheese-cloth. Then clarifying with; eggwhites whipped with Knox powdered geletan and some ground meat, but it’s a total pain in the ass.

    Starting COLD, bringing up the target temperature s l o w l y, holding that target at 160F is a LOT easier than: Blanch and Wash and then make or trying to RUSH the process; taking the extra steps to correct.

    Digital thermometers are CHEAP and very useful.

    • Cuong 21 February, 2013 at 16:11 Reply

      @J-DuB: Ok this is where we part way on agreement. Blanching the bones and meats quickly before the broth making process begins serves a very important purpose in pho broth, and it may not be necessary in making other broths or soups. If you understand pho and the importance of its broth, then you’ll want to understand the importance of keeping the broth clear, and this is achieved through a combination of blanching the bones and meats before the actual simmering begins. Blanching is needed to take off impurities, tissues and blood on the outside of the bones and meats which don’t contribute to flavors but also make the broth dirty. You may or may not know of this clear broth requirement, but if you do then you do want to blanch.

      The rest of what you say, of course one can do at home whatever one wants to. But I’ll just put things in perspective here:

      In Vietnam, hardly anyone makes pho at home, only restaurants and pho shops make pho. Pho is best made in very large quantities to serve large number of people, and is not normally made to personal portions. In the U.S. nowadays, the convenience and technologies and higher income levels allow many people the chance to make pho at home and experiment with it, but these are at best made to personal tastes to serve a few. The way to judge pho is the mass population who eat them at pho shops that produce large quantities. The good shops will survive and the mediocre ones will vanish, while the so-so will just linger. When you do not boil or blanch bones and meats before making pho broth, you’ll end up with a so-so pot of pho at best.

    • Cuong 21 February, 2013 at 16:14 Reply

      @J-DuB: Not sure what you meant by this comment

      I LIKE your “pointless bs” and your “dumb long; unnecessary info”

      so I’ll assume you’re just trying to be funny. You come here to our site as a guest and I’m happy to have you as a guest. Otherwise if I have offended you in any way, then please let me know and I’ll have the issue corrected.

  24. J-DuB 21 February, 2013 at 16:37 Reply

    People above have made those comments. I was poking fun at the previous comments, not at you. Some of those previous comments are a little old and certainly did not mean to have it come across as “you have offended me” or I am trying to offend you”. I have respect for your blog/ articles.

    I do know about “clear broth” and what it takes to achieve that. There are ways to simplify the process and still achieve a “clear broth”. The only thing one cannot do is: RUSH the simmering process.

    Personally, I hope that people DO give a shot to making Pho at home, at least ONCE. The making of which helps to build good fundamental cooking skills and maybe people will be more “picky?” of what they eat.

  25. Cuong 21 February, 2013 at 18:01 Reply

    @J-DuB: I got your points now. Thanks for clarifying. And thank you for the point of the message.

    With respect to making pho at home, no doubt I agree with you here. People should know that making pho at home is very easy especially if you live in the U.S. or metro area where decent Asian supermarkets exist. When there is no Asian/Viet food ingredients is when you will have to resort to substitute ingredients and end up with “fusion” pho; which is totally ok to get your pho fix. This was exactly what my family and many Viet families had to do circa 1975 -1980 when the only choices were Chinese markets in distant cities from where we ended up in the U.S.

    By the way, my friend and founder Brian Nguyen at Quoc Viet Foods has the same goal to help people make pho at home, and he has turned it into a successful business. His approach is somewhat different, where he provides good quality broth bases to help those too impatient or less knowledgeable to make pho from scratch. Unlike other soup bases on the market, Brian’s stuff is high quality and gives authentic flavors. Another beautiful part of his concept is he literally takes the ingredient availability factor out of the equation and provides pretty much everything in one package. This ensures all important flavors are there even if one cannot find the correct ingredients and spices in his/her locality. Anyway, it’s another way to make pho yourself at home.

  26. jenn 20 March, 2013 at 19:35 Reply

    i shall try making.. I have made tons of bone soup.. the longer you boil it, regardless of par boiling first, the milkier it looks and leaves the clear zone. this is the bone breaking down and is quite good for us with glucosamine etc

  27. mohan 24 October, 2013 at 17:10 Reply


    Is the broth can made without beef bones???

    In pho 24 noodle shop the soup they serving with chicken is made of beef bones???

    I am a hindu , I dont eat pork and beef. want to know exactly about the broth soup made in Pho 24 noodles shop. Is it contains beef as mentioned in the article???

    Please reply.


  28. Cuong 24 October, 2013 at 20:07 Reply

    @mohan: If you order chicken pho (phở gà) then you should have 100% chicken in your pho. I cannot comment on how Pho 24 makes its chicken broth, but I do know many pho restaurants use beef broth in their chicken pho, which is really unacceptable. So it’s a possibility Pho 24 use beef broth on their chicken pho. If you have any doubt about Pho 24’s chicken pho then I’d recommend you ask them before ordering. Make sure you tell them clearly you do not eat beef or pork and you do not want beef broth in your chicken pho. If they can’t do this right for you then I think you can find a much better chicken pho elsewhere. Good luck to you.

  29. Cuong 10 December, 2013 at 11:48 Reply

    @Kon: I think 12 hours is overkill! Did you keep adding water as you go, even at low heat? You must have lost all water from the broth and are left with just the fat and protein product. But I wouldn’t say it’s a total loss. Try adding water back to what your recipe called for, heat it up and see how it tastes. I hope you’ve already taken all the bones and other solids out.

  30. Dave 11 January, 2014 at 11:15 Reply

    I have a few questions for you.

    1. I was wondering if you know what cut of meat at restaurants they call well done lean meat? Is it chuck? Sirloin? Eye of Round?

    2. How much meat do you think is necessary in a bowl of pho assuming you use 20 ounces of broth and about 5 ounces of noodles? 3-4 ounces seems about right to me?

    3. I have seen restaurants that simmer the meats in with the pho for up to 5 hours. Do you think it is better to take them out sooner?

    4. Do you prefer to have the rock sugar and fish sauce added to the broth for the entire cooking process or at the end?

    5. What do you do to cool the meats so they do not brown when placed in the refrigerator?

    6. When you refrigerate the broth, it is easier to remove the fat as it hardens at the top. I have noticed that the broth obviously doesn’t taste as good if you remove too much fat. How much do you like to remove?

    7. What do you think are the best tasting meats for pho broth? I like oxtail in mine but the cost goes way up if you use too much. Sirloin, chuck and brisket are all in the $2.50/lb range and seem to produce a nice flavor.

  31. Cuong 13 January, 2014 at 03:24 Reply

    @MOONROCK: Yes you are correct. At the end of the broth cooking, the meat has done its job to flavor the broth. You can slice it any time between then and serving, but many people slice it closer to service to get the freshest meat possible.

  32. Cuong 13 January, 2014 at 03:39 Reply

    @Dave: Here goes:

    1. “Well done” may be flank or brisket, but you can use anything really.
    2. If you are selling your pho in a restaurant, then your meat portions depends on the size of the bowl, and on your food cost and profit margin desired. If you’re serving at home, then anything goes!
    3. The simmer time for the meat depends on how tender you want the meat to be, and whether you have extracted flavor into the broth.
    4. I do not have a preference, but I do have a recipe I follow. Whether or not you have your own recipe, rock sugar and fish sauce are used to flavor the broth, so if you add them near the beginning, then you will get those flavors in the meat also. If you add them toward the end, then less of those flavors goes into the meat. So it depends on what you want.
    5. You’re assuming I remove the fat. I don’t because I like it in my pho. The question is: why remove the fat at all? That’s the good stuff.
    6. Again, Dave, if you’re selling pho then you should look at your food cost and profit margin as part of your decision. Otherwise, use what you can afford, is what I would say.

    Sounds like you’re trying to figure how to run a pho restaurant. If you need help then head over to fill out the pho consultation contact form to get some help. Hope the answers above helped.

  33. Mel 7 July, 2014 at 15:04 Reply

    Help! I’m trying like heck to enjoy pho, but my one and only time was a disaster. I live in New Orleans (which has a deep-rooted Vietnamese community) and I went to one of the longest-ruuning, highest-rated restaurants. The Banh Mi was okay, and the beef stew I sampled was pretty good, but the bowl of actual pho did not agree with me. The broth had very little flavor, and every now-and-then there would be a strong hit of an herb/ spice with a strong, lingering ‘sour-cinnamon’ flavor. Did I just get a bad bowl, or am I just not cut out for it? God knows I wanted to like it. I have friends that are addicted to it, and I went to one of the best restaurants I could find.

    If I am not one cut out for pho, are there other Vietnamese dishes I should try closer to what I’m used to? I’m an American who appreciates Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food. As I said, Banh Mi and the beef stew I tried were successful experiments. Just wonderin what else I should try next time I go (this restaurant has an EXTENSIVE menu, so I’m sure whatever you recommend would have a good shot of being on there).

    Thanks for any help!

  34. Cuong 7 July, 2014 at 15:42 Reply

    @Mei: It’s unfortunate that your first bowl of pho was a bad experience. What you described may be a one-off bad bowl, if you say this restaurant is well known. Did you tell your friend(s) that there’s something “funny” tasting in your bowl? Or maybe even let them taste some broth themselves? Or you may have informed the restaurant that this is your first time, and your bowl doesn’t taste quite right. I’m sure they would have given you another bowl, or a cup of broth for you to try out, to make sure they didn’t serve you bad pho. Most Vietnamese restaurants are eager to attract new customers and this is totally within reason to expect a restaurant to treat a new customer. many restaurants would love to receive such feedback from customer so they can fix their own mistakes.

    Other than that, I would say go try another bowl, maybe at the same place, maybe a different place. If you still don’t like it the second or third time around, then maybe pho is not for you. Having said that, I’m reluctant to conclude that pho is not for you, as pho is too easy to like in my opinion.

    If you appreciate Chinese, Japanese and Thai foods, then there are many other Viet dishes that you will surely like. How about some other noodle in broth like hủ tiếu (which uses the same rice noodle) or mì (which is egg noodle), each with various meat and/or seafood toppings? How about any of the broken rice dishes ̣(cơm tấm) or bún dishes (vermicelli) with grilled meats? If you can share this restaurant’s name then I can look at its menu online and give you some suggestions. Let me know and good luck Mei.

  35. Cuong 7 July, 2014 at 22:25 Reply

    @Mei: The menu looks typical and the restaurant seems reliable, especially with the many positive reviews it has. If both you and your companion are newbies at this pho thing, then I would suggest you go with a more knowledgeable friend the next time, or try several different times and even different places for pho. Then you’ll be able to tell if it is for you. Much like every other foods that you didn’t grow up with, I don’t think there is any other way to help you make your decision. Good luck and have fun.

    By the way, don’t feel “bad” if you don’t like pho. Many of us Viet do love to eat it, but at the same time there are many others who don’t like it.

  36. Cuong 2 August, 2014 at 21:03 Reply

    @Christina: Chicken pho broth is relatively easy to keep clear. The challenge of making clear broth is normally with beef pho and not chicken pho, so I wouldn’t worry to much. The key thing is to start making some. Have you looked at any recipe for chicken pho and tried to make some? If not, I would recommend checking out the chicken pho recipes in this article Top Pho Bo and Pho Ga Recipes You Must Try Yourself, or of course a quick Google search will give you many options as well. It’s ok to not make the best chicken the first time, but you’ll make a better pho the second or third time. Most recipes have pretty good instructions so just follow them the best you can. Let me know if you run into any problem. Good luck.

  37. Cuong 4 August, 2014 at 11:57 Reply

    Christina says:
    Thank you for the link. My husband and son love Pho. I will be making a pot of this tasty stock this week. How would I go about making a Pho seafood stock? Not sure what to try first.
    ~ Christina”

    Christina: Glad to hear you’ll be making some pho yourself, and best of luck wih it! I’m sure you’ll do fine. With respect to seafood pho, I have something to say about that 😉

    Seafood pho is not a Vietnamese dish. There never was and never is a seafood pho. The closest thing we have to this “seafood pho” is Hu tieu with seafood, which uses the same banh pho noodle but has an entirely different broth and taste profile. Restaurants in the US serve this concoction called seafood pho to satisfy American customer requests for something “healthier” or maybe “non-meat”, and they pretty much use whatever beef or chicken pho or any other broth they may have, then put in seafood toppings to make seafood pho. There is no real standard seafood pho broth as a tradition. If someone claims to have it then he/she just made it up in the past few years to cater to local demands. I’m not a fan of seafood pho, and hu tieu works just fine for me.

    So now that you know this, you can use pretty much whatever you want to create your own seafood pho. Most popular topping ingredients include imitation crab, squid, shrimp, fish balls or fish cake (Chinese or Japanese style). Or you can try to make Hu tieu with seafoods. Let us know how you make out.

  38. Arxsyn 4 January, 2015 at 17:29 Reply

    I really enjoyed your article. Informative and thorough. People don’t take time to make quality food in time honored tradition. It’s a shame, because they are missing out on both flavor and nutrition. It can be very economical too.

    Making broth need not be difficult. Just takes some shrewd planning. You can use all sorts of vegetable scraps (like the stuff left over when you peel veggies) and leftover bones from roasted meat (no parboiling required w/ roasted foods), even seafood like leftover shells. Just toss the ingredients a pot of water with your desired spices and herbs bring to a boil and allow to simmer. I prefer to use an electric slow cooker and leave it on unattended for 8 hrs+. It can’t get any easier than that! Don’t forget add a splash of vinegar to leach out the calcium from the bones. After this “treatment” the bones get soft and rubbery! 😉

    • Cuong 5 January, 2015 at 11:57 Reply

      Thanks for the tips on making broth Arxsyn. While things like bones from roasted meat, shrimp shells and various vegetable scraps are great techniques for making a stock base, I think they may overwhelm and change the flavor profile of a good Vietnamese pho broth. Shrimp shells are used in making broths for Vietnamese bun bo hue, hu tieu and even dipping sauces for spring rolls. Because pho has to have very specific taste, I normally don’t recommend the stock base technique for the sake of achieving good pure pho flavors. If one cooks at home then of course anything goes to satisfy one’s preference or just to experiment. I’ve seen people using a crock pot for slow cooking to make pho as well. But for restaurant style pho broth, a restaurateur (or a home cook) definitely wants to have more control of what they put in the broth, for quality and consistency reason. Again great tips.

  39. Carla Harold 15 February, 2015 at 13:15 Reply

    I got on to see how to make Pho since the local Vietnamese restaurant has turned me onto it. Now I see that with all the time involved I will just be a very frequent customer at the wonderful restaurant. I couldn’t even begin to do what they do and still get the quality. Thanks so much for everyone’s input. I know now to stick with doing what I am good at and leave the professionals to do what I can’t.

  40. Cuong 16 February, 2015 at 12:09 Reply

    @Carla Harold: Your sentiments are exactly why people in Vietnam do not make their own pho at home. It’s just too much trouble. People in the U.S. have the luxury and convenience of at least a decent kitchen and availability of ingredients from local supermarkets, plus we have the luxury of time time and nice air conditioned homes too. And you’re right, there are plenty of affordable and good pho out there, so go visit and support your local pho joints, people!

    • Cuong 25 March, 2016 at 13:32 Reply

      @Kyle: You should never let water evaporate completely to dry out condition. This is not the way to make any broth, soup, sauce or any food that’s meant to be consumed as a liquid (regardless of viscosity). If your pot dries out after a few hours of “simmering” then you’re not really simmering. You’re probably boiling the water. So turn down the heat to have just a light rolling action in the liquid.

      Most recipes should specify a yield amount, such as yield = 3 gallons. This means that in addition to keeping the simmering lightly and skimming the floating scums, you’ll also need to add water at the end to bring it up to the yield amount, or to taste. Then bring it back up to near boiling to ensure everything is hot, then you’re good to serve.

      Thanks for the question. I think it’s important enough for me to add a note to the article.

  41. Chewie 3 July, 2016 at 14:11 Reply

    Thank you so much for this article, I’m going to put it to good use when I next make pho. I’ve made my own pho three times now. The first was pretty bad, and I didn’t even save it. I roasted the bones first in the oven. The pho came out murky and funky smelling. The next batch was okay. I parboiled the bones this time, and rinsed them after. I also only simmered it for 3 hours. It came out tasting very bland, and too fish-saucy. This last time I made it is so far the best. Parboiled the bones, added even more star anise and less fish sauce, and don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but it’s not deep and intense like pho should be. And there’s still too much of a fish sauce taste/smell. I’m wondering if I’m adding too many spices. I sort of just combined the spices from a bunch of different recipes, using star anise, cloves, a cinnamon stick, coriander, fennel, and a cardamom pod. I think after reading your article that I’m going to one, simmer my bones at a lower heat and uncovered, and two add the spice mix in after an hour and a half. If I may ask, do you have a preference when it comes to fish sauce? Can I omit it entirely? Also, do you have any other suggestions you can give a newb like me to help make legit pho? Thank you in advance!

    • Cuong 4 July, 2016 at 21:49 Reply

      @Chewie: It’s good you’re trying things. The key is to making good pho (or any dish for that matter) is to 1) use a good recipe, 2) to understand what it’s trying to do with all the elements and ingredients within it, and 3) to follow its instructions closely. I’m not sure what recipe you used, but it sounds like you’re just mixing up different recipes into one. If this is so then it’s amazing you still got something edible

      If you have a good recipe and follow it, then you shouldn’t have the fish sauce taste or smell in your pho. Fish sauce is meant to be used sparingly to enhance flavor, never to give flavor. Good luck with your next pot.

  42. Roy 13 March, 2017 at 11:34 Reply


    Great article! Thanks for sharing 🙂
    I have a question about the spices. When I simmer the broth for a long time (6-8 hours), when do I put the spices in the pot? Do they need to cook as long as the bones?

    • Cuong 13 March, 2017 at 21:58 Reply

      @Roy: The answer is not that straightforward. I’ll start with this analogy. It’s similar to brewing coffee in a French press. There’s a reason why you don’t want to brew for much more than 4 minutes. For up to about 4 minutes, you would have extracted pretty much all “good” coffee flavor out of the coffee ground. Beyond that, all you’ll get is bitter coffee.

      Similarly for the spices, the longer you simmer, the more spice flavor you get out of it, but only up to a certain point. You didn’t mention what your recipe calls for (how much spices to use), so I’ll assume you don’t have a recipe. So I’ll go generic. In general, there are 4 factors to consider when it comes to how long to simmer the spices:

      1. How much broth (how big a pot) you’re making,
      2. How much spices (quantity) you’re using,
      3. Whether you keep the spices whole or you grind them to release even more spice flavors, and
      4. Personal taste.

      For the last factor (No. 4), some people prefer strong spice flavors, while others can’t stand them. The best thing to do is to test. Again without knowing how much you’re using and making, I’d suggest start putting in the spices about 1/2 hour to an hour before finishing the simmering. Then adjust longer or shorter time in future pots. In any case, remove the spices before final seasoning, whatever called for by your recipe (or whatever instructions you’re following).

      For your 6-8 hour simmer, this boils down to (pun intended) adding the spices in the last hour or 1-1/2 hour.

      Hope this helps, and best of luck.

  43. Chung 4 April, 2017 at 09:26 Reply

    My Mom’s pho recipe does not include cloves or sugar and cinnamon is a huge no, no to her. She was originally from N. Vietnam, so maybe that is the difference. She also simmers her pho broth overnight (8-12 hours) with the onion , anise, and ginger. She adds the fish sauce and salt when it’s done simmering. It’s always delicious. Roasting the onions is key. To keep the broth clear, she brings the bones to a boil and skims the scum off the top before bringing it down to the simmer.

    • Cuong 7 April, 2017 at 15:30 Reply

      @Chung: Sounds like your mom makes great tasting Northern pho style. I would love it I’m sure. Many people don’t realize it’s not just ingredients but also technique/process/procedure. I know people who have all “necessary” ingredients but still can’t make proper pho, and people who don’t have all the right ingredients (or lacking some) and still make awesome pho. I think the majority of newbies don’t know how to skim the scum, which is a very important part of making pho broth. Thanks for visiting and sharing.

        • Cuong 5 January, 2019 at 10:52 Reply

          @Chieko: Sounds like you know exactly what you want in your pho.

          Just to clarify, if there is any “sugar” called for in a pho recipe, it should be rock sugar and not just white granulated sugar. Rock sugar is much milder than white granulated sugar and gives pho the “right” taste which is vastly different from if white sugar is used.

          In Chung’s case and also your case, whatever works for you is what you should follow. From personal experience and through my consulting work, many people don’t realize that using or not using certain ingredients in pho has more to do with habits and however those habits were developed. This usually boils down to the time and location of when and where they learned how to enjoy and/or make pho. That’s usually how people developed their own habits and preferences. I can say with almost 100% certainty that an average person has not done a thorough test comparing various combinations of ingredients and spices to the point that he/she can pick the one combination he/she likes. More likely, it’s based on what’s available (or can be afforded) during that learning/developing period.

          Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience.

  44. K 11 October, 2018 at 19:44 Reply

    Hi korean recipes soak meat in cold water a half hour to remove blood and impurities before cooking to get a clear broth. Could this method be used for pho instead of parboiling and washing?

  45. Cuong 21 October, 2018 at 22:47 Reply

    @K: Korean cuisine has many different recipes for stocks and broths for different dishes. I’m not sure what specific dish you’re referring to, but many Korean dishes actually do not require having clear broths. While some recipes do call for soaking meat in water (I assume you mean beef in this case), I don’t think soaking alone before cooking will give you a clear broth. It would be helpful to see your recipe and understand what it’s trying to accomplish.

    For the clearest broth possible (which is what pho requires, and for dishes requiring clear broth), most well-trained chefs and other foodservice professionals would probably agree that parboiling and low simmering would give you a clear broth. This is exactly what I recommend as well.

    Another consideration worth noting:

    Supply chain for food ingredients are not the same in many Asian countries when compared to Western countries. Even by today’s standards, Asian meat products still have a much shorter time and distance between when a cow is slaughtered and when people purchase the meat from the market. This means the meat one gets to cook in his/her kitchen may be much fresher and at the same time not as “cleaned” as its Western counterpart.

    As a result, people had to do further cleansing in their kitchen before actual cooking, initially out of nessesity then becoming a habit over time. This is still true in many rural areas in Vietnam and probably in many other places around the world. It is certainly true for any protein that’s not been done through a commercial slaughterhouse.

    I’m sure “family” recipes that have been passed from people to people and from place to place may not have been properly updated to account for new or more modern food supplies, availability, and quality standards. For this reason alone, I always review recipes closely to ensure they make sense before going into full production for service in a particular restaurant. Anything that needs updating will be updated.

    Bottom line? 1) Don’t always trust a recipe; 2) make sure it’s from a reliable source, and 3) understand why certain thing or technique is done.

  46. Alek 4 January, 2019 at 08:10 Reply

    Hey, maybe it will look stupid question but is it okey if I cook pho 12 hour or even more with all the spices like cloves and star anise or is better to throw them last hour or so. Is it even difference? How do they make in restaurants?

    • Cuong 4 January, 2019 at 10:07 Reply

      @Alek: I’m not sure what recipe you’re using, what it’s telling you to do and what ingredients to use, but 12 hours seems excessive. Not that it’s not doable; many have done it successfully (see Chung’s comment). If you do go for this long, then you’ll want to make sure to do these two things: keep skimming the scum and maintaining proper water level.

      With respect to your question about the spices, it has been discussed before. You can read Roy’s comment about spices, and also check out my post on How Long To Cook Pho Spices In Pho Broth.

      Working as a pho restaurant consultant, I see restaurants do all kind of things with the spices depending on the owner’s preference. My recommendation for using the spices is just as written in the post referenced above.

  47. chieko 5 January, 2019 at 09:16 Reply

    I sometimes make Pho if I’m serving several people and I enjoy preparing it but I live alone. So if I order Pho take-out/delivery, I always get it deconstructed. I want to see everything. I taste the broth first and go from there. So, last night, I had some delivery. Perfectly deconstructed. First thing I taste is the broth. Too sweet, no mouthfeel, no globules of happy fat floating on the surface. Obviously, this was made with pre-fab stock. There was no collagen (that’s the mouthfeel part). I took some to refrigerate overnight to setup…nope, still liquid. I had to fix the broth by adding fish sauce, fresh ginger, garlic, and other seasonings until it tasted like something resembling Pho stock. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for the lack of collagen. After putting together a bowl, I decided I would salvage the noodles and turn them into a salad the next day then m/b adding some beef to the broth and ending up with a new stock? I don’t think it’s worth the effort for the broth. The thing is, so many restaurant goers don’t have any clue as to how real Pho stock should taste. There’s no one way of making it but there are certain qualities the stock should possess. Just a note: I use the terms stock and broth interchangeably. Lol.

    • Cuong 5 January, 2019 at 10:32 Reply

      @Chieko: If you can make pho at home that suits your taste and have the time to do it, then as I’ve suggested elsewhere, it’s still better to make the broth in bulk, then freeze what you don’t need, and use just what you want when you want it. This way you can avoid wasting money with such bad takeout pho. In the end we should vote with our reviews and more importantly, with our wallets. By definition, the bad restaurants will have to improve or risk going out of business. But as you said, many restaurant goers can’t tell the difference, which is how bad restaurants still stay in business.

    • Cuong 8 February, 2019 at 22:48 Reply

      @John Nguyne: Wow, I know what sa sung is, but the vast majority of people do not, so if you’re trying to promote something, at least give the audience some useful information so they care, right? Just saying.

  48. Phil Pearson 12 January, 2020 at 10:07 Reply

    I tried Pho for the first time just a month ago at a restaurant in London (it only took me 50 years) and was amazed by how much flavour could be packed into such a watery broth so I thought I would try making it with a technique almost identical to how you described. I was so pleased with the results that it is definitely going to be a regular on the menu at home, even my fussy kids enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the article though, I enjoyed reading all of it. I was hunting for tips on getting a clearer broth and reading this, I need to make sure I get the parboiling right up front. I guess I didn’t realise how important this step is.

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