Pho is becoming popular every day. As a Vietnamese I love it and am very proud at the same time.

For this reason, when someone makes an assertion about pho that's not quite true or correct, I welcome the opportunity to help rectify, share, and educate in hope to keep pho's integrity and authenticity at least somewhat intact.

Here's an example. Reader Arun wrote in the conversation about What Is Real, Authentic Pho? :

I would say in order to be called pho it should have cinnamon, coriander, fennel, cloves, and or star anise. Anything else without that is hu tieu.

Spices used on making pho broth: star anise, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, cardamom, cloves

Spices used on making pho broth: star anise, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, cardamom, cloves

It's not clear about Arun's use of the conjunctions "and" and "or" and what he/she actually means by this statement. There actually are 2 different issues in these sentences, one is whether pho must have ALL the spices mentioned, and two is the mentioning of hu tieu. Here's my answer to Arun's interesting post.

@Arun: Thanks for leaving your opinion. Here’s the reality that many non-Vietnamese (and even some new generation Vietnamese) do not realize and/or understand. It’s not that cut and dry to attempt to define pho in such a narrow definition, and it’s not fair for pho to be put inside such a sharp and narrow boundary.

In order to understand food in general and pho in particular, there is a better perspective to consider. Here’s what I’m talking about.

I can go to In-N-Out Burgers and order a burger. Or I can go to Five Guys and order a burger. Or I can also go to a local high-end joint and enjoy a gourmet burger. Or I can go to a popular bar across the street and enjoy a burger. I think it’s safe to say that no one would debate whether each place serves burger or not, or whether they mean it’s beef burger they serve. Of course there are some exceptions but I think you get my point.

When my family and many others arrived in the U.S. in the late 1970s, we made pho at home that didn’t really have all necessary ingredients. But I can assure you that what we made using only what we could find in the U.S. at that time was 100% pho. This is because we knew what pho was supposed to be and with the limited ingredients that were available, we chose only the right ingredients so we could make pho from them. So it’s a lot more than just following a list of ingredients with a narrow definition. It’s more about how you understand the food itself.

Hu tieu is another story entirely and has completely different flavor profile. The only common ingredients are the banh pho noodle and maybe green onions and cilantro for garnishing. You can’t just change a few spices in pho, or not use them at all (as you seem to imply) and get hu tieu out of it. I don’t think it works that way.

For those wanting to know more about hu tieu, check out this post called Hu Tieu or Hủ Tiếu - Paying Respect to Pho’s Cousin.

I have made pho with only 2 or 3 of the spices mentioned, and I know of many people who have as well. With some adjustment made to the recipe, one can create great tasting pho, and no one will know what's missing.  Depending on how you do it, most people can get by using just star anises, cinnamon sticks, and maybe one or 2 of the remaining spices.

So have you made great pho with less than the 5 spices? Share in the comments below.

Check out more Pho Restaurant Business articles:
For more tips and information, read the complete series on how to open your own pho restaurant.
If you need immediate help to open your own pho restaurant, to evaluate a concept, or to brainstorm an idea, fill out and send in the form on the page Pho Restaurant Consultation Inquiry.
  1. How to Open a Pho Restaurant.
  2. What Makes a Great Pho Restaurant?
  3. What You Need to Open a Pho Restaurant-The Starting Point.
  4. Tips For Your New Pho Restaurant's Front and Back of the House.
  5. Designing Your Pho Restaurant: Hidden Secret of a Good Pho Restaurant Floor Plan.
  6. Controlling Food Costs of Your New Pho Restaurant.
  7. Hiring a Pho Chef For Your Pho Restaurant.
  8. Beef Pho, Chicken Pho, Men, Women: A Complex Relationship.
  9. Up-Sell Specialist – Would This Work in a Pho Restaurant?
  10. Secrets To Making And Serving Great Pho In Your Restaurant.
  11. How Much Does It Cost To Build And Open A Pho Restaurant?
  12. Pho Restaurant Customer Satisfaction and Complaints.
  13. Half Off Pho – Why 50% Off Are Not Such Good Pho Deals.
  14. What Is Real, Authentic Pho?
  15. Secret Ingredients For Pho: Revealed
  16. Pho Restaurant Business Plan, Part 1: What Is It Anyway?
  17. Pho Restaurant Business Plan, Part 2: What’s Sexy About It?
  18. Pho Restaurant Business Plan, Part 3: The Nuts and Bolts
  19. Customer to Pho Restaurant: These 5 Things Can Hurt Your Business
  20. Signs That a Pho Restaurant Is in the Process of Failing
  21. Hey, What’s the Cost of That Bowl of Pho?
  22. How Long To Cook Pho Spices In Pho Broth
  23. 5 Ways A Pho Restaurant Can Beat The Competition
  24. What's Your Pho Type, Beef Pho, Chicken Pho or Vegan Pho?
  25. Online Coupons and Offers - What's In It For Pho Restaurants?
  26. What Pho Restaurateurs Can Learn From This Poll
  27. 3 Reasons Why You Need An Architect For A New Pho Restaurant
  28. On Pho Restaurant Quality And Service, And Pho 79 Revisited
  29. What Pho Restaurant Experience Causes You To Never Come Back?
  30. Selling Pho Secrets - With A Catch
  31. A Conversation With Pho Restaurant Architect Quynh Tran
  32. Anatomy Of A Solid Pho Restaurant Business Plan - Part 4
  33. How To Design, Build and Operate Vietnamese Pho Restaurants
  34. Pho Eater Behaviors - What Pho Restaurants Can Learn From These Polls
  35. Importance Of A Well Developed Pho Restaurant Concept
  36. Will You Eat Pho With MSG? A Pho Poll Result
  37. 5 Important Lessons For Pho Restaurant Startups
  38. Best Practice Inventory System For Pho Restaurant Profit, Part 1


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