Two questions I am often asked are, ‘what is “pho?’ and, ‘where does it come from?’ To answer the second, though the exact origins are unclear, rumour has it that pho was created in North Vietnam in the early 20th century. Both Chinese and French cooking heavily influenced the dish, which may have been derived from the French beef stew ‘pot-au-feu’.
A hearty, broth-based noodle soup often made with beef or chicken, it varies from region to region. In northern Vietnam, the broth is likely to be lighter, made with fewer ingredients, the noodles served with thin beef slices and ginger, or chicken and lime leaves, and accompanied by bean sprouts, herbs, lime and fresh chilli on the side. In southern Vietnam, the broth is a lot sweeter and made from more ingredients, and the accompaniments also include hoisin sauce, fish sauce and chilli paste.
To get my pho fix in Saigon, I visit District 1’s Pho Ngoc on Ho Hao Hon Street, which has been running for over 30 years. The diners are regular customers. I meet a man who tells me his grandma has been eating here since she could remember and that she brings him here every Saturday as a family ritual. Add a poached egg to the broth when ordering for extra silkiness.
Time: 3–4 hours
- 1kg oxtail, cut into 3cm pieces, (ask your butcher to do this for you)
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 3 large onions, 2 whole, plus 1 finely sliced
- 75g piece unpeeled fresh ginger
- 1 x 500g boneless beef brisket
- 95ml fish sauce
- 40g rock sugar or granulated sugar, (see glossary)
- 800g fresh rice noodles
- 200g trimmed beef sirloin, thinly sliced
- 2 spring onions, sliced
- coriander sprigs, to garnish
- 1 bird’s eye chillies
- 1/2 lime, cut into wedges
- freshly ground black pepper
- 4 whole cloves
- 3 star anise
- 1 cassia bark sticks, each about 10cm in length
- 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
- bean sprouts
- Thai basil
- saw-tooth coriander
- hoisin sauce
- Sriracha chilli sauce
Put the oxtail in a large saucepan and pour over enough cold water to submerge it. Add 3 tablespoons of the salt and leave to soak for 1 hour, then drain.
To prepare the spice pouch, toast each spice separately in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until fragrant. Allow the spices to cool, then pound them into a coarse powder using a mortar and pestle. Add the ground spices to a 40cm square of muslin and tie up tightly in a knot. Set aside.
Heat a chargrill pan or barbecue grill to medium–high. Cook the whole onions and ginger for 15 minutes, turning regularly, until blackened on all sides. Leave to cool, then remove and discard the blackened skins and chop the flesh.
Put the oxtail, brisket and 6 litres of cold water in a stockpot, bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes, constantly skimming any impurities off the surface (this will ensure a clean, clear broth). Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and add the fish sauce, remaining 1 tablespoon salt, rock sugar, chopped onion and ginger, and the spice pouch. Cover and simmer for 3 hours, or until the stock has reduced by almost half.
Strain the stock through a piece of muslin. Remove the brisket and set aside to cool, then thinly slice. Return the stock to the pot and keep warm.
Bring a saucepan of water to a simmer. Divide the noodles into eight portions. Blanch each portion of noodles separately in the simmering water for 5 seconds, then drain and transfer to serving bowls.
Place three or four slices of brisket on top of the noodles in each bowl, followed by three or four slices of raw sirloin. Pour over the hot stock to cover the noodles and beef, then top each bowl with the sliced onion and spring onion. Season with freshly ground black pepper and garnish with coriander sprigs.
Add the chilli slices and a squeeze of lime to each bowl and serve with bean sprouts, Thai basil, saw-tooth coriander and an even mixture of hoisin sauce and Sriracha chilli sauce for dipping the meat slices into.
Recipe taken from Street Food Asia by Luke Nguyen
Join Luke Nguyen on a stroll through the heady, fragrant backstreets of Asia to discover street food at its very best. Pull up a stool for a bowl of pho in his beloved home city of Saigon, or explore a hawker stall in Kuala Lumpur. Soak up the coconut-infused air of Jakarta and immerse yourself in the smoke, heat and unmistakeable buzz of a Bangkok night market. From main streets to back alleys, Luke shares his insider knowledge, venturing out with acclaimed photographer Alan Benson at dawn and late into the night to meet roaming street vendors and stallholders. Vibrant local personalities, colourful photographs and stories about the most unique dishes – Street Food Asia brings one of the world’s richest food traditions to life.
You can purchase Street Food Asia at cooked.com.
Published by Hardie Grant Books.