Here’s an excerpt from Lovingpho.com’s post titled “Pho Broth: The Soul of Vietnamese Pho.”
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. 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.
Giving Meaning to the Soul of Pho
Can you imagine Vietnamese pho without this specific taste of the 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. 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.
In fact, a sign of a weak pho broth is the need to add a lot of other sauces to it. Of course, you can add the chili sauce and hoisin sauce to your broth to suit your taste. Others also put more fish sauce to kick the flavor up even more. Regardless, the pho connoisseur knows a good pho broth should stand on its own. Any other enhancements are just that, enhancements, and should be used sparingly.
You’d be surprised, but it’s far too easy to make a bad bowl of pho. The only way to do it is to make the pho broth unpalatable. 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 perfect technique for making it, but what technique is there must be done carefully to create the perfect broth, with the right taste.
This is part one of a multi-part post on the subject of Vietnamese pho broth.
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, please go directly to 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.