You know how in Friends the gang has Central Perk? Well in university, my friends and I had Golden Train Express II. We would gather there for pho at all hours of the day and enjoy delicious Vietnamese food while creating amazing memories and developing a special friendship. We had our regular order and waitress (oh Helen!) and loved the tacky mix of Vietnam meets Greece meets a bit of everything else with a few TVs and a fish tank thrown in for good measure.
We would usually all order some variety and size of pho. Delicious, hot, comforting bowls of noodle soup would be slurped up as we chatted our way through some memorable meals. Pho is still one of my favourite foods. If you have never tried pho before, let’s start with the pronunciation. While we spent most of our time at Golden Train Express II pronouncing the dish “faux,” the correct pronunciation is actually “feu” (as in French for “fire,” from the French dish “pot au feu”). It is commonly served in a beef or chicken broth with noodles, meat, and garnished with your choice of bean sprouts, mint, basil, chili peppers, cilantro, and lime.
This is a dish that everyone in my home loves to eat and was one of the first dishes that Little Bear truly showed excitement to eat! Imagine a 10 month old clapping and asking for “more” with a thrilled Arun at the stove. Such a great memory.
As you can see there is a lot of nostalgia associated to pho for me, so I’ll warn you now, I’m completely biased in saying that this is probably the one food that everyone needs to eat. Regularly. In large quantities.
The great thing about pho is that it actually is possible to eat it every day. If you’re a meat eater, you can feel free to use beef or chicken, while if you’re vegetarian, you can feel free to keep things meat-free (although that isn’t the traditional preparation). When I used to be a regular at Golden Train Express II, I would usually go between the chicken pho and the vegetarian pho. Nowadays we stick to the vegetarian pho and use a stock that can easily be made at home from scratch (although if you don’t have the time, you can definitely use store-bought stock). If you are looking for a recipe for a stock, check out my Vegetable Stock recipe. You can add the ingredients you like and leave out the ones you don’t. If you want to add chicken and veggies, go ahead and do that. Be a daredevil and break the pho rules!
Another thing I love about pho is that this is the kind of recipe that is made in large quantities. Sure, you can scale it down, but it is such a great soup to pull out as leftovers that it seems silly to do that. This recipe makes a stock pot full, but remember that this is a full meal, so you work your way through that pot fairly quickly! (In tangible terms, this makes about 6 servings.)
Pho is a complete meal with carbs, protein and vegetables, and is a healthy meal to make at home! An added bonus are the aromatics which provide a wonderful flavour to the pho and have added health benefits. The stock is cooked with cinnamon (good for treating colds, lowers blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, and much more), cloves (an antioxidant, good for digestion), star anise (antioxidant, antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial), and peppercorns (good for digestion). I use these dried long peppers from Indonesia in place of the peppercorns. There is also fresh ginger (amazing for gastrointestinal issues and an immunity booster) and garlic (also an immunity booster).
For the noodles, feel free to use whatever thickness you prefer. The noodles (banh pho) come in different sizes, from small to extra large. I prefer medium, although the
small are good too. It’s really up to you (I have heard people say that small and medium are best for the soup, but choose whatever with you prefer…they all cook up well in my experience!). I don’t bother going through and cooking them separately before adding them in the stock, I just throw them right into the same pot everything is being cooked in. If you would like to cook them separately, that is totally fine to do too, just adjust that step in the recipe below. I also don’t bother cooking the vegetables, as everything is cut so small that the steam and heat from the soup cooks everything without needing to worry about whether they will be cooked. I prefer my carrots cut with a julienne cutter for this recipe. This is mine, but there are many good quality ones out there.
Try this out and let me know if your family enjoyed this heartwarming dish as much as my family does!
1.5 T vegetable oil
1 star anise
1 long pepper OR 2-3 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 inch ginger, whole
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
10 cups homemade vegetable stock
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tsp onion powder
Pinch of 5-spice (optional)
1/3 pack of banh pho (dried noodles)
300 grams pressed tofu, chopped
1 medium head of broccoli, separated into florets and stalk, chopped
3 carrots, julienned
Garnish with: bean sprouts, chopped bok choy, mint, basil, cilantro, chili peppers, green onions, a squeeze of lime, and sriracha hot sauce.
- In a stock pot heat the vegetable oil on medium heat with the cloves, star anise, pepper or peppercorns, and cinnamon stick. Sautee for 1-2 minutes, or until you start to smell the aromatics.
- Add ginger, garlic, chopped broccoli stalk, onion, and celery. Stir and let cook for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic starts to brown just slightly.
- Add vegetable stock and soy sauce and stir. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the onion powder and pinch of 5-spice (if using). Allow the mixture to simmer for 20 minutes.
- Turn heat back up to medium and add dried noodles. Allow to cook in stock for about 6-8 minutes (or according to package directions).
- Turn heat off and add tofu, broccoli, and carrots. Cover until ready to eat.
- Serve alongside your choice of garnishes.