I just love Vietnamese culture. The fact that their entire day revolves around food, at least it seems, makes me smile from the inside. Walking through the streets you catch glimpses of people sitting on tiny plastic stools, or crouched down on nothing, hovering over their food. There's an abundance of savory, spicy, sweet and salty flavors that excite and entice. But my absolute favorite thing is how they're not opposed to eating beef soup for breakfast. This one small insight has me enamored.
Bones for Breakfast
If you haven't caught on you'll soon learn that I am a bone fanatic. That's actually an understatement. I can eat an endless supply of bone marrow, have been known to transform bone broth into a breakfast food, and I fight over who gets the tomahawk steak bone at the end of dinner. Yes, I scrape the remaining meat, fat and tendons off the bone and I'm not shy about it. I hold true to our primitive ways of eating and reap the benefits. Nothing goes to waste.
In Vietnam, from Hanoi to Saigon, you can catch wafts of spices steaming off pots of pho on every street corner. The styles and flavors differ with a variety of herbs used, noodle sizes etc. but the foundation is the same. It all starts with a large batch of good old bone broth!
I'm a huge proponent of bone broth for the obvious nutritional reasons. It aids in digestion, joint health, is a great source of minerals... I won't bore you with the rest. If you do want to know more check out my post, Liquid Gold.
When learning of this superfood people always ask me how they can incorporate it in their diet. My response always is, "how could you not find ways to incorporate the broth?" Broth and stock are called upon for many dishes, and I plan to dedicate some time to sharing recipes that include this nutrient rich food. But for now let's focus on pho. Check out the photos below for some inspiration I got while riding through Vietnam on a motorbike. More on that at a later date...
Introduction to Pho
My first experience with Pho was not in Vietnam. It was actually in Costa Mesa, California where my then-boyfriend was obsessed with a small restaurant down the street that served, what seemed like, a bottomless bowl of pho. He just couldn't get enough of this savory broth with the fresh herbs and added sriracha for spice and he turned me on to it as well. What I like most is how the simple beef broth base comes with a side palette of condiments to spark your artistic side in creating a signature flavor all your own. Nobody's pho tastes the same once they've played with the fix-ins. It's all part of the fun. Not to mention, most places serve a large enough portion which allows you to bring seconds home to enjoy later...that is if you can stop before slurping down the reminder of the bowl.
How pho saved me
I had an adventurous journey in Vietnam which included the purchase of a motorbike to ride the entire length of the country from south to north. On a rainy day on Ho Chi Minh trail, I took a turn too wide and laid down my bike, the foot pedal cutting my ankle. That tiny accident landed me in a hospital to get stitches. Naturally, I refused to take the antibiotics they prescribed which then led to an injury that wouldn't heal. After five days and no progress I decided it was best to take the medication so that I wouldn't have to cut my journey short. I was only in the second week of a 3 month trip and a few stitches were not going to spoil it for me.
One of the many benefits of bone broth is the healing properties from the gelatin and cartilage which are building blocks for intestinal tissue and the mucosal lining of our stomachs. It was a saving grace that I was eating broth everyday while in Vietnam. I didn't suffer from the implications I've had in the past from taking antibiotics which I attribute to my strong dose of pre and probiotics, in addition to the bone broth I ingested the entire length of my journey.
Your pho is only as good as your broth
The main ingredient in pho is obviously the nutrient dense broth. This is easy to make but takes some time. If you're going to commit to making this soup you might as well go full out and make the broth as rich as can be which can take up to 48 hours. I prefer to keep it just under 36 as I feel the flavors start to become too rich after that. See my recipe below.
Beef Bone Broth
bones, enough to fill a slow cooker pot of (beef marrow and knuckle bones)
6-8 pieces beef short ribs
3 lbs beef chuck roast
4 quarts of cold filtered water (enough to cover the bones completely)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 celery stalks
3 large carrots
1 large bay leaf
4 garlic cloves
1 medium ginger root
2 cinnamon sticks
1 Tbsp peppercorns
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 450*F and place bones, carrots, onion, and garlic on a roasting pan for 20-30 minutes until browned. Heat a pan on the stovetop on medium-high and sear the outside of the short ribs and chuck roast. Transfer bones to large slow cooker and pour in the apple cider vinegar. Add the water, short ribs, chuck roast, onions, celery, carrots, bay leaf, garlic, ginger, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass, kombu, pepper and salt. Heat on high until it starts to boil and then switch to a very light simmer covering tightly. Keep an eye on the water level to ensure bones are covered the entire time.
Check on short ribs and chuck roast as they will be done cooking about 6-8 hours. Take them out as soon as the meat starts to fall away from the bone. Place them aside and shred the meat, putting the bones back in the crockpot and make sure water level is high.
Let simmer for a total of 30-48 hours to ensure the minerals and collagen are extracted and the flavors are emulsified into the broth. Once finished cooking you can skim any bubbles off the top. Allow to cool and strain. Place in containers to be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or you can freeze the broth up to 3 months.
Vietnamese Beef Pho
beef bone broth
hoisin or fish sauce
short ribs (shredded)
sweet onion (sliced thin)
When ready to make pho heat some broth in a medium sized pot on the stove. Prepare the noodles, according the package directions, in the broth. Add the beef at the very end to ensure it's heated through. Place the soup in bowls and serve with a side of lime, sprouts, cilantro, mint, onion, hoisin sauce and Sriracha. Be creative and make this broth your very own. There is no wrong way to eat pho.