Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup, usually served with beef, called pho bò or chicken, called pho gà. The soup includes rice noodles and is often served with asian basil, mint leaves, lime, and bean sprouts. The dish is associated with the city of Hanoi, where the first pho restaurant opened in the 1920's.There are two theories about the origin of the word. One refers to the French word, "feu" which means fire, as in the French dish "pot-au-feu", which uses the French method of adding charred onion to the broth for colour and flavour. The other theory attributes the origin of the word to the Cantonese rice vermicelli "hofan" which is often abbreviated to "fan".
Both fan and pho refer to the same rice noodles found in Vietnam and Guangdong, China, suggesting rice noodles may have been brought to Vietnam by Cantonese immigrants from Guangdong province in the early 20th century. The noodles are cooked the same way in both places and are likewise often seasoned with fish sauce, garnished with bean sprouts, and served with meatballs and sliced beef. Vietnamese pho, however, is further garnished with fresh mint, cilantro (coriander leaves), basil, bean sprouts, limes, sliced chili peppers and sliced raw beef, this is especially true of Saigon-style pho. Furthermore, the broth of pho is made from beef bones and fresh onion, whereas the Cantonese broth of fan is made from dried flatfish and other seafood. In some regional varieties, the Vietnamese broth may also have a mildly sweet flavour from Asian yellow rock sugar, but the Cantonese version does not.
The variations in meat, broth and additional garnishes, such as lime, bean sprouts, cilantro, Thai/Asian basil, and tuong (bean sauce) appear to be innovations introduced in the south. Pho did not become popular in South Vietnam until 1954. With the Vietnam war, pho was brought to many countries by refugees fleeing the country from the 1970's onwards. It is especially popular in large cities with substantial Vietnamese populations and enclaves such as Paris, the west coast of Canada, Texas, New Orleans, Orlando, Florida and Washington D.C. in the United States, and the western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne in Australia.
Today, Vietnamese pho is also popular in other South East Asian countries. In Bali, you can treat yourself to a good hot Pho Bo during lunch hour at Mama San or if you happen to be in Ubud, drop by Saigon Saveurs within the complex of Bintang Supermarket where they serve Vietnamese cuisine all day. In my experience Pho is extremely good to enjoy after a fresh Vietnamese Spring Roll. \MA