Kitchen Tips

The Great Pho Debate: Northern Versus Southern Pho

One of the national dishes of Vietnam, pho rice noodle soup has captured the fascination of food lovers around the world. Pho consists of a broth made with beef or chicken bones with various spices, teamed with chewy rice noodles, tender meats from various parts of a beef, crunchy bean sprouts and flavour-packed herbs.

Vietnamese people are passionate about their pho, with fierce debate as to whether the Northern or Southern regions do the best version. Before you decide, find out about the history of pho, and the different styles available.

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A brief history of pho

The history of pho began in Nam Dinh province in northern Vietnam, around the time the French colonised the country in the late 1880s. It is believed the word pho is a Vietnamese adaptation of the French soup “pot au feu”, which the French brought to Vietnam. The northern Vietnamese took the beef parts and bones that their French conquerors didn’t want for their dishes, and it’s widely believed that this is how pho of the north, called pho bac, came to be.

In 1954, the country was divided into North and South Vietnam. To avoid Communism, many northerners migrated southward, bringing their pho culture with them. As the dish moved south, cooks infused it with additional ingredients until it evolved into the Southern style known as pho nam today. After the Fall of Saigon, masses of Vietnamese people fled the country, taking their Southern-style pho to all corners of the world.

As time went on, an evolution of pho occurred outside Vietnam. Although the basic ingredients were retained, pho recipes were adapted to suit whatever ingredients were available locally, such as seafood and pork, those these cannot be considered pho in the strict traditional sense.

The difference between Northern and Southern pho

Textures: Northern pho tends to use wider rice noodles.
Broth: the focus of the Northern pho is on the taste of its clear and simple broth, whereas its Southern counterpart is slightly sweeter and bolder.
Meats: Northern people prefer eating pho with chicken meat or a simple minced rare beef. In the south, the meat dominates, utilising many parts of beef such as sliced rare beef, bone marrow, tendon, fatty flank, brisket and meatballs.
Toppings: Northern pho uses much more green onion, while the Southern has bean sprouts and a variety of herbs, including Thai basil and coriander.
Sauces: Pho Bac from the North uses rice vinegar, fish sauce and chilli sauce for seasoning. It also uses much more MSG than other regions. In the South, they serve pho with lime, hoisin sauce, chilli sauce and fresh sliced chillies.

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Now that you know the difference between the two, tell us, which is your preferred style of pho? Why not pay a visit to Vietnam and discover our favourite places for pho in Ho Chi Minh City?

For more Vietnamese cooking inspiration, read our guide to traditional Vietnamese ingredients.

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