Easier Done than Said

Today’s recipe is labeled Southeast Asian Beef and Rice-Noodle Soup, at least that’s what Gourmet called it when it showcased the dish in February 2009, but in reality, it’s phở.

The ingredients list is unmistakable; this is the deeply flavored and intensely aromatic Vietnamese soup that is perhaps its country’s most famous culinary treasure.  Thanks in no small part to the millions of South Vietnamese who dispersed throughout the globe after Saigon fell, phở has become increasingly familiar to outsiders as well.

Despite genuine phở being rather complicated to prepare, the instructions Gourmet printed years ago are a little more streamlined.  In fact, perhaps pronouncing the dish’s name presents even more of a challenge.  Though to English-speakers, phở looks as though it’s pronounced, “foe,” a closer approximation is, “fuh.”

No matter what the soup is called, its main party piece is a clear broth that is, nonetheless, deeply savory.  That may sound impossibly rich, but the broth’s transparency keeps it surprisingly light.  Moreover, diners are presented with an array of sides, all of which offer contrasting tastes, keeping the flavor profile lively.

There’s hot sriracha pepper sauce, whose tingly heat accentuates the beef’s flavor.  Mint leaves and cucumbers each bring their own variety of coolness, while freshly-squeezed lime juice inserts a layer of tangy freshness.  Speaking of which, cilantro provides a burst of ethereal greenness.

The vast majority of prep time is consumed in simmering the beef, which intensifies the broth’s flavor.  That accomplished, the soup comes together quickly, and more easily in other phở recipes.  Depending on how pretentious you want to be, you probably will spend more time practicing how to speak Vietnamese.


Southeast Asian Beef and Rice-Noodle Soup

(actually, Phở)

  • 3 pounds beef short ribs
  • 3 pounds beef shank, cut into two or three pieces
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, sliced (*1)
  • 2 (1-inch) pieces of ginger, smashed
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 long chili, stemmed and halved lengthwise
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 whole star anise
  • 1 (4-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 14 ounces Asian rice noodles
  • sriracha sauce, cucumber slices, mint leaves, cilantro leaves and fresh lime pieces, for serving

In a stockpot set over medium-high flame, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until it shimmers.  Brown the meat (working in batches if necessary), flipping to ensure all sides are seared.  Set aside the beef when it just begins to brown.

Reduce the flame to medium.  Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and cook the onions, ginger, scallions, garlic and chili, stirring occasionally until browned, about 12 minutes.

Put the beef back in the stockpot and add the water, soy sauce, star anise and cinnamon.  Simmer covered until the meat is tender, about two hours.

Turn off heat and use tongs to extract the meat.  Once it is cool enough to handle, discard the bones and fat, and slice the beef.  Strain the broth through a cheesecloth, discarding the solids.

Cook in a separate pot of water the rice noodles, until just soft.  Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse with cold water.

Return the beef to the pot and add the noodles.  Bring just to a simmer, season with salt, and serve.  Accompany with the sides listed above.


1 – Or two large-ish shallots.  Of course.

17 thoughts on “Easier Done than Said

    1. When was your moment of discovery? Mine came long after I knew I loved the soup, and far too late to forego the embarrassment.

      Of course, we try, but no doubt, our “proper” pronunciations still amuse native Vietnamese speakers. In fact, how many jokes were told, at our expense, behind swinging kitchen doors? “You should listen to this guy at Table 54 try to say the things on our menu!”


      1. I can tell you almost exactly. It was July of 2014 (which corresponds with another reason I remember the approximate date). Kody’s cousin came to our house, and somehow phở came up. She pronounced the word correctly, and I thought she was wrong. No telling what I said. I hope I wasn’t rude about it. I probably looked it up when she left and realized she was right.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My own enlightenment hails from a point even more distant, both chronologically and geographically. I was in Arlington, VA (just across the Potomac from DC), and my friends and I decided to partake of the suburb’s wealth of Vietnamese restaurants.

        Oh-so-sure my “worldliness” would impress my friends, I ordered s bowl of “foe.” The waitress gently corrected my pronunciation (and, no doubt, I soon became “this guy at table 54”).

        Think this would’ve taught me to be a little less pretentious?


        Liked by 1 person

      1. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s waiting to surprise you.

        For your birthday this year, Angela, it’s a mushroom feast! Twenty-three different varieties, each more delectable than the last! (Wo)man can’t survive on mushrooms alone? We’ll see about that.

        Oh, how he’s been waiting to spring this surprise on you! Fooled you, didn’t he?

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I have yet to really get into Pho although I should definitely give it more attention. Looks delicious and it can be quite healthy. Lot of fresh ingredients.

    The photography is excellent as well. Do you take the photos yourself?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, JoAnn!

      Recalling a topic we discussed last year sometime, I recall an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” wherein Fieri was just raving about a Pho restaurant he found in Orlando. God, I wish I could remember what it’s called!

      Naturally, it might be clear on the other side of town and thus, ninety minutes away, but if it’s closer…

      Oh yes, all photographic efforts are with a camera phone, no less. Whatever talents I lack, the phone provides!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Saigon noodle… I still haven’t been there but should really remedy that soon. It’s really not far from me.

        Not sure what phone you use. My iPhone takes truly amazing photos… one of the reasons I stick with iPhone!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Believe it or not, JoAnn, when I first started blogging, I used a digital camera to snap my pics.

        That is, until, I was out one day and, I found something I “just had to” photograph. However, the camera was at home, leaving me no option other than using the phone. The picture was going to be blurry and pixelated, but it was better than nothing.

        So I told myself. Imagine my surprise, though, to discover exactly the opposite! Ever since, the camera collects dust.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. So I’ve been told…

      Flattering, Tamara. Much appreciated. Hope you’ll stick around for a while, because, with all due humility, next year and after is promising, and I look forward to reading what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

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