Pho: National Food Dish of Vietnam

There are many kinds of delicious dishes and foods that are invented and found in Vietnam, but none is as popular as the legendary pho. Pho is a noodle soup dish that usually contains beef and different kinds of herbs and vegetables to make the broth healthier and more flavorful. Even though it is quite famous not only in Vietnam but also around the world, there are still some people that are not familiar with pho, specifically with its origins and varieties. In this article, we’ll tell you more about where pho exactly came from in Vietnam and how it was able to evolve into the two main varieties that we know today. So, here are some details about pho, the Vietnam national food.

Where Did Pho Come From?

Unfortunately, no one actually knows who invented pho and where it was exactly invented, but many historians believe that pho has been a popular dish in Vietnam even before the French colonial period, but the first iterations of pho have different types of meat instead of beef. The predecessor to the modern pho that we now eat today is said to have been created around the early 1900s in Northern Vietnam, specifically in the town of Vân Cù, located to the north of Hanoi, the current capital city of the country. According to the current generation of the villagers of Vân Cù, it was their ancestors that had eaten the first modern incarnation of pho before the dish was influenced by the French.

Because Vietnam is near to the southern region of China, it is also believed that the rice noodle used to make the first pho, the sah hoh fun, was brought from Southern China to Northern Vietnam through trading. The trade for the rice noodle first started in the 1860s, and soon after, the people of Northern Vietnam started learning how to create the noodle on their own, although the sah hoh fun eventually evolved to the bánh phở, which is now used to make today’s pho.

The French influence for pho started a few years after the end of the Sino-French War in 1885, where the French were given control to the northern parts of Vietnam by the Chinese. It was during the French colonial period when beef began to be incorporated in pho, as beef is arguably one of the most popular types of meats in France during that time, and the French colonizers wanted to eat pho with the said meat. The Vietnamese people during that time were not fond of eating beef, as they have become accustomed to eating porn and chicken while their cows are used as beasts of burden or for farming labor.

Since the Vietnamese introduced pho to the French, the French also returned the favor by introducing the locals of the country to pot-au-feu, a stew dish that contains beef and vegetables. Because the French liked cooking this stew dish so much, they have demanded that the stock of beef in the country should be increased, so Vietnam started selling more beef to markets. However, because of the high demand for beef, the French were the only ones who were able to buy the best parts of the cow, and the scraps or discarded parts would then be sold to the locals. The Vietnamese people then started putting the scraps of beef in their pho, and this experiment led to the creation of the popular beef pho.

Northern and Southern Pho

pho with Sriracha hot sauce

When communism started becoming prominent in Northern Vietnam during the 1950s, the people who despised or hated how their government turned out started fleeing to the southern regions of Vietnam, where democracy is still being followed. Once they were in Southern Vietnam, the people then began introducing popular northern dishes to the southern Vietnamese, and one of these dishes is the beef pho. Eventually, the Southern Vietnamese people started incorporating ingredients that are abundant in their region to pho, and this began the rise of the herb-heavy variant of pho that is often called “Saigon pho,” which is derived from the city of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City).

While Northern pho, sometimes called Hanoi pho, was considered the first modern iteration of pho, the Saigon pho is the variant that became popular not only in Vietnam but also in different parts of the world. The popularity of Saigon pho may have stemmed from the aftermath of the Vietnam War, where many Southern Vietnamese people fled their country in search of a safer and more peaceful place to live in. 

Much like what happened to some people of Northern Vietnam, the Southern Vietnamese people brought with them their favorite recipes for pho and introduced them to foreigners, who would soon like the dish and popularize it in many countries around the world. In today’s era, the Hanoi pho is the rare variant that you could usually only get in the northern regions of Vietnam, while the Saigon pho is quite abundant all over the country.

No matter which type of pho you eat, there is no denying that all kinds of pho are delicious. Whether you want the simpler recipe of Northern pho with fewer vegetables and more meaty flavor, or the more complex recipe of Southern pho that has flavorful herbs and the optional spicy Sriracha sauce, you will still enjoy the taste and the comfort that pho gives whenever you eat it.