Vietnam rewards an early riser. Slip out before 9 a.m. and you'll get to explore the frenetic motorbike-choked streets of Vietnam's biggest cities at their most peaceful. It'll still be hours until the heat and humidity of the afternoon drench the clothing on your back. And there will be pho. Mornings are historically a special time for pho in Vietnam. But these days you can increasingly find this iconic noodle soup at any time of day as shop owners lengthen their hours across the country.
Every morning, all over Vietnam, an army of cooks busies themselves with the task of serving the perfect bowl of pho (pronounced ‘fur’). Pho is more than the national dish of Vietnam – it’s a bowl of food that unifies its people and prepares a nation for the day ahead. Traditionally eaten for breakfast, the steaming beef broth, flavored with ginger, star anise, cinnamon, black cardamom and the ubiquitous fish sauce, floods over fine rice noodles and slivers of raw beef, with a garnish of fresh herbs, spring onions, chili and lime juice.
Pho originates from Hanoi in the north of Vietnam. It’s heavily influenced by Chinese spices and the culinary competence of the French colonialists who, during the late 19th century, introduced the Vietnamese to the idea of cooking with beef. Before the French arrived, beef was not considered for the pot; however, impressed by the imperialists’ methods, local cooks observed their stock-making techniques and married Asian flavors to lend a more exotic feel. Until 1954 pho remained a secret of the north. But when the country was partitioned, people began to flee the communist north, many settling in southern Saigon. The dish became an overnight success, as curious folk flocked to taste this new phenomenon. The region’s innovative cooks began refining the original dish, producing what is now considered the definitive beef-and-noodle soup.
Basically, a bowl of pho is only as good as its broth. There’s no trick to the noodles, really, and the beef is often added to the soup raw. The toppings are ALL raw. In short? No broth, no bacon.