The Pho-1-1 on Vietnamese Restaurants Most Buzzed About Soup

Traditional Phở Bò (beef Pho) and a cup of green tea at Pho Vy. Photo by Ellie Shortt

It’s not too often that there’s a single dish that dictates your lunch choice. When asking friends whether they’re in the mood for Italian, Mexican, fast food etc, we don’t usually synecdochically refer to a genre of food by one item such as pasta, enchiladas or chicken nuggets. Unless of course, you’re talking about Ph. (pronounced feu, like pot-au-feu).


Possibly the most popular dish in western discussion of Vietnamese cuisine, “Phở” has developed a meaning far beyond its humble beginnings. The phrase “let’s go for Phở” is not only trendy, but suggests a dining experience where one type of dish may literally be the only thing consumed by everyone at the table. Not that there isn’t a wide selection of other amazing choices in Vietnamese restaurants – I’m personally a big fan of Gỏi Cuốn (salad rolls containing shrimp, julienne pork, lettuce, and rice noodles), Bún Gà Nướng (grilled chicken served with thin vermicelli noodles and vegetables), and Cà Phê Dá (vietnamese iced coffee), but “let’s go for Bún Gà Nướng ” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


The popularity of this single dish over the past few years has led to an outbreak of Phở restaurants all over North America. Numerous Vancouver and Victoria restaurants attract a wide range of patrons including teenagers, foodies and couples, as well as the Vietnamese community. So what is Phở and why has it become so popular?


Phở is Vietnamese noodle soup that is usually served with thinly sliced rare beef, cooked by the hot broth they’re placed in. The broth is the essence of Phở, made by simmering beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, charred ginger and spices. The combination and amount of spices varies between recipes, and in the end is what makes Phở so memorable and separates the great from the good. Flavourings can include cinnamon, star anise, roasted ginger, roasted onion, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed and clove, and the broth takes several hours to make. In fact, some say that the best broth comes from a stock that never stops simmering and is simply added to each day. Whether this is common practice or not, it’s generally agreed that 3 hours is the minimum, with 12 hours being the standard for restaurant quality Phở.


The broth is swimming with rice noodles and is accompanied by a garnish plate of Asian basil, mint leaves and bean sprouts, ready to be added at one’s discretion. Although thinly sliced rare beef is possibly the simplest form of Phở, it can also be served with tripe, tendon, and meatballs. Phở containing these ingredients is usually called Phở Đặc Biệt (“special Phở”), and is often each restaurant’s most popular variety for the more adventurous types. For the less adventurous, there are usually also chicken or vegetable and tofu alternatives. Remember though, that even if you order the “vegetarian” Phở, the broth still contains a meat stock.


So now that you’re no longer left wondering what this curious but delicious and widely loved soup is, here are some places in Victoria where you can get your Phở fix…


Pho Vy: 772 Fort St Victoria, BC (250) 385-5516

Pho Hoa: 765 Fort St Victoria, BC (250) 477-2356

Saigon Night: 915 Fort St Victoria, BC (250) 384-2971

Pho-Vuong: 622 Fisgard St Victoria, BC (250) 590-7687

Vietnam House: 788 Yates St Victoria, BC (250) 384-3843

Saigon Harbour Restaurant: 1012 Blanshard St Victoria, BC (250) 386-3354

Kim’s Vietnamese Restaurant: 748 Johnson St Victoria, BC (250) 385-0455

Le Petit Saigon: 1010 Langley St Victoria, BC (250) 386-1412

Green Leaf Bistro: 1684 Douglas St Victoria, BC (250) 590-8302

Phonomenal Vietnamese Café: 219-3749 Shelbourne St Victoria, BC (778) 430-5688

Pho-Ever: 1669 Pear St Saanich, BC (250) 388-0028

Vietnam Garden Restaurant: 524 Admirals Rd Esquimalt, BC (250) 384-3033


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