Vietnamese Chicken Pho

Vietnamese Chicken Pho

I'm so excited to share my mom's recipe for authentic Vietnamese Chicken Pho. This recipe is a cultural gem, and a testament to the beauty of simplicity in cooking.

bowl of pho

The History and Culture of Phở

Before we dive into the cooking, let's take a brief trip down memory lane. Phở's story begins in the early 20th century in Northern Vietnam, specifically in the areas around Hanoi. The exact origin story is a bit of a mystery, woven with various cultural influences. Some food historians believe Pho is a Vietnamese adaptation of the French "pot-au-feu" or beef stew, a dish that became prominent during the French colonial period in Vietnam. The word 'Pho' itself is thought to be derived from 'feu', indicating its French connections.

However, Pho is not just a product of colonial influence. It's deeply rooted in Vietnamese traditions and ingredients. The genius of Pho lies in its ability to blend local flavors with foreign techniques, creating something unique and wholly Vietnamese.

Regional Variations

As Pho traveled from North to South Vietnam, it transformed, reflecting the local tastes and ingredients of each region.

  • Pho Bac (Northern Pho): The original Pho from Hanoi and its surroundings is known for its simplicity and balance. It features a clear broth, wider rice noodles, and typically, only a few slices of meat. The focus here is on the purity and depth of the broth's flavor.
  • Pho Nam (Southern Pho): As Pho journeyed to the South, it evolved in places like Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Southern Pho is bolder, with a sweeter and richer broth. It's often served with a wider variety of herbs, bean sprouts, and other garnishes, reflecting the South's abundance of fresh produce.

Cultural Significance

Pho is more than food; it's a cultural symbol. It transcends age, social strata, and time of day – it's eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's a common street food, easily found at roadside stalls, yet it's also a dish served in high-end restaurants, showcasing the versatility and universal appeal of Pho.

Pho in the Modern World

Today, Pho has become a global ambassador for Vietnamese cuisine. It's celebrated in numerous countries, each adding its own twist while respecting its Vietnamese roots. Pho's journey from a humble street corner in Hanoi to the menus of high-end global eateries is a testament to its timeless appeal and adaptability.

A Dish That Tells a Story

Every bowl of Pho is a story of history, culture, and culinary ingenuity. It's a dish that has witnessed and adapted to changing times, political shifts, and global influences, yet has remained unmistakably Vietnamese at its core.

Essential Ingredients

Here's the lineup for making authentic Chicken Pho, just the way my mom does it:

For the Pho:

  • Whole Chicken (or thighs and legs)
  • 1 whole onion
  • 1-2 whole pieces of fresh ginger
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3-5 tbsp fish sauce
  • 30 grams rock sugar (or 2 tbsp regular sugar)
  • 1 cube of chicken bouillon
  • 1 tsp MSG

For the Garnish:

  • Chopped cilantro or coriander
  • 1 white/yellow onion (thinly sliced)
  • Chopped green scallions
  • Bean sprouts
  • Lime or lemon wedges


  • Hoisin sauce
  • Sriracha

Step-by-Step Recipe Instructions

1. Charring the Onion and Ginger

Begin by charring one whole onion and 1-2 whole pieces of fresh ginger. If you have an air fryer, use it to char them until they become aromatic, which usually takes about 15-20 minutes. In case you don't have an air fryer, don't worry. You can achieve the same effect by charring the onion and ginger in an oven, on a grill, or directly on a gas stove flame or in a pan. The goal is to get a slight char on their surfaces, as this adds a deep, smoky flavour to the broth.

charring onion

2. Boiling the Chicken

Next, take a whole chicken or, if unavailable, some chicken thighs and legs, and place them in a large pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the chicken and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. As the chicken cooks, you'll notice foam and impurities rising to the top. Skim these off diligently; this is crucial for achieving a clear, refined broth.


3. Adding Aromatics to the Broth

After skimming the impurities, add the charred onion and ginger into the pot along with 4 star anise and 1 cinnamon stick. Let the mixture boil together for at least 45 minutes. This process infuses the broth with a rich aroma and a complex flavor profile.

4. Seasoning the Broth

Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked, carefully remove it from the pot and set it aside to cool down. Then, season the broth with 30 grams of rock sugar (or two tablespoons of regular sugar), three tablespoons of fish sauce, one teaspoon of MSG, and one cube of chicken bouillon. Add salt according to your taste preference. If you find the broth has reduced too much during cooking, feel free to add more water to adjust.

5. Preparing Rice Noodles

While the broth continues to simmer and develop its flavours, prepare some rice noodles according to the instructions on their package. Once cooked, rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process and prevent them from sticking together. Set them aside as you prepare the rest of the dish.

6. Preparing the Toppings

Now, let's prepare the toppings for the Pho. Chop up some green onions and cilantro (or coriander). Thinly slice a white or yellow onion and cut some lime into wedges. Also, rinse some bean sprouts and keep them ready. Having these toppings prepared and set aside makes the assembly of the Pho bowls much smoother, especially if you're serving multiple people.

7. Preparing the Chicken

By now, the chicken should have cooled down enough to handle. Shred or slice it into bite-sized pieces, suitable for serving. If you like, keep the chicken bones and add them back into the broth to extract maximum flavour!

slicing chicken

8. Assembling the Pho Bowls

To assemble the Pho bowls, start by placing a portion of the cooked rice noodles in each bowl. Then, add the shredded or sliced chicken on top of the noodles. Ladle the hot, aromatic broth over the noodles and chicken, making sure they are well covered. Finally, add the green onions, sliced onions, cilantro, and bean sprouts as toppings. A squeeze of lime juice over each bowl will add a fresh, zesty touch.

squeezing lime over a bowl of pho

9. Serving

Serve the Pho with Hoisin sauce and Sriracha on the side. These condiments allow each person customize their bowl of Pho according to their liking.

Customizing Your Pho

Pho is all about personal preference. Leave in the spices for a deeper flavour, or remove them if you like. Go wild with the toppings – it's your bowl of Pho, after all!

Serving and Presentation

Serve this steaming bowl of goodness with all the garnishes and condiments on the side. Let everyone at the table create their perfect Pho masterpiece.

Storing and Reheating Leftovers

Store leftovers separately and reheat gently for a just-cooked taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

What About MSG? MSG has been misunderstood for years. It's a flavour enhancer and, contrary to popular belief, modern research shows it's safe for most people when used in moderation.

That's it!

So there you have it – a bowl of Vietnamese Chicken Pho that's more than just a meal. It's a celebration of tradition, simplicity, and deliciousness. Give it a try and share your Pho adventures with us!

If you've enjoyed this recipe and appreciate this culinary journey we're one, don't forget to subscribe for more recipes, stories, and culinary explorations. Share your Pho experience in the comments – I'd love to hear from you!

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