Pho – the Truth

It’s not easy to find a really good version of the traditional Vietnamese breakfast soup. Writer, cook and supperclub host Uyen Luu shows us how to make the real thing.


‘I’ve never had a good pho in London,’ says Uyen Luu. ‘They seem watered down – nothing that a Vietnamese person would go back for.’ Uyen has lived in Hackney since she was a schoolgirl, and run supperclubs from her house for three years. She has shown Jamie Oliver and the FT how to make pho, using know-how she picked up from her mother, who, in turn refined her own technique over years.


It’s a breakfast dish in Vietnam, invented in Hanoi – the result of cross-pollination between French pot au feu and Vietnamese noodle soup with fresh herbs. Uyen is from Saigon, so this pho has more oomph than the minimal version made by most London Vietnamese, who tend to originate from the north.

You’ll need (for 8-10 bowls)

  • 2 x large  onion – halved and charred
  • 2 x thumbs of  ginger – halved and charred
  • 20 x star anise
  • 2tbs mix of fennel seeds. coriander seeds, cassia bark, cinnamon
  • 2 pieces of dried orange peel
  • 2 black cardamon 
  • 1 x mooli
  • 1 x carrot
  • 90g rock sugar
  • salt/ pepper
  • 4 x large cuts of ox tail
  • 1kg beef flank
  • 1 x beef bib or bones
  • fish sauce
  • 1 litre free range chicken stock
  • 5 litres water


  • 1 x fresh ho-fun noodles serves 2-3 or 1 pack x dry rose brand pho noodles
  • Blanched in boiling water or rehydrated.

Meat Optional

  • fillet/ sirloin or rump steak – thinly sliced


  • 1 x lemon/ lime wedge per serving
  • red onion, corriander and spring onion, finely chopped

Start with oxtail, a beef leg bone replete with marrow, and half a rib with meat still on. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the meat, then chuck the water away. Wash the meat in cold water, removing any scum and rest. This will give you a clearer broth. Wash the pot, fill with new fresh water and bring to the boil, then add the cleaned meat in. Bring to a gentle boil, getting rid of any excess scum then simmer. Add a free range chicken or good quality chicken stock. (take the chicken out after an hour).

Meanwhile, place a griddle pan on high heat. Do not add oil. Char a large onion, first peeling and trimming it so it will stand on its end and place ginger to char on both sides with star anise. Add to the broth with the mooli and carrot.

Add the rock sugar and mix of dried spices (in a muslin sac or strainer): cinnamon bark, a handful of star anise, three black cardamom pods (must be the black ones), six pieces of liquorice, 3–4 pieces of Chinese orange peel, and a tablespoon of coriander seeds in muslin. Season with salt and a premium quality fish sauce such as Three Crabs Fish Sauce, tasting all the time. Simmer for at least 2 hours with the lid on.

When your Pho is ready, prepare dried rice noodles, and get your garnishes ready: sawtooth (a delicious herb halfway between Thai basil and coriander), coriander sprigs, lime wedges and fresh-cut chilli.


Add your meat of choice and customise with hoisin sauce, chilli sauce and fish sauce.


© Text and photos from and 


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