short-cut pho

Originally posted: November 2008

Vietnamese pho (pronounced ‘fur’ and not ‘po’, lest you end up with a prostitute) is a traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup. It’s actually one of my favourite noodle things to eat alongside things like Hokkien prawn noodles and the occasional mee sua. I had the privilege of hosting two Vietnamese friends that had come to Singapore for a short visit. I asked them if they could teach me how to make pho and they promptly agreed. For this recipe, I learnt how to do it in two ways – the short-cut (and somewhat cheaper way) and the longer (but more authentic way). First up, some things about cooking pho in Singapore – beef isn’t very cheap here but most ingredients aren’t that hard to find. So rest assured, it is possible. For those living in North America and elsewhere, where beef is abundant and there’s the occasional Vietnamese or Chinese grocer, you definitely can make this!
Along the way, I also learnt a few pho-cooking secrets. Like a friend once said, ‘beef soup is beef soup, but it’s the something extra that makes one place stand out from another’.

Ready, steady, go!

Short-Cut Pho

Serves 4


For the stock:

  • 2 cans of chicken broth
  • An equal amount of water (ie. 2 cans)
  • 2 packets of beef balls (about 20 balls), try and get the beef balls with tendon minced in
  • Ginger, 200g
  • One medium onion
  • About 2-3 pieces of star anise
  • 4-5 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 3 beef stock cubes
  • salt
  • sugar
  • 1/2 slice of licorice root
  • 1 packet of dried rice noodles
  • Beef tenderloin, thinly sliced or you can buy ready sliced beef sukiyaki (check for good marbling so beef won’t turn out too dry)

For the finishing touch:

  • A large bunch of Thai Basil (I couldn’t find this so I used Italian basil, which works fine)
  • A large bunch of mint
  • A large bunch of cilantro
  • Sliced red chili or jalapeno peppers
  • Lime, cut into wedges
  • A pack of bean sprouts
  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • 3 ‘sprigs’ of spring onion, finely chopped (keep the root ends)

For dipping sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce, per person
  • Chili sauce (Siracha is fine)



  1. Soak the noodles in some water.
  2. Prepare the basil, cilantro, mint and bean sprouts.

Prepared basil, mint, cilantro, lime wedges, bean sprouts (you can roughly cook them in some boiling water if you don’t like them too raw) and onion pickles (recipe below).

3. Char the ginger, onion, star anise over the stove. You can also do this in an oven, but it will take a much longer time.

Burning atop the stove. You can also use a pair of tongs and hold the ingredients and burn them like you’re toasting a marshmallow over a campfire.

Charred onion, ginger and star anise.

4. Clean off the burnt areas (ie. black areas) of the ginger and onion and sear the ginger and onion to help it release its flavour when it is put into the stock.
5. Boil the chicken broth and water along with the ginger, onion, star anise, garlic and licorice root.
6. When stock is boiling, add in the beef stock cubes and taste. Add more water if needed.
7. Season using salt and sugar. RULE of thumb is, for every 1 part of salt you add, add 2 parts sugar. My friend started out with about 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Season to taste.
8. Add in the beef balls and bottom ends of spring onions, turn heat down and simmer for about 30 min.

This is just a picture of the broth. As you can see, it’s the aftermath of our eating, so there isn’t much left.

9. Cook rice noodles in boiling water.
10. Once cooked, drain the noodles and set aside. You can add a little vegetable oil to prevent the noodles from sticking together, but this is optional.
11. Mix together the finely diced 1/2 onion and 3 sprigs of spring onion.
12. To assemble the pho, do the following:

Step 1: Cooked rice noodles in bowl

Step 2: Add 1 tablespoon (or more if you like) of the onion and spring onion mixture.

Step 3: Assemble the raw beef slices. You can choose to cook them quickly in the stock too. Don’t overcook them though.

Step 4: Pour hot stock over, place a few sprigs of basil, cilantro and mint and a small handful of bean sprouts and serve.

To make the optional onion pickles:

Thinly slice 1/2 and onion and place in an equal amount of vinegar and water. My friend used about 1/2 cup of each and put 2 1/2 tablespoons of white sugar and 1 tsp of salt. Let it sit for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge. Serve with pho.

To make dipping sauce:
For each person:
Mix 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce and squeeze about 1/2 lime and add a little chili sauce. Mix together use for dipping the beef balls and beef slices. Yum!


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