Vietnam’s national dish pho: Origin and evolution

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Pho is national pride in Vietnam. It is eaten by the whole population throughout the day and highly appreciated at international dinners. But how did this dish come about?

What is the origin of the pho? 

The origin of Pho is a matter of debate. It invented at the end of the 20th century in the North of Vietnam, but nobody is sure of the specific reasons. Is it a French-Vietnamese dish that occur after colonization or brought to Hanoi by Chinese immigrants?

First theory: Pho would come from France? 

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 Cattle served as draught animals and, the beef was absent in the traditional Vietnamese cuisine. With the arrival of the French colonizers in the 19th century, the consumption of red meat became more and more common. According to French chef Didier Corlou, owner of four restaurants in Hanoi, pho is a “Vietnamese dish with a French influence.” Its name “could come from the similarity with ” pot-au-feu,” he argues, pointing out that the carbonization of the onion and ginger in pho uses the same method as adding the grilled onion to the pot-au-feu. This way of charring the ingredients makes pho different from other Asian noodle soups.

Second theory: Pho – created by the Vietnamese? 

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Some theories have mentioned the name of Nam Dinh, a province located 110 km southwest of Hanoi. In the city of Nam Dinh, which was once a textile industrial center, ingenious cooks would have invented a nourishing soup to satisfy the needs of Vietnamese and French workers. They used local ingredients (rice pasta) and beef – a new meat resource of the time.

Another theory says that the pho created in the village of Van Cu in this province. All the villagers made and delivered the seal to Hanoi as their principal trade. Therefore, until today the pho vendors originate from this village (the names of their restaurants begin with the word Cồ). Some people still claim that the soup existed before the presence of the French. 

The original pho dish may be the Xao Trau soup, which was very popular in the North at the beginning of the 20th century. Sliced buffalo meat gets sautéed and then put together in a bowl with bun noodles and buffalo bone broth. Later, beef and pho noodles (flatter) replaced the buffalo meat and bun.

Third theory: Pho – dish imported by Chinese? 

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At the beginning of the 20th century, Chinese from border provinces interacted in Vietnam. They could bring the Cantonese dish Ngau-yuk-phan which consists of rice noodles and beef, taking advantage of the leftover bones and cartilage sold at derisory prices by the colonists to make broth. At nightfall, soup vendors would cross the streets calling the name of the dish to attract customers. Since the name was quite long, they would shout only the last word “phan,” the Vietnamese heard it and named the dish “pho.” 

Evolution and different versions of Pho 

Pho consists basically of boiled beef, noodles, and broth, but this dish evolved considerably over its nearly 100-year history.Pho ga – the Chicken Pho, invented during the war period when beef became scarce. These days the most expensive bowl of Pho in the world costs $5,000: Kobe beef, green lobster, white alba truffle, broth made with foie gras.

 [ Menus with Pho]

Pho Tai – semi-cooked beef pho. Pho Tai Lan – semi-cooked beef stir-fry

 Pho xao – beef sautéed Pho

 Pho Cuon – rice cake rolls

 Pho Chien Phong – fried rice noodles

 Pho Tron – rice noodles mixed with fish sauce, often chicken and salad

 Pho in the South – More things have been added: bean sprouts, water mint, lemon, soy brine, Hoisin sauce.

 Pho Chua – Pho with pork and sour sauce (a specialty of Lang Son – North)

 Pho with foie gras, prepared by French chefs


Pho with foie gras
Phorrito (Pho+ Burrito

Pho in the Grocery

There are various type of Pho in Grocery store . it will not tastes same in the restaurant but if you cook properly with little more ingredient like vegetable and additional proteins it might be better than your cook if you never cooked pho in your life.


Although the origin of pho is still subject to discussion, the Vietnamese are proud and masters of their masterpiece. Pho represents Vietnamese gastronomy. It is a simple yet sophisticated, elegant, and classic dish

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