It’s fair to say that phở has few lovers. The Vietnamese noodle soup, which was traditionally served only for breakfast (though even in Hanoi it’s now served any time of day), is balanced, restorative and deeply satisfying.
Andrea Nguyen, the author of The Pho Cookbook, perfectly summed it up in an interview with Eater: "It grounds you,” she said. “That's what it does for me emotionally and physically. It gets me into the groove of what the country is about. It's a morning country.”
While that’s hard to top, there are actually plenty of Vietnamese dishes that will quickly find a place in your heart next to phở. Kiss one of these recipes and see if you fall in love.
1. Canh chua
Vietnamese hot and sour soup
The balance of the hot and the sour, the sweetness from the tomato and pineapple and the smooth kick of chilli are all present in this soupy sensation. This easy and fragrant bowl caps off a stellar week of The Chefs' Line - thank you, Head Chef Jerry Mai for your rockstar mohawk and this rockstar bowl!
2. Bánh khọt
Crisp pancakes with tiger prawns and prawn floss
One of Luke Nguyen’s favourite street foods, these light and crispy pancakes are made with rice flour and coconut milk mixed with cooked rice and turmeric. You can fill the savoury pancakes with a variety of fillings, with this recipe adding tiger prawns. They are best served with a side of nuoc cham for extensive dipping. You’ll need a special báhn knot pan to make the pancakes, which you can pick up at most Asian grocery stores.
3. Bún riêu
Blue swimmer crab and tomato vermicelli noodle soup
This crab noodle soup definitely gives phở a run for its money. It’s full of big pork and crab flavours, cooked in a tomato and tamarind stock then served with fresh lemon and lettuce. The slide of flavours from the briny meatiness of the broth through to the creamy noodles, tangy lemon and fresh lettuce is addictive.
4. Gỏi cuốn
Rice paper rolls with prawns and pork
Soft rice paper rolls are becoming increasingly popular in food halls across Australia. They are a delicious picnic lunch option, or perfect as a starter to the main meal. The fresh, clean flavours can be varied to suit whatever you have on hand, with this recipe by Luke Nguyen using tiger prawns, lettuce and perilla leaves. Or try this version with sesame and salmon.
5. Thịt kho
Caramelised pork belly
Caramelised pork belly is traditionally served during the Vietnamese lunar new year celebrations, but is now enjoyed all over the world, any time of year. The dish is the perfect balance of sweet, salty, spicy, bitter and sour that pairs so beautifully with pork. The caramelised pork is meltingly tender and sweet in this recipe. It’s perfection served with some steamed baby buk choy and green beans.
6. Coa lầu
Hoi An noodles
This fresh noodle dish is a speciality from the ancient town of Hoi An. To make it authentically, you need speciality noodles made from local Hoi An rice, which are pre-soaked in a lye made from wood ash. Apparently, even the water used in the soaking has to come from a specific well for this dish to be considered authentic. Never fear, thick rice noodles are a reasonable substitute and the resulting meal is still a perfect balance of textures and flavours and delightfully good for you.
Handmade rice noodles filled with pork and wood-ear mushrooms
Báhn cuốn translates as “rolled sheets”, and these delicate handmade rice noodles can be filled with a variety of textures and flavours. This recipe adds pork terrine, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, fried shallots and cucumber. Serve the steamed noodle rolls drizzled with nuoc cham and garnished with fresh chilli.
8. Bún chả
Grilled pork and noodles
This Hanoi lunch favourite is another fresh noodle dish that adds plenty of herbs for punchy flavour. This version uses three types of pork - pork belly, pork neck and mince pork. The pork patties are balanced with a herb salad and rice vermicelli noodles. Crispy spring rolls are often added to bún chả, as in this recipe, adding extra crunch.
9. Bún bò xào
Beef noodle salad
If anything is going to win a heart away from phở, it’s a beef noodle salad. In this recipe, the beef is marinated in fish sauce, garlic and lemongrass then stir-fried with the noodles. An abundance of fresh green herbs and vegetables turns the stir-fry into a delicious warm salad, drizzled with a tangy nuoc cham dressing. Unbelievably good.
10. Cơm gà chiên dơn
Crispy skinned chicken with red rice
Crispy skinned chicken is a popular street food in Hanoi. The chicken is poached in a master stock then thoroughly dried. This ensures the skin turns extra-crisp when hot oil is ladled over it just before serving. This recipe contains instructions for creating and keeping a master stock. Luke Nguyen has had this on the go for over 15 years!
11. Chả cá
Chả cá fried fish
It’s the Hanoi rite of passage for every first-time visitor – a plate of chả cá at the gorgeous, rickety Chả Cá Lã Vong in the Old Quarter, which you can make at home with this recipe. Fresh local fish is marinated in a fragrant mix of ginger, shallots, garlic, turmeric and fish sauce before being fried with a handful of dill and spring onion. Mắm tôm tổng, a spicy dipping sauce is made with mắm nêm, Vietnam’s popular fermented shrimp condiment is served on the side.
12. Xôi mặn
Sticky rice with chicken and sausage
Sticky rice (xôi) is often served for breakfast but also turns up as an afternoon snack or as an accompaniment to the main dish. This recipe is an easy ‘one pot’ dish that you’ll make time and time again.
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Pho made with Vegemite might sound slightly terrifying, but the spread we know and love actually provides the perfect salty base for a delicious, albeit not-your-average pho broth. #BringBackTheClassics
This phở is a combination of many tips from family and friends. I use gravy beef – my dad’s touch – for sweetness. The shrimp paste and lemongrass are the X-factor additions, and the red dates and daikon reflect my Chinese heritage, and also enhance the soup’s sweetness.