NO fast track to a perfect 'pho bo' (vietnamese beef noodle soup, 越南生牛肉河)

my bowl of pho bo

I have been craving for a Pho  for months, there are many Thai restaurants in Basel but not a single Vietnamese restaurant here. In Hong Kong, I can find a Vietnamese restaurant easily but a lot of friends comment that there is no real good Pho there which surprised me because HK is supposed to be a “food & drink heaven”. I guess it is because to make a proper Pho noodle soup, you have to invest a lot of time and good ingredients which means $$$, and the rental is so expensive in HK. Moreover, when they go to a Vietnamese restaurant, they will order other dishes to share among the group, not just the Pho alone. That’s my personally experience anyway.

That probably explains why I never know how to appreciate a bowl of Pho until after yesterday, I made some real stuff for my family. I have invested almost a whole day for the Pho, well maybe over exaggerated but from making the soup at 12 noon until 19:30 dinner time, that’s long enough, isn’t it? Six hours had gone to make a perfect stock. Although requiring a lot of hard work but all worth it. All of us finish the noodle soup and drank to the last drop. This soup is absolutely perfect to drink until the last drop as it’s 100% natural. As a kid, my mom did not allow us to finish the soup of any noodle soup we had when we ate out because of the MSG they usually added. And she was right, one time, I could not resist and finished all the soup and I ended up a very bad headache and felt so thirsty afterwards.  

So without ado, here is my recipe, I want to acknowledge the authors of the following recipes which I have sourced from: Wandering ChopsticksEat Drink & be Merry & Allrecipes

Serves 4

Ingredients for the beef stock:

  • 3 medium onion, keep as whole piece
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 small carrots, cut into halves
  • 1 big white radish (daikon), peel & cut into big pieces
  • 5 stalks of celery (discard the leaves), cut into big pieces
  • 5 cloves of garlic, bashed
  • big bulb of ginger, ~100g, peeled & bashed
  • 1 kg oxtail pieces
  • 500g beef bone marrow
  • 1 piece of rock sugar

Spices to add to the beef stock:

  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 5 star anise
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
Tossing the herbs in a pan to get the flavors out
Tossing the herbs in a pan to get the flavors out

Final seasoning:

  • 2 tbsp fish sauce,
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • sesame oil
  • 1 – 16 oz. package of pho/phad thai rice noodles
  • 300g of filet mignon, thinly sliced
Thinly sliced filet mignon
Thinly sliced filet mignon

Accompanies on side:

  • 1 spring onion, cut into small piece
  • 1/2 Onion, cut into thin strips
  • sprigs of fresh cilantro/ coriander
  • fresh basil leaves ( I skipped it this time)
  • fresh mint leave
  • bean sprouts, plug out the ends ( tedious work but make the noodle looks much neat and nicer)
  • lime wedges
  • 1 fresh red chili cut into thin slices
Accompanies for pho
Accompanies on side for pho

Dipping sauces (optional):

  • hoisin sauce
  • sriracha hot chili sauce
  • fish sauce with red chili pieces



  1. Using a a large soup pan, bring water to boil (about 3 litres).
  2. Add oxtail & bone marrow into the pan, bring to boil, keep boiling for a few mins and then simmer at medium high heat for 10 mins or so.
  3. Discard the liquid as you will see the scum floating on top, rinse the meat pieces in tap water.
  4. Pour in new hot water (approx 4 litres) into the soup pan, bring to boil, and add in the celery, carrots, daikon, onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and star anise (after tossed, see point 5).
  5. Toss the rest of the spices in a small pan to let the flavours come out. Don’t over heat or they will get burnt. You can stop when you can smell the frangrant of the spices.
  6. The spices which are smaller in pieces or in powder form (cloves, cardarmon, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, coriander powder), I put them in 2 disposable Japanese green tea bags, the second teabag is inserted in another direction after the first one so the spices  will not leak out (you can use cheese cloth or cotton bag instead of tea bags).
  7. Simmer at medium heat for about 3 hours and then add in the daikon, cook this for another 2-3 hours or until an hour before you are ready to prepare the pho rice noodles.
  8. Skim off the fat from time to time and stir gently just to avoid sticking.
  9. After 5-6 hours of cooking, your stock is now ready remove the ingredients from the soupbase and season with fish sauce, salt, some fresh ground black pepper & sesame oil as desired.***
  10. 40 mins before you want to serve, in a separate deep pan, boil water and cook the rice noodles, unwind the noodles with wooden chopsticks, remove them from the water as soon as they just become soft, transfer to a colander, quickly rinse in cold tap water, drain and set aside. The purpose of this is to cool the noodles immediately and not to let them further cook when warm and not to get soggy. Follow the instructions behind the pack or it should not take more than 2-3 mins. (If you can find fresh pho rice noodles in your neighbourhood, that’s even better.)
  11. Prepare the accompanied side dish as mentioned above. Place them onto one plate.
  12. Prepare the hoisin sauce, sriracha hot chili sauce or you can prepare a third sauce like the Vietnamese restaurant by adding some chili pieces into some fish sauce.
  13. Cut the filet mignon into thin slices****.
  14. Transfer enough soup for 4 portion into a pan, bring to boil, place the noodles into the soup, and quickly divide the noodle into 4 soup bowls (this warms up the noodle again). Line the raw beef slices on top of the noodle, add some onion, spring onion as well and then pour the hot soup over on the beef & noodles.
  15. Serve immediately. Add some bean sprouts, Thai basil leaves, mint & coriander leaves, chili, lime & dipping sauce***** from the accompanied side dish according to your personal taste.
  16. Feel free to finish the last drop of soup.
  17. Any leftover stock can be frozen for later use.

Enjoy the real & great stuff!!!

Notes & Tips:

*As usual, not all pho recipes are identical, but I observed one ingredient is also very important, apart from the beef and spices, white radish (daikon) is very absolutely essential. I recalled that the Chinese brisket Noodle and the Korean Beef Soup also use white radishes. So I think I should not miss this out. White radish gives a sweet taste and blends with the beef very well. With the daikon, you will not need more stock powder or MSG! 

**If you have a cleaver (either Chinese or American ones), bash on the garlic and ginger pieces with the knife blade. I learnt this from my mom that the flavor can come out more easily.

***You can prepare the stock a day in advance which I will certainly do next time, it will save you time from running around the kitchen the whole day, my feet were tired last night after dinner, also I found the taste of the soup was even better the following day.

****Tip to cut the beef filet into very thin slices: freeze the meat in the freezer, partially defrost and cut them when it is still fairly hard, you will find this is much easier to cut into thin slices, evenly and nicely. These thinly sliced beef is also suitable for chinese hotpot or fondue chinoise (can’t help to mention, I am a hotpot monster!)

***** Our dipping sauces were left almost untouched as the soup was already very tasty that it did not really need additional flavoring.


17 thoughts on “NO fast track to a perfect 'pho bo' (vietnamese beef noodle soup, 越南生牛肉河)

  1. Janet,

    This looks fabulous! I can relate to how time-consuming making a stock like this can be, having made ramen stock a couple of times over the past two years. The time I posted about making it, I made lots and lots to freeze. About the same amount of work for one as for several future dinners.

    How closely do you have to watch the simmering/cooking? With pork bone stock, in order to get it whitish for ramen, you want a fairly high boil in order to emulsify the fat, so I had to add water as it boiled away. With the chicken/pork ramen, I had to be careful to keep the stock barely simmering so it would be clear.

    Several years ago, there was one really good Vietnamese pho restaurant near me, but they went out of business.

  2. Great job! Nothing beats homemade pho. I’ve never seen the disposable Japanese tea bags before. What a great idea. I have a gigantic metal herb ball that has holes and opens. So I toss my spices into it and then can just fish it out before serving.

  3. I also have the same problem that I buy things but not using them immediately, don’t worry, these tea bags will not expire, haha!

  4. This looks so delicious! I ought to make this myself one day.

    You’re so right…I get headaches and feel thirsty whenever I eat pho at my favorite restaurant. Sometimes I even feel sick afterward.

    Is it essential to put the spices? Can I use chicken broth only?

  5. Hi there, regarding to the spices, it is definitely essentials. When you say chicken broth, since this is a beef one then I would stay with beef broth for a truly authentic one. Thanks very much for your 2 comments in my blogging ; )

  6. Wow! Are you a Chinese? I love Vietnamese beef noodle soup, I’ve tried, it was great. You have such great recipes. Do you open restaurants? I think for you, it’s a great opportunity since you’re so talented! Just to admit that. Yes I’m proud of you!! 🙂

  7. Yes I am 100% Chinese, born in HK. Thank you so much for your super nice compliment, feel honored : ) No, I don’t open restaurants, not that easy in Switzerland. I have dreamt of a Noodle Bar as I love all kinds of noodles!!!

  8. you can use a slow cooker instead of stove top. its save alot of time. it also convenience for busy mother. it turn out more delicious, tastier, favourful… than the normal way to cook it.

  9. Hi there, great suggestion. I yet need to buy one. I have a vacuum cooker from HK which is TIGER brand but for Pho, a real slow cooker is probably better. The downside is that I am having many kitchen utensils that I need to have more space for storage!

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