Features 3 minutes 21 November 2023

What Are the Vietnamese Herbs Served with Pho?

A herby guide to your pho.

Ever wondered what those vegetable garnishes served with your pho are?

Vietnamese cuisine is celebrated for its vibrant flavours and aromatic herbs, famously showcased in dishes like pho, a world-renowned noodle soup. The fresh herb garnishes served with it are essential in enriching its taste and aroma.

Understanding these Vietnamese herbs not only enhances dining but also unveils the country’s culinary tradition. This guide explores the essential garnishes, highlighting their unique flavours and textures that amplify pho's complexity. From crisp bean sprouts to aromatic Thai basil and zesty lime wedges, these additions customise and deepen pho's flavours.

Let’s dive in…

Bean sprouts is a garnish commonly seen served with a bowl of pho. (© Shutterstock)
Bean sprouts is a garnish commonly seen served with a bowl of pho. (© Shutterstock)

With pho, a popular Vietnamese noodle soup, the vegetable garnishes typically served alongside include:

Bean Sprouts (Giá)
Bean sprouts are young sprouted beans typically made from mung beans. These sprouts are prized for their crisp and crunchy texture, which contrasts wonderfully with the soft noodles and savoury broth of pho. When added to the hot soup just before eating, they maintain their freshness and crunchiness, providing a delightful texture that enhances the overall dining experience. Their mild and refreshing taste also complements the rich flavours of the soup, offering a pleasant contrast that adds depth to each spoonful.

What Are the Vietnamese Herb Garnish Served with Pho?.jpg

Thai Basil (Húng quế)
Thai Basil, known as "Húng quế" in Vietnamese, is an aromatic herb that offers a distinctive fragrance and a subtle hint of spiciness that enriches the aroma and taste of the soup. Unlike sweet basil commonly found in Western cuisines, Thai Basil has a slightly peppery, anise-like flavour profile. When added to a hearty bowl of pho, its aromatic essence elevates the overall sensory experience by imparting a fresh and herbal aroma to the dish. Moreover, its subtle spiciness gives a unique depth of flavour that complements the savoury broth, enhancing the overall taste of the soup.

Lime wedges for extra acidity. (© Shutterstock)
Lime wedges for extra acidity. (© Shutterstock)

Lime Wedges (Chanh)
Lime wedges served as a garnish alongside pho are intended to add a tangy and citrusy dimension to the soup. When squeezed into the bowl just before eating, the fresh lime juice offers a burst of vibrant acidity that cuts through the richness of the broth, balancing its savoury flavours. This tangy addition not only imparts a refreshing zing but also brightens the overall taste profile of the whole dish, enhancing its depth and complexity. It allows diners to customize the soup to their preference by adding a touch of citrus, elevating the dining experience by introducing a delightful contrast of flavours.

Aromatic culantros that give pho a distinctive aroma. (© Shutterstock)
Aromatic culantros that give pho a distinctive aroma. (© Shutterstock)

Culantro (Ngò gai)
Culantro esembles cilantro in appearance but packs a more intense flavour punch. It's the secret ingredient that amplifies the depth and richness of pho's broth. With its robust taste, this herb introduces a wonderful depth that lingers in every savoury spoonful of the soup. It gives you an extra oomph in your pho.

A plate of garnish that goes with a hot bowl of soup. (© Shutterstock)
A plate of garnish that goes with a hot bowl of soup. (© Shutterstock)

Sliced chilles
The freshly sliced chilles served with pho are typically Thai bird's eye chillies or similarly small, hot chilli peppers. You can add them to the broth according to your preferred level of spiciness. They are simply there to jazz up your soup game. The chillies impart a fiery kick and elevate the soup's flavour profile, adding heat and depth to each spoonful of the comforting pho broth.

So, how do you like your pho?

Here are 5 pho places for you to try:

Phở Gia Truyền, Hanoi
The numerous hearty options include phở tái nạm (slices of flank steak), phở tái (round steak) and phở chín (brisket). Add crispy quẩy (fried dough sticks), to perfect your dish. For the ultimate hunger obliterating meal, splash out on a little extra and order trứng gà (golden egg yolk).

Phở 10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hanoi
One of three branches in Hanoi, this small pho eatery enjoys a fine reputation, but beware of imitations in the city. The menu offers 10 impressive pho options, including tái and chin (brisket), nạm (flank beef), and bắp trần (beef fillet). A competent team operates the compact corner kitchen, which is visible through a glazed partition. The pho itself is hearty and supremely refreshing with tender pieces of beef that melt in the mouth.

Phở Bò Ấu Triệu, Hanoi
The shop, which lacks any signage, boasts a single distinctive feature: phở bò, to the exclusion of anything else on the menu. And why shouldn’t it, when the minced beef noodles here are so good? Served in an intense beef bone stock, cooked for 10 hours, it comes with a tender beef flank and tendon.

Phở Hoàng, Ho Chi Minh City

This pho shop has been around since 2008 and the owner Mr Hoang is justly proud of his clear beef broth that takes over 12 hours to make. Feel free to customise your beef noodle soup by ordering tendon, flank, minced beef, or even a raw egg on the side. Every bowl comes with garnishes like coriander, basil, lime wedges, onions, and bean sprouts. For drinks, try their monk fruit herbal tea made with over 10 different herbs.

Phở Hoà Pasteur, Ho Chi Minh City
This popular restaurant has been serving delicious pho to the locals since it opened in 1968. The interior and service may not be glamorous, but the food is appropriately affordable and their delicious hallmark broth is a masterclass of balanced flavours. The menu offers a wide range of quality toppings including beef brisket, flank, tendon, and tripe, as well as meatballs. Small Vietnamese side dishes are also available.

CONTINUE READING: My Signature Dish: The Story Behind T.U.N.G Dining’s Iconic Pho

Illustration image: © Shutterstock


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