Pho, or phở, is a popular Vietnamese soup. You can find it in restaurants around the world, and as street food in Vietnam.1 I get asked quite a bit if it’s vegan, probably because the signature ingredient is rice noodles, a plant-based form of noodles that are known to be vegan.
Is it vegan? No, the traditional pho recipe is not considered vegan. In fact, it’s not even suitable for vegetarians. While rice noodles (bánh phở) are a primary ingredient, the soup also calls for broth and meat—typically, beef (phở bò), but sometimes chicken (phở gà).2,3
What we’ll do here is go over the various non-vegan ingredients common in pho and then look at any vegan versions of the soup currently on the market.
Why Pho Is Not Considered Vegan
Yes, the soup is made with rice noodles. The noodles, labeled ‘bánh phở’, are small (about 1/16-inch-wide) and linguine-shaped.
But, that’s about the only vegan ingredient. Except for the herbs of course.
This is the more common version. Most pho is served in a bowl with flat rice noodles in clear broth, with thin cuts of beef—either steak, lean flank, fatty flank, or brisket. Some southern Vietnam variations feature tripe, slow-cooked tendon, or meatballs.
Beef comes in a number of varieties in this particular dish, including:4
- Tái sống (rare meat), tái (medium-rare meat) or tái băm (rare minced beef patty)
- Tái chín (medium to well-done meat)
- Tái nạm (beef patty with flank)
- Tái lăn (meat that’s sauteed prior to being added to the soup)
- Nạm (flank cut) and nạm gầu (brisket)
- Gân (tendons)
- Tiết (boiled beef blood)
- Sách (beef tripe)
- Bò viên (beef ball)
Chicken pho is a bit less common than beef pho and is made using the same spices. Like with beef, chicken can come in many forms including both muscle and organ meat. Internal organs like the heart and gizzard are common. The soup can also feature undeveloped eggs.5,6
Chicken can take several forms including:4
- Gà đùi (chicken thigh) gà lườn (chicken breast)
- Lòng gà (chicken innards)
- Trứng non (immature chicken eggs) and trứng tái (poached chicken egg)
Broth and Meat Stock
It’s possible that the soup could appear vegan, but still contain broth. I have a friend who once ordered a vegetarian version of a certain soup only to have the chicken taken out while the broth was still used.
Pho comes in either a clear beef or chicken broth, both of which are made by heating water with bones and meat and then letting it simmer.
With beef pho, the broth is generally made by simmering beef steak, flank, cow bones, and/or oxtails along with charred onion, ginger, and spices.
To achieve a stronger flavor, beef is often left on the bones. Chicken bones produce a similar broth.
Any vegan-friendly version of pho would contain a vegetable broth with much of the same seasonings:7
- Saigon cinnamon or other cinnamon as alternatives. In Vietnam, cinnamon is often served in stick form, while powder is often used in restaurant franchises overseas
- Star anise
- Roasted ginger
- Roasted onion
- Black cardamom
- Coriander and fennel seeds
Making authentic pho broth is a pretty involved process and can take several hours to finish.6
Charred ginger is used to overcome the strong smell of beef, so less ginger might be used in a vegan version of the soup—as is the case with chicken pho. But, the other spices remain the same.
Besides beef and chicken broth, it’s not uncommon for pho to contain fish sauce, though hoisin and sriracha (two vegan sauces) are also quite common.8,9
Hoisin sauce with vegetables, hot and spicy pastes like Sriracha, and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice are probably more common than fish sauce, but the latter is used from time to time.
Commercial Vegan Pho
Miracle Noodle Ready-to-Eat Vegan Pho
- Onion, carrots, mushroom, garlic, and celery
- Salt, sugar, maltodextrin, and yeast extract
- Natural flavor and xanthan gum
- Noodles: konjac flour, water, and calcium hydroxide
Oceans Halo Organic and Vegan Pho Broth
Ingredients for this one include:11
- Organic kelp stock (filtered water, organic kelp)
- Organic onion puree
- Natural flavor, sea salt, and organic cane sugar
- Organic ginger juice
- Organic star anise
- Organic garlic puree
- Organic mushroom powder
- Organic coriander, cinnamon, and cloves
Lots of organic going on.
If you make your own, you’ll also need some rice noodles and vegetable broth, both of which can probably be found at your local grocery store—especially, the veggie broth.
The noodles come in several widths, which correspond to certain versions of the soup. For example, medium-width dried rice noodle are common in bánh phở, while other versions are often made with fresh rice noodles called “kuay tiao” or “bánh phở tươi” in Vietnamese.12,13
These noodles should be labeled on packages as “bánh phở tươi”, meaning fresh pho noodles in Vietnamese.
That’s it for the vegan status of pho.
Vietnamese cuisine typically makes heavy use of greens, vegetables, herbs, and lemons. Many dishes are garnished with ingredients like green and white onions, Thai basil, fresh Thai chili peppers, wedges citrus, cilantro (coriander) or culantro, and bean sprouts. So, Vietnamese cuisine, in general, is quite compatible with plant-based eating.
Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Thanh Nien staff (3 February 2012). “Vietnamese street food a gourmet’s delight”. Thanh Nien News.
- Pho: A Tale of Survival (Part 1 of 2). https://web.archive.org/web/20170815103519/http://blog.rushorderapp.com/2017/06/30/pho-a-tale-of-survival/
- Scripter, Sami; Yang, Sheng (2009). Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America. University of Minnesota Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-1452914510.
- Pho. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pho
- Pho Town: Noodle Stories From South El Monte. https://www.laweekly.com/pho-town-noodle-stories-from-south-el-monte/
- Diana My Tran (2003). The Vietnamese Cookbook. Capital Lifestyles (illustrated ed.). Capital Books. pp. 53–54. ISBN 1-931868-38-7.
- Vietnamese ‘pho Ga’ Chicken Noodle Soup | Thuy Pham-kelly. Jamie Oliver – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHapXkBNuTc
- The American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Pho. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company – https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=pho
- The Annoying Food Snob’s Guide To Eating Pho With Sriracha. Matt Gross – https://www.bonappetit.com/restaurants-travel/article/pho-with-sriracha
- Miracle Noodle Ready-to-eat Vegan Pho. https://miraclenoodle.com/products/miracle-noodle-ready-to-eat-vegan-pho
- Ocean’s Halo Pho Broth. Gina F-Darla B- Jafra – https://www.socialnature.com/vegan-broth
- Herbst, Sharon Tyler; Herbst, Ron (2007). The New Food Lover’s Companion: More Than 6,700 A-to-Z Entries Describe Foods, Cooking Techniques, Herbs, Spices, Desserts, Wines, and the Ingredients for Pleasurable Dining. Barron’s snippet. ISBN 978-0-7641-3577-4.
- How To Make Fresh Rice Noodles “ho Fun” ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเส้นใหญ่ – Hot Thai Kitchen! Pailin’s Kitchen – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPeNRcmbPoI