Pho-Inspired Noodle Bowl

 

As some of you may know, I’ve been traveling a lot. A lot of traveling means a lot of eating out. And a lot of eating out means a deluge of recipe ideas, of which I am always in need. So much inspiration has been taken away from the take-aways and cafés, and all the gorgeous menus my eyes have devoured. It is fun in a way to have an excuse to sit in a restaurant, eat a gorgeous meal, chat with the servers and cooks, all the while ideas firing off in my brain like fireworks.

This happened not long ago while I was in Berlin. There was a Vietnamese place just downstairs from where I was staying and I tell you the food was really tasty. So much so that I ate there more than once – a rare act for me in a city full of places I’ve never eaten before!

The only association I have with Viatnamese food was back in high school, suffering through bowls of poorly made pho. For some reason it became very cool to eat this meal when I was 16 or so, but mostly because it required my friends and I to go to Chinatown – about as far away from our neighborhood and our parents as we could get. This made the act of going to get pho cool, the soup itself I thought, was totally boring.

Putting all traumatizing memories aside, I decided to give this whole pho business another shot after hearing some recommendations from friends. I was pleasantly surprised, like really. I chose the vegetarian version, as classic pho is made with beef or chicken stock. The broth was light and fragrant and full of greens. The rice noodles were perfectly cooked. It was piled high with bean sprouts, thai basil and spring onion. Totally fresh, totally gorgeous!

This week I was home for thirty seconds to catch my breath. All I wanted was clean, nourishing food that was easy to make. My memory fell to the pho. It was time to try recreating the multi-layered dance of this beguiling soup.

Buckwheat can’t be beat!

If you are gluten intolerant or just trying to find some variety in your diet, buckwheat and products made with buckwheat flour are a delicious treat. Despite its rather confusing name, buckwheat has no relation to the wheat family of grains. In fact, it is not a grain at all, but the seed of a plant related to rhubarb.

You can find buckwheat in its whole form at natural food stores. It has a greenish hue and a distinctive, triangular shape. It is possible to cook buckwheat whole to create a creamy porridge for breakfast. You can also crisp it up in the oven and sprinkle it on oats, salads or even desserts.

Buckwheat flour is also becoming more widely available. Most people have heard of it in relation to crepes or blinis, but there are many other uses. Because of its strong flavour, buckwheat flour is often cut with wheat or other mild-tasting flour. It is not to everyone’s liking, but I find it delicious. Earthy, nutty, assertive!

Buckwheat has a high protein content, and contains all essential amino acids, making it an excellent choice for vegans and vegetarians. It is high in magnesium, a mineral which has a pleasant muscle-relaxing effect. Side-note for the ladies: eating magnesium-rich foods before your period will help ease cramping, headaches and back pain.

One of my favorite ways of eating buckwheat is in the form of soba noodles. I keep a package of them on hand at all times because they make a wonderful meal base when I am pressed for time. Looking for fast food at home? Soba noodles cook up in a bout 7 minutes.
Soba noodles can be found at natural food stores, and with Asian grocers. Definitely check the ingredient list to make sure that they contain 100% buckwheat flour, especially if you are sensitive to gluten. Some soba brands use more wheat than buckwheat in their flour blends.

Although it is more traditional to use rice noodles in pho, I had soba noodles in my pantry and prefer their flavour and texture to plain rice noodles. If you’ve never tried soba before, I think this would be a great initiation.

Through all the travels and restaurants and madcap adventures lately, I must say that the best place to be is just home. Cooking in my kitchen is the most grounding and beautiful experience, especially when it means I can call up a friend at the last minute to come share pumpkin pie minis with me, or to sit down with my man after a long flight over a bowl of soup.

When I served this to my husband the other night, the first thing he said was how delicious it was, and after the second slurp he looked up and exclaimed: “this is just like restaurant food!” It was the biggest compliment he could give me, and all I could do was laugh.

92 comments

  1. Amy Ho

    Whether or not this is a traditional Pho recipe, I was looking for a new stock recipe for my soup noodles and this is tasty. I added Konbu to this too, next time I may add Kafir Lime leaves and see what else is in my pantry. Cooking is about improvising and making your food taste better, if it tastes good who cares what it’s called.

  2. Tida

    Wow I am Asian (Taiwanese in particular) and this dish looks pretty simple and wonderful to me. So trying this when I have time. Lots of love to you!

    • Linda

      Really! Can’t believe your comments. FYI, I gave this recipe to one of my Vietnamese co-worker, after trying it, her mom gave the recipe to her aunt and now many of her family members is using the recipe and they all love it too. I suggest you try it first before commenting on it.

  3. meme

    honestly? this recipe may look good it it will never be pho. not even a vegan variation of it. no one will make pho as authentically and as well as Southeast Asians, especially Viet people, you know, considering they invented it. all the Vietnamese people who were mad at this had the right to be. white people do not understand what it’s like to have other races call their food nasty, then adapt a negative viewpoint of their own culture… AND THEN have those same white people go on a binge of trying to appropriate and “understand” or learn about others people’s culture (commonly through food). this happens to a LOT of Asian people. and sarah (or whatever your name is) it seems like you were one of these white people before you had that one bowl of pho that suddenly changed your entire perspective on the dish.

    so yeah, cry white tears all you want. only SEAs (especially Vietnamese) can make good pho, including vegan variants of pho. (seriously people, there ARE (SE)A chefs online that can teach you how to make vegan: pho, fish sauce, and other popular asian dishes….) stop supporting white ppl that don’t know how much time, effort, patience, and history goes into our dishes.

    • Deborah

      Whew. What a nasty comment, based upon righteousness, no doubt. (And why would are you lacking the courage to post your name, Ms or Mr Meme? I’m betting you may not be proud of how you’ve expressed your displeasure here.) Lisa, I’m with you – “Take deep breath and pull the stick out”. And Sarah, many appreciate you.

    • Lisa

      Get over yourself, meme. You think Asians are the only ethnicity to be picked on? Really, white people wouldn’t understand? You think just b/c someone is white they’ve NEVER experienced discrimination, hate or being misunderstood?
      And, of course the Vietnamese make the best pho! And Japanese the best sushi, Italians the best bagna cauda! No one said this recipe was better than an authentic pho, just inspired by it. I’m sorry if you’ve experienced a lot of adversity in your life, but it certainly wasn’t caused by Sarah. There’s no reason to perpetuate more negativity, which you did by choosing to be so vicious in your comments. You realize you’re doing what you’re also complaining about? Irony at its worst.

  4. Lisa

    My goodness people are touchy these days! It says, “Pho-inspired”. It does not say, “This is the most authentic pho recipe you’ll ever eat”. How can someone be offended that Sarah was inspired by their Vietnamese culture and its cuisine? Isn’t this a compliment rather than an insult? As an Italian, I certainly wouldn’t be offended if Sarah made a vegan Bolognese-inspired pasta dish.
    There’s so much negativity today. Relax, people. Take deep breath and pull the stick out! Sarah, you’re recipes are creative and delicious! Keep up the excellent job!

  5. Joan Emm

    awesome. I am even lazier. Buckwheat soba with Pacific brand Organic, Vegetarian (GF) Pho. Company in Oregon, but distributed everywhere. Can customers tweak. Happy. ♡

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  7. Jo

    Dear Sarah, what would you recommend to do with 1kg of the onion after cooking the broth? It seems rather wasteful to discard it all. Many thanks for your advice.

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  10. Audra

    I’m sorry to see that some Vietnamese friends were “insulted” by this recipe. For myself, I always feel flattered and excited when others are inspired by my ethnic culinary traditions. I have always been seduced by the aromatics and spices used in pho, but I prefer to eat meat only very rarely because of environmental concerns. This recipe has inspired me to engineer a similar noodle soup for my family, including a typical noodle-loving three year old. Thank you!

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  12. michele

    I am glad you changed the name of this dish — you did not mean to offend, but this trend of misleading recipe titles is tiresome — celebrate it for what it is, a great vegan noodle soup! Anyway, I really just wanted to reemphasize the warning about soba noodles — they are not traditionally gluten free because buckwheat alone is difficult to manipulate into a noodle! The buckwheat is a flavoring, not the sole flour — rice noodles are gluten free and more pho-ish!

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  14. Toni Kulma

    It looks as if you were ganged up on. From the repetitive comments and timing it might even have been one person using multiple email accounts. The soup is delicious. Many folks here loved it, as did I. People who troll and demean must not have much of a life. There is a difference between giving constructive comments and opinion and being mean. Too bad that group of people choose you as a target. I guess that is the risk you take for trying to have a website. Thanks for the recipes.

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  17. Victoria

    Dear Sarah,
    My friend and I tried making this a few days ago to end up having an interesting dinner. The broth came out to be more of a tea. While we made some uncalled-for modifications (4 more cups of water plus a bit of all the other spices), all we could taste was the ginger – overwhelmingly spicy and cough-inducing. 0.05 kg (50 g) seemed like way too much. Maybe the scale at the store was broken or something else..
    As for it being like pho, I agree that it does not come close. However, as a Viet-American, I don’t think the others had to be so aggressive as they were.
    I’ve only ever tried one of your other recipes – the raw cashewcake – and it has turned out delicious though.

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  20. chaosdollheads

    real cinnamon sticks can be quite large. are you suggesting cassia (the cinnamonish legally sold in the states as cinnamon, but not as flaky, sweet, or good) or actual, factual cinnamon? wouldn’t want to overdo it. this dish looks lovely.

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  22. Sarah Britton

    Hey friends – I am very sorry to those people that I have offended in this post. I never meant for that to happen. I have changed the name to “Pho-Inspired” as one of you has suggested.
    All love,
    Sarah B

  23. Sylvia

    I can’t judge whether or not this is pho, but it was a delicious vegetable broth. I didn’t have the same take on the text in this post as the harsh commenters, so it seems to be a matter of interpretation. Express your opinions respectfully, please.

  24. Little Saigon Resident

    This noodle soup looks delicious! Your visuals are gorgeous.

    I agree with some of the commenters in that this isn’t pho. You’re getting a few harsh comments because you’ve mislabeled this product, I’m sure. Perhaps a title change to pho-inspired?

    Secondly, I’m sorry you had terrible Pho as a teenager and glad Berlin was a better experience. You should check out Little Saigons or Viet Nam itself to get the legit stuff. Unless that pot of broth was stewing in bones overnight in addition to being doused in MSG, it’s not gonna taste authentic!

    Truly appreciate your interpretation!!

  25. A Vietnamese American

    This is a terrible and disrespectful appropriation of Vietnamese culture. How dare you invoke the name of pho to describe this dish? You could write about being inspired by pho in addition to whatever else was involved in your construction of this dish but to call it pho spits on the grave of centuries of history and culture of a community you have so spectacularly failed at understanding. Do you realize how you have stolen the knowledge of the many fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, and generations before them and violated it? If you have any sense of respect or decency (and it looks like I am not alone in praying that you would), then you should correct yourself and rename this dish what it is: a vegetarian noodle soup. Or whatever else. But it is not pho.

    But perhaps you are too blinded by your very position and privilege to even acknowledge that you have angered and offended a community whose culture you have robbed and made obscene for your own purposes.

    • Gina

      Wow. Vietnamese American. You are the offensive one. This comment is incredibly rude and disrespectful. You really should take look inside yourself and work on whatever is driving you to attack others like this.
      Sarah, you rock! Don’t change a thing about what you do…you inspire.

  26. Akira

    As a Vietnamese person, this is truly insulting for me. The fact that you called this dish pho shows your lack of understanding of Vietnamese food, also getting pho that is from Chinatown isn’t your best bet to go to find a delicious bowl of it. I’m not saying you’re recipe is bad or anything, in fact it really does look delicious but I think you’re taking it way to far to call it “pho”, just do some research about the dish before announcing it as the dish.

  27. Jenani

    “The only association I have with Viatnamese food was back in high school, suffering through bowls of poorly made pho. For some reason it became very cool to eat this meal when I was 16 or so, but mostly because it required my friends and I to go to Chinatown – about as far away from our neighborhood and our parents as we could get. This made the act of going to get pho cool, the soup itself I thought, was totally boring. ”

    That’s…uh…really offensive, wow. Since you seem to think this dish is the opposite of boring, perhaps you should call it something else.

  28. Francis

    This is depressing…I didn’t know it was possible to ruin phở, but you sure did it. This is like some kind of sick blasphemy and it makes me want to cry.. I think I’m going to go get some real phở ga to cope with my feelings towards this atrocity.

  29. Roger

    I agree with the most recent comments. With your education and experiences, I’m sure this soup is delicious and healthy, but you shouldn’t call it “pho,” especially given your initial feelings about the dish and how much you’ve changed it from the original recipe. You can’t really say “pho is boring” and then say “here’s some better pho” just because you had one pleasantly surprising experience with it.

  30. Jenny

    I understand that this is an alternative “pho” dish for vegetarians, but I think calling it pho was too far fetched. There is nothing pho about this, it is simply a vegetarian noodle soup dish. As a Vietnamese person who loves vegetarian food, I found this to be completely off. I’ve had vegetarian pho before which was delicious and more pho like than this. Your recipe may be a good one, but it shouldn’t be considered as any type of pho recipe.

  31. ngoc loan

    this is offensive to me as a viet person – you are presenting your recipe as if it were superior to a genuine bowl of pho. what you’re making here is NOT pho. take your ~fusion~ shit somewhere else.

  32. Gesine

    Hi Sarah,
    just finished eating your pho and loved it! I made a trip to Laos and Vietnam in November and am very glad to be able to cook a flavorful and vegetarian broth at home. Good stuff! I added some lime juice, tamari and roasted sesame oil right at the end and the soup took me back to Laos. Thank you so much! Gesine

  33. Jeff B.

    While I agree it doesn’t have the depth of beef pho, this is pretty killer for vegan food! This is our go-to restaurant food, but we like this recipe because it’s less expensive and we can make it fully organic.

    I’ve made this 4 times now; my wife and I add more black pepper, fennel and star anise for zip and sweetness. And we didn’t like the cinnamon or sesame seeds, so we omitted it.

    Make sure and throw in the jalapenos, and if you want more dimension (and don’t have any qualms with it), add a little fish sauce while the broth is just starting to heat up. Not as scary as it sounds, and not as overwhelming as it initially smells.

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  35. Laura Bee

    Made this last night, and I was really excited about it…. but it was disappointing. I followed the instructions to the T but the broth did not have enough flavour. It was uber bland. =(

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  37. Dawn Hutchins

    Somehow you manage to make vegetables and noodles look like the most amazing dish on the planet. You are so right about buckwheat! I love using buckwheat flour but must find the noodles.

  38. Ellie

    I agree – soba noodles make pho such an amazing dish, shame it’s too hot in Sydney for a steaming bowl of Pho. I know what I’m having the next rainy day though!

    If you guys all love healthy eating (if you’re also avid readers of MNR then I’m assuming you do!) head on over to thedecorum.co and enter our About Life Christmas hamper giveaway!

    Sorry Sarah, spam over 🙂 xx

  39. Anonymous

    YUMMM I love Pho and have been looking for a non-meat, healthier version of making it! You read my mind ;)- Little Laura

  40. Jana

    I look at this amazing new post and ask myself why the heck did I not buy the star anise from the market in Guadeloupe last time…love the fact that you recommend soba/ buckwheat noodles, I am such fan of them, but so true one should read the package first to make sure what the (real)ingredients are; I want this for dinner tonight, its been wet+windy here and a little bit too grey…THANKS for all this food-colours-love-rainbow!xxx from tulipland!

    btw: did you try the “sel a la vanille” already?:-)

  41. wind

    I made this the other day and was really disappointed! It had NO flavor – basically tasted like water with a barely detectable ginger flavoring. Next time I would make this with vegetable stock, add some garlic and a little soy sauce. Otherwise this just had no taste

  42. mandercrosby

    I made this two nights ago for my friend’s birthday and followed up with your chocolate fudge cake for dessert for wins all around! Thank you so, so, so much for this fabulous site!!!!

  43. Jess

    What a tasty, cozy, yet light meal this made to conclude a lovely day on the damp and chilly shores of Lake Superior. Many thanks!

  44. Sasha

    Sarah, how did the TED talk go? I’m sure you were poised, eloquent and inspiring! I missed the live stream; will a video of your talk be posted online?

  45. Mary @ Fit and Fed

    Made this tonight, my first attempt at pho! I changed a few things of course, it would hardly be soup without being adaptable. I added carrots and kaffir lime leaves to the broth, also some not-pretty but still useable basil near the end of the simmering. I also added baked tofu and carrots to the noodle bowl choices and red pepper flakes to the garnishes. I will do a few things differently next time– I added water to the broth at the end, thinking I needed more, which diluted it too much and was unnecessary. And I’ll be more organized about getting all the other noodle bowl ingredients ready at the right time. Thanks for getting me started on making pho, it was indeed fragrant and delicious!

  46. umamiandme

    @Caroline: That’s because in traditional pho, the bones are parboiled and thoroughly cleaned and rinsed to get rid of all the impurities. Then, after simming for 6 or so hours, you end up with a much cleaner, but full of flavour broth. It’s a lot of work but totally worth it!

  47. Martina

    You are such an inspiration! Thank you for everything. Your blog has recently inspired me to make an advent calendar for my boyfriend. He is about to receive ingredients such as vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, lemon, almonds, orange, garlic etc. Once he unpacks the goodie of the day, he gets a link to one of your recipes using the particular ingredient. I hope for this to be a little pre-Christmas healthy eating challenge for both of us.

  48. Beangu's blog about nothing

    Looks like a great vegetarian version of Pho. What I would recommend is to toast the spices first before putting it in the stock to bring out the oils and make it more fragrant. Also, you could roast the onion and ginger too. These two steps are critical when making Pho.

    Caroline: the broth I make at home is darker than at restaurants because there is less water in the broth when making it at home. Also, many restaurants use MSG to flavor the broth so they can use less bones but still have flavor.

  49. apolloandme.com

    This is exactly the kind of recipe I’ve been looking for! I have been working a slew of 12 hour days and have had no time to cook anything nourishing and satisfying! This is the quick, nutritious, throw together dish I’ve needed. Thanks, Sarah!

  50. caroline

    Do you find that homemade pho broth turns out a lot darker than what you get in restaurants? That’s something that’s always bothered me about making it at home. I know, the color shouldn’t matter, but it makes it less appetizing to me.

  51. mary

    brilliant!! i’m vietnamese so this is a staple in my home. my grandma makes the BEST pho in the world.

    unfortunately, i stopped eating meat about 6 years ago and am terribly sadden whenever she cooks it. now i can whip up (or have her do it because she’s all…”I’m queen of the kitchen”) this version!

    thanks for sharing

  52. Sarah B

    Hey Jeanine!

    I was at Sian. Nothing fancy, just honest and fresh. I’ll have to check out your place next time I’m there! Thanks for the tip. Maybe they just do really awesome Vietnamese in Berlin? 😉

    xo, Sarah B

  53. Jeanine

    No way, I was just in Berlin and had the best Vietnamese food at Saigon Green (right downstairs from the hotel where we were staying)… and we ate their twice – which is rare for us too in a new city. Which restaurant were you at?

  54. Sasha

    Pho really just seems as pure as a meal can get. I love the spices that you added and am quite sure that this recipe and I will be spending quite some time together this winter.

    Hope to hear more about the other inspirations you have encountered in your recent travels!

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