Guide to Having Pho Your Way

In “How to Eat Pho,” we consulted experts on how to eat pho the right way. In this article, we’ll guide you through the condiments – what they are, how they affect the flavor, and how to work them so you can have pho your way.

Condiments vary from restaurant to restaurant. Pho purists from Northern Vietnam typically offer few condiments. They believe there’s a “certain beauty in the purity,” according to Andrea Nguyen of the award-winning cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Pho from Southern Vietnam comes with a variety of condiments, as their cuisine is more influenced by surrounding countries such as Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.
There is no correct order to adding condiments. Cuong Huynh of advises trying different flavor combinations and mixing up the order until you find the bowl that’s right for you.

Here are the typical condiments you’ll find at a Vietnamese restaurant and how to use them:

  • Fish sauce:  Add to your pho if it’s a little bland or needs salt.

  • Lime wedges:  Squeeze into your bowl if the broth is too sweet, or if you want to balance out the saltiness with tartness.

  • Fresh Hot Chiles:   Dip them in your broth or leave them in to spice up the broth.

  • Bean Sprouts:   Sprinkle them into your bowl for crunch and texture.

  • Herbs:   Typical herbs include Thai basil, culantro (a relative of cilantro, pictured above) and spearmint. Strip them from stems and tear the leaves, then add them to your bowl as you go. Experiment by adding different herbs at different times and taste how each herb changes your pho.

  • Sauces:   These include hoisin sauce and Sriracha hot sauce. There are two schools of thought on how to add sauce. Purists frown upon adding them to an already well crafted, nuanced broth. They suggest creating a side dish and dipping for extra flavor. Others recommend adding these sauces directly to the broth to change its flavor.

Whatever you add to your pho, have fun and experiment with finding a bowl of pho that’s perfectly suited for you!

How to Eat Pho

There is no wrong way to eat pho. But according to pho experts, there is definitely a right way to enjoy this delicious bowl of noodles. We consulted Vietnamese food experts Andrea Nguyen of the award-winning cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, Cuong Huynh of and Tom Huynh, a self-professed pho purist, to find the proper way to eat pho. So next time you’re at a pho restaurant, you don’t have to look like a newbie. (You still can but at least now you’ll know why.)

Here’s our no-fail guide to eating pho – the right way.

1.  Pick your pho. This can be chicken, beef, meatballs or a combination of everything. As Andrea Nguyen says, pho is a “have-it-your-way” experience. There’s a bowl of pho for everyone. Find yours.

2.  Appreciate the broth. Take in the fragrance, taste the broth, and do not add condiments just yet! A bowl of pho is a chef’s work of art. As Cuong Huynh notes, this process “helps you appreciate [the] poetry in a bowl.“ So before adding anything, taste the broth, then decide if you prefer something different. But “Please, for goodness sake, do not add sugar to your bowl. It’s sacrilegious,” pleads Tom Huynh.

3.  Dig in, or change it up. If you like the pho as-is, dig in – chopsticks in one hand, soup spoon in the other. Otherwise, add condiments and sauces slowly. Taste how each addition changes the broth. Consider adding condiments as you go; for example, tear some Thai basil into the broth in the beginning, then midway and finally, as you finish your bowl of pho. Not sure how to work the condiments? Check out our Guide to Having Pho Your Way!

How do you eat your pho? Do you enjoy the broth as-is or do you add condiments? How do you make it yours? Comment below and enter to win Sprinkles cupcake mixes!