When you’re sick, it’s cold out or you just need some comfort food, nothing hits the spot like a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup.
But if you’re still subsisting on the bland, salty stuff from a can, have I got news for you. One spoonful of the light yet fragrant broth from a bowl of Vietnamese pho ga and all thoughts of Campbell’s will be completely driven from your mind.
You may be familiar with pho (pronounced “fuh”). It’s a Vietnamese soup that features a flavorful broth seasoned with charred shallots or onions, garlic and ginger and spices like star anise and clove, then filled with meat and thin rice noodles.
Beef pho seems to be the most popular, and it’s certainly the one I’m used to hearing people rave about. And don’t get me wrong, beef pho, whether you get it with thinly sliced flank steak or go all out with tripe, tendon, beef balls and brisket, is totally bangin’.
But sometimes you crave a simpler comfort food, and pho ga is just that.
First you have the broth, clear and fragrant. It’s made by simmering chicken with aromatics and spices until the chicken is cooked. The chicken is removed, and the broth can then be refrigerated overnight, so you can skim off any fat and strain out any impurities before continuing to make the soup.
The next day, when you’re ready to eat, the broth is skimmed and strained and added back to the pot to heat up. It’s seasoned to taste with salt, fish sauce and sugar, until the perfect balance (according to your preference) is struck. Cooked rice noodles are added to your bowls, along with the sliced cooked chicken, thinly sliced raw onion, cilantro, scallion, bean sprouts and finally a few ladlefuls of bubbling broth.
Each diner can then season their personal bowl of soup as they like with additional fish sauce, lime juice, sliced green chilies, hoisin sauce, chili sauce (if you have a cold, heaps of chili garlic sauce will clear your sinuses right out) and Thai basil. It’s like the humble chicken soup of your childhood, but kicked up to a whole new level thanks to the use of flavorful Vietnamese ingredients.
There are purists who may tell you that if the pho is made correctly, you won’t need to add any additional condiments to your bowl. I say, “Follow your heart.” I basically give myself side-eye due to the amount of chili garlic and hoisin sauce I put in my pho, but each bite makes me shiver with happiness down to my toes, and that’s what comfort food is all about.
If you’re curious to try pho ga, I suggest hitting up a Vietnamese restaurant in your town. If that’s not an option, you can make it yourself.
Try this recipe from Viet World Kitchen — refrigerating the broth overnight takes a little planning, but it isn’t that much harder to make than your classic chicken and egg-noodle soup.
And if you don’t eat meat, never fear — you can make delicious vegetarian pho too (my personal favorite). Just be careful if you’re ordering it at a restaurant. Many serve a “vegetarian pho” that consists of noodles and vegetables in a meat broth — your best bet may be to search for specifically vegan pho in your area.
So the next time the thermometer drops, you find yourself reaching for your coziest sweater or you come down with a case of the sniffles, never fear — Vietnamese pho ga is here.