Phở is a delicious and popular noodle soup dish that has been captivating taste buds for generations. Originating in Vietnam, this dish has become a staple food not only in the streets of Vietnam but also across the world.
I remember the first ever phở I tried. It was in a local vegan establishment on the island of Phú Quốc in Vietnam. I hadn’t yet acclimatised to the heat, but I still managed to devour a full bowl of this noodle soup.
Ever since then, I was addicted. I ate it pretty much every other day. It was the perfect hangover cure, as well as a comforting weekend breakfast dish. You could eat it in a fancy restaurant or on the side of the road from a local street vendor. No matter where, it was delicious.
In this vegan phở recipe, I am going to show you just how simple it is to make this delicious dish in your own kitchen. It does require a little bit of patience to infuse the broth with the spices and aromatics, but it requires very little effort from yourself to pull off.
Whether you are already a phở lover or just phở curious, I hope you will enjoy my vegan take on the traditional phở.
What is phở?
Phở is a comforting and satisfying meal originating from Vietnam and is actually considered to be their national dish. The dish is made with an aromatic broth, which is served with rice noodles, herbs, sriracha or hoisin sauce, and a protein source – traditionally beef (but there are vegan variations).
The broth has a really deep umami flavour which is balanced delicately with spices and aromatics. It is typically quite a clean-looking broth, meaning you should be able to see through to the bottom of your bowl. But some variations of it, like my vegan phở, may use ingredients that darken the broth slightly.
Fun fact: the rice noodles used inside a phở are actually called bánh phở. They are flat rectangular white rice noodles that you will only really find used in this soup, or in dry versions of the dish. But you are probably going to have a hard time finding these exact noodles outside of Vietnam, so you can use Thai flat rice noodles instead.
How do you pronounce phở?
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve been pronouncing it like ‘foe’ all this time. Pretty much everyone does until they try to order one in a Vietnamese restaurant and are met with very confused looks.
Instead, it is pronounced more like ‘fuh’. Or ”Fu Uh’, expressing a tonal rise in the middle of the word.
If you still find it tricky to pronounce, here are some tips:
- Make the f sound as if you were about to say the word ‘fun’ or ‘fog’
- Once you make the ‘f’ sound, start rising your tone to make the ‘uh’ noise
It is also quite useful to know that pronunciation of the word may vary slightly depending on regional accents and dialects within Vietnam, but the “fuh” pronunciation is widely accepted and understood. Good luck!
Can phở be made vegan?
Yes, phở can easily be made vegan! While traditional phở is typically made with beef or chicken broth and then topped with slices of meat, it is possible to make a vegan version of the dish that is just as flavourful and satisfying.
First, you’ll need to replace the meat broth with a vegetable broth made from various ingredients such as mushrooms, onions, and ginger. And instead of using meat to top the dish, you can top it with various types of mushrooms and tofu (or other plant-based protein sources).
In my vegan phở recipe, you’ll find I use a mix of dried mushrooms to create an umami flavour in the broth and then I top the broth with tofu and mushrooms. In particular, I like to use Lion’s Mane mushrooms since they have a lovely meaty texture (I buy mine from Merit Mushrooms). But you can opt for a mushroom that is easier to find in supermarkets, like shiitake or king oyster.
Vegan phở ingredients
The ingredients list is relatively simple and hopefully, you should have most of these ingredients sitting around in your fridge and food cupboards anyway. Here is a list of the main ingredients along with some alternative suggestions, just in case you find yourself without these ingredients:
- Spices: star anise, whole cinnamon, coriander seeds, black cardamom and cloves. All of these are pretty essential, but if you don’t have them all just use the ones you do have
- Dried mushrooms: dried mushrooms help to add an umami flavour to the broth. Without them, you won’t really achieve a good depth of flavour. You can try using a really good quality vegan ‘beef’ stock or mushroom powders if you can’t get your hands on any.
- Noodles: typically a phở uses flat white rice noodles which are very similar to the Thai noodles you can buy in supermarkets. I like to use a brown rice noodle alternative as my stomach tolerates it much better than white rice noodles.
- Vegan protein: most vegan phở will be served with tofu and/or fake meat. I like to use silken tofu because it is quick and easy. You simply cut it into cubes and dunk it into the broth. You can opt for firm tofu instead and fry it before adding it to the dish.
- Mushrooms: for a much more natural alternative to meat slices, you can add slices of mushrooms to your dish. I like to use meaty mushrooms like Lion’s Mane or King Oyster Mushrooms.
Vegan phở top tips
The recipe that I have presented to you is a relatively simple variation of the recipe and it is hard to get wrong, but here are some handy top tips if you want to create phở-fection:
- The longer the better: the longer you cook your broth, the more chance the ingredients have to impart their flavour into the liquid. But if you choose to cook yours for longer, do make sure to remove the spices from the stock pan as these can start to overpower the broth.
- Be prepared: if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands in the evenings, you can very easily make this broth ahead of time. Simply cool it down and store it in the fridge for 2-3 days before heating it through to serve. You could even keep a few portions of the broth in your freezer for a few months.
- Keep it simple: the trick with phở is to keep things simple. Don’t overcomplicate your toppings and let the broth do the talking! I like to add a protein source and some mushrooms. But I have seen variations of this recipe which include all sorts of vegetables and legumes. You’d never find a phở in Vietnam with such extensive ingredients inside!
The toppings and side servings with a phở are typically quite simple. Focusing mostly on fresh herbs, chilli and onion. Here is a list of what you can serve your vegan phở with:
- Herbs: Thai basil and coriander
- Vegetables: Spring onion, thinly sliced brown onion, and bean sprouts
- Citrus: Lime
- Sauce: Hoisin and/or sriracha sauce on the side (that can be stirred in)
What you serve with your vegan phở is entirely up to you, but any of the above would be really authentic!
How do you make vegan phở?
Whilst this process may take a few hours, there is relatively little work involved in making a vegan phở broth. The plant-based protein toppings can be changed up depending on what you have in the fridge or your cupboards, and how much time you have on your hands.
Follow these simple steps to make your very own vegan phở:
1. Soak mushrooms
Rinse your dried mushrooms to get rid of any dirt and dunk them into a bowl of water to soak whilst you move on to the next step.
2. Toast the spices
Get your spices into a frying pan or a saute pan and toast on medium to high heat, until you start to hear them popping and they start to look golden brown.
3. Char the aromatics
Using the same pan, char your onion, carrot, and ginger until they start to darken. This will help to add flavour to the broth.
4. Cook the phở broth
Add the mushrooms, the soaking liquid, the charred aromatics and the spices into a stock pot with all of the other broth ingredients. Allow this to cook for at least 1 hour.
5. Serve it up
Prep your noodles, tofu, mushrooms, and herbs. Once the broth is finished, serve it all up inside a large bowl with some sriracha and/or hoisin sauce on the side.
Other vegan Vietnamese recipes
Having spent a lot of time in Vietnam, I get a lot of enjoyment out of recreating the dishes that I love eating there. Check out my other creations here:
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cloves
- 2 black cardamom pods
- 2 white onions - peeled and halved
- 20 g ginger - cut into chunks
- 1 carrot - peeled and cut into chunks
- Mushrooms - I use lion's mane
- Brown onion - finely sliced
- Spring onions - a bunch
- Mung beans - a large handful
- Herbs - Thai basil and coriander
- 2 Limes
- Rinse your dried mushrooms to get rid of any dirt and dunk them into a bowl with 500ml water and set aside until later.
- Dry fry your spices in saute pan until they have browned and released a beautiful spice fragrance, remove them and allow to cool down on the side before placing inside a muslin cloth or spice ball.
- Place the aromatic ingredients (onion, ginger, and carrot) into the same saute pan and char them until they are dark, but not burnt. This may cause the pan to smoke a tad, so just make sure to keep your windows open!
- Place the cooked aromatics, spices (wrapped inside a muslin cloth or put into a spice ball), rehydrated mushrooms (and their soaking liquid), and the rest of the soup ingredients into a large stock pot.
- Bring to a boil and then put down to a simmer and cook the broth for 1 hour.
- If you want to impart even more flavour in to the broth then you can cook it for much longer, just remove the spices so they don't overpower it.
- Meanwhile, cook your noodles according to packet instructions and rinse with cold water and leave to drain.
- Prep any of your other fresh toppings, like your herbs, spring onions, sliced brown onions, and beansprouts.
- Once your broth is cooked, pass it through a seive or colander over the top of a large bowl. If your broth is a little bitty, then you can pass it through a muslin cloth which is placed over the top of a colander.
- Pour the broth back into the stock pot and keep it warm on the stove whilst you prep the hot toppings.
- Slice and cook your mushrooms in a frying pan and prepare your tofu accoridng to how you want it (either fried or fresh).
- Place your cooked noodles into individual serving bowls and pour the hot broth over the top of each before adding the cooked mushrooms and tofu.
- Serve it with a bowl of sriracha and/or hoisin sauce on the side for people to stir into their broth, as well as a plate with the fresh herbs, onion, beansprouts and lime slices on the side for people to add to their pho.
- Slurp and enjoy!