What Is Pho—And How Is It Pronounced?

Wondering what the heck makes pho so delicious? You’ve come to the right place.

What Is Pho?

skaman306/Getty Images
skaman306/Getty Images

Pho is a type of Vietnamese soup that usually consists of bone broth, rice noodles, spices, and thinly sliced meat (usually beef). Though “pho” technically refers to the noodles and not the soup itself, most people consider the dish a singular unit.

It’s often topped with herbs and bean sprouts.

A popular street food in Vietnam, pho gained popularity around the world after refugees introduced it to other cultures after the Vietnam War.

How to Pronounce “Pho”

Photo by Hector Manuel Sanchez
Photo by Hector Manuel Sanchez

The generally accepted way to say “pho” is “fuh.”

When people in the U.S. see the word “pho,” they may be inclined to pronounce it like “toe.” This makes sense when you consider some English words that end in a consonant followed by an “o” (so, go, fro, etc.).

But Vietnamese, a tonal language that relies on pitch as well as letter organization and word structure, doesn’t follow the same patterns as the English language.

Though the most common way to pronounce pho in Vietnam is “fuh” (like “duh”), some regions pronounce it more like “foe” and others stretch the word out into two syllables, according to Diane Cu, co-creator of the blog White on Rice Couple, via Chowhound.

We know, we know—you came here to learn about noodles, not linguistics. So what should you say when you order the dish at a restaurant? Your best bet is to always go with “fuh.”

Pho Nam vs. Pho Bac

Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Adam Dolge; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis
Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Adam Dolge; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Pho was likely created in Northern Vietnam after the French colonized the country in the 1880s. Some food historians believe it to be an adaptation of the French soup pot au feu, a type of beef stew.

Vietnam saw a divide between its northern and southern regions in the 1950s. To avoid communism, some people migrated south during this period of change. They brought their regional cuisines with them and, over time, Southern Vietnam had its own version of the comforting dish.

  • Pho bac, Northern Vietnamese pho, tends to have wider noodles and mild broth. It usually has simple chicken or thinly sliced rare beef and is particularly heavy on the green onions.

  • Pho nam, Southern Vietnamese pho, has thinner noodles and bolder broth. There’s more meat variation in pho nam, which can utilize many parts of the beef (like brisket, bone marrow, and meatballs).

Is Pho Healthy?

In moderation, pho can be quite good for you.

  • Bone broth is particularly healthy. Rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, broth made from animal bones can help you build up strength in your own bones. It’s also a great source of other minerals (like zinc, iron, and manganese) and vitamins (especially A and K2) that keep your body functioning to the best of its ability.

  • Many pho recipes are teeming with nutrient-packed herbs and veggies, like bean sprouts, basil, and green onions.

  • Pho typically includes some sort of meat, usually chicken or beef, or tofu. These ingredients are rich in proteins, which we all know are the building blocks of your body.

Benefits aside, you shouldn’t overdo it. Pho, particularly the prepared kind you can buy in a store, can be high in sodium—so people watching their blood pressure should keep that in mind.

Is It Gluten-Free?

Yes, because it uses rice noodles instead of wheat noodles, pho is usually gluten-free.

How to Make Pho at Home

Looking to make pho at home? Whether you’re looking for a quick weeknight dinner or you’d rather make everything from scratch (you’ll love this Instant Pot Keto Beef Bone Broth), we’ve got you covered. Here are a few of our favorite pho recipes:

For more pho-making tips and tricks, check out our guide to making easy pho at home.