Pho Meat Guide – The Ultimate Guide To Ordering Pho Meats

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Vietnamese foods are often quite flavorful. This Pho meat guide is a must-read before your next visits to the nearest Pho restaurant. You might want to take a screenshot of the above picture for reference.

Pho is very healthy soup with rice noodles. Its health benefits is primarily due to the fact that it is a form of bone broth that’s been flavored with nutritious herbs.

What is Pho?

bowl of pho noodle soup with rare eye round steak chopsticks and a soup spoon

Pho is the national dish in Vietnam. It is a Vietnamese noodle soup that is filled with sliced meat. The meat is usually beef.

No one is quite sure when pho originated in Vietnam. However, it is thought to have first been made in the early 20th century in Northern Vietnam. It entered Southern Vietnam in 1954. It wasn’t until after the Vietnam War that it was introduced in other countries.

You can always find beef pho in a Vietnamese restaurant. There are a few types of pho though. If you ask around, you may be able to find chicken pho.

How to Pronounce Pho

If you have never heard of pho before, you may have no idea how to pronounce it. Pho is pronounced “fuh”. This is different than what many people think, since so many people call it “faux”.

What is In Pho?

Pho normally contains bone broth, rice noodles, and the beef we mentioned above. Sometimes it is served with garnishes such as scallions and yellow onions. Child sized noodle soups will usually exclude these garnishes unless you request them.

Other Pho toppings can include bean sprouts, a lime wedge, chiles, or fresh herbs. Typically you get these on a separate plate at the restaurant when you order your Pho.

What is the Broth Made Of?

The hot broth used in pho is made from beef bones. Shank and knee beef bones are usually the preferred bones for the stock. You can use other beef bones though.

To make the bone broth, take a large stockpot and set it on the stove. Add in the beef bones, charred onions, salt, ginger, star anise, and fish sauce. Cover all that with approximately four quarts of water.

The bone broth must simmer for at least six hours. It is better if it can simmer for 10 hours though, because it will be more flavorful.

While this rich broth is for pho, you can have a bowl of broth by itself. It will taste delicious and has numerous health benefits.

Pho Meat Guide

There are many different types of raw beef used in pho. You can easily order a bowl of soup that has your favorite cuts of meat in it.

Rare Beef – Tai

rare eye round steak

The rare beef used in pho is normally round eye steak that is thinly sliced. Ribeye or tenderloin can also be used for tai pho meat. These tender thin slices of beef offer a clean beefy flavor.

It is a popular choice to order your Eye Round Steak “on a side” – it comes out raw, and you can cook it yourself with the piping hot Pho broth to your liking, or eat it as is after “cooking” it with plenty of lime.

Due to it being thinly sliced, this steak will come out well done unless you order it on a side.

If you’ve never done it before, it would surprise you to see the lime juice literally “cook” the rare steak as you squeeze the lime on it. It turns gray right before your eyes. I normally don’t eat it this way, but I do prefer to cook it in the hot broth myself so it’s medium-rare instead of well done.

Brisket – Gau

stack of thin sliced brisket

Brisket comes from the cow’s chest. This meat is basically alternating layers of fat and meat. We prefer to get brisket from the point or deckle of the cow. Those briskets are fattier and full of flavor.

Flat lean brisket doesn’t have as much fat as the fatty brisket, so they don’t bring as much flavor to pho.

Tendon – Gan

pho meat guide - metal container at restaurant containing square pieces of tendon

The tendon pho meat, or gan, comes from the thick strong tendon that runs down the back of the shank. It offers lots of texture with a neutral flavor. It’s soft and easy to eat – but the soft texture might be a bit foreign to you. Try it and you might like it!

Love organ, tendons, and believe that we should eat “the whole animal”? You won’t want to skip this part! I can’t think of a lot of dishes that would offer this part of the cow in a delicious broth.

Flank – Nam

pho meats - rough flank steak thinly sliced

Flank steaks come from the underside of cows, near the hind legs. This type of beef can be tough, but it is full of beefy flavor. When it comes in Pho, however, it is thin sliced so it won’t be as chewy.

In an interview with Nguyen Do, owner of the at Pho So 1 Boston Restaurant franchise in Boston, MA for over 20 years, the flank that he buys is “rough flank” – which is not your typical flank steak bought at the butchery in grocery stores.

Rough flank has more sinews, tendons, and cartilage – very tough to eat, but when it is sliced very thinly and boiled before serving, it is actually soft and a bit chewy but not “tough”.

Oxtail – Dui Bo

oxtail, cross section, sliced and cooked for serving with pho

Oxtail, or dui bo, is cut into two inch rounds cross-wise before being added to pho. The bones and cartilage add flavor to the soup broth, while the meat is quite tender. If you love organ meats and believe in its benefit, this is a great addition.

This is not a very common item you might find at the restaurant – oxtail tend to be very expensive, and is prized for its superior nutritional benefits.

You might want to skip this one if you don’t consider yourself a very experimental eater. It might have a strong taste profile.

Meatball – Bo Vien

meatball in Pho noodle soup, halved and quartered

A beef meatball, or bo vien, is made from the shank. The meatballs have tendons and cartilage mixed in as well. If you like meatballs in general, definitely try this one!

Typically these come halved or quartered, as pictured above.

Tripe – Sach

pho meats - chopstick holding a piece of tripe

Tripe is the lining of beef, hog or sheep stomach – in Pho, you would most likely be served beef tripe. Beef has a unique texture but not a whole lot of flavor. However, if you’re in the camp of believing in the benefits of eating animal organs, especially from a cow, this is an excellent organ you won’t find anywhere else.

Other meats that go into Pho

Typically restaurants might also have choices such as: sliced chicken breast, combination seafood, or vegetarian. Depending on whether or not you want the “authentic” Pho meats or not, you might opt for one of these options.

Just keep in mind – even though it’s vegetarian, chicken, or seafood – the broth is still the same: beef based. Occasionally you might find a restaurant that will also serve a chicken broth based for chicken Pho, however this is not common. If you are particular about how your Pho broth is made, you might want to ask the server.

Pho Meat Guide – Our Recommendation

We recommend always getting the Special, or the “dac biet”. This Vietnamese soup usually has a little bit of all the pho meat. This way you can try it all and see what you like!

Then the next time you can choose to make your own pho option when you order.

Is Pho Healthy?

Pho is very healthy for you, for the following reasons:

  • it is naturally gluten free, since the noodles are made from rice, not wheat (whereas other noodles such as Japanese ramen and Chinese egg noodle are both wheat based)
  • the broth is basically a bone broth
  • it is served with organ meats not found anywhere in a typical American diet
  • Check out our other article on Is Pho Healthy


What is the thinly sliced meat in Pho?

The thinly sliced meat in Pho is eye round steak. This is also the most popular cut for a traditional bowl of Pho. You might see it ordered “on a side” and eaten almost raw with spritz of plenty of lime juice on it.

You might want to try ordering it on a side, and cooking it yourself to the temperature of your liking by dipping it in your piping hot Pho. Otherwise it comes well done.

What is the white stringy stuff in Pho?

The white stringy stuff in Pho is beef tripe – or the stomach lining of a cow. It has very little taste, but a chewy texture. If you like the health benefits of “eating the whole animal”, try a bowl of Pho with tripe (or “sach”)

Is Pho healthy or fattening?

Bowl of healthy pho noodle soup with rare eye round steak chopsticks and a soup spoon

At a restaurant setting, most likely the fat has been skimmed off in your bowl of Pho – unless you specifically ask for extra fat (some people do this). Pho is healthy: the broth is bone broth, the noodle is naturally gluten-free, and it is served with a small amount of meat and organs of your choice.

What is the sauce that goes on Pho?

hoisin sauce and sriracha - served with pho - arousingappetites

There are two main sauces that goes on Pho: the black sauce is Hoisin sauce, and the red sauce is Sriracha – you might recognize the red rooster logo on Sriracha.

If you’ve had Peking duck dishes at authentic Chinese restaurants, it is commonly served with Hoisin sauce.

Sriracha has made its way into mainstream food establishments – you might find it on chicken wings, and on subs at sub shops.

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