The Sweetness of Pho: Why It’s a Must-Try Dish

Pho is a delicious and ubiquitous Vietnamese soup that millions around the world have enjoyed. It is a hearty and flavorful dish that consists of rice noodles, broth, herbs, and meat (usually beef). However, one aspect of pho that often perplexes eaters is its sweetness. Why is pho sweet? In this article, we will dive into pho’s history, ingredients, and cooking techniques to unravel its sweetness’s mystery.

What is Pho?

Before we can understand why pho is sweet, we must first define what it is. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese soup that originated in northern Hanoi in the early 20th century. It is typically made with beef or chicken broth, rice noodles, herbs such as basil, cilantro, and scallions, and meat such as beef or chicken. The soup is usually served with a side plate of fresh bean sprouts, lime wedges, and sliced chili peppers.

Why is Pho Sweet?

The Sweetness of Pho A Flavorful Exploration
The Sweetness of Pho A Flavorful Exploration

The sweetness in pho comes from a few different sources. First, the bones used to make the broth are often roasted with onions and ginger, which adds a natural sweetness to the broth. Second, many recipes for pho include rock sugar, a type of unrefined sugar that gives the broth a subtle sweetness without overpowering the other flavors. Finally, some chefs add a touch of hoisin sauce or oyster sauce to their pho, which can also contribute to the overall sweetness of the dish.

Pros and Cons of Sweet Pho

Pros and Cons of Sweet Pho
Pros and Cons of Sweet Pho

While sweetness is a defining characteristic of pho, it may not be to everyone’s liking. Some people prefer their pho to have a more savory or umami flavor profile and find the sweetness to be overwhelming or cloying. However, others enjoy the dish’s balance of sweet and savory flavors and find that it complements the other ingredients well. Ultimately, whether or not you enjoy sweet pho comes down to personal preference.

Alternatives to Sweet Pho

Alternatives to Sweet Pho
Alternatives to Sweet Pho

If you are not a fan of sweet pho, there are a few alternatives to consider. First, make your pho at home and adjust the sweetness level to your liking. For example, you could leave out the rock sugar altogether or use less hoisin or oyster sauce. Another option is to seek out restaurants that specialize in Northern-style pho, which tends to be less sweet than its Southern counterpart. Finally, if you want to avoid sweetness altogether, you could try ordering a different type of soup, such as bun bo hue or mi quang, both popular Vietnamese noodle soups with a more savory flavor profile.

How to Make Pho at Home

Making pho at home can seem intimidating, but with a little bit of patience and preparation, it is entirely doable. Here is a step-by-step guide to making your own homemade pho:


  • 2 lbs beef bones (knuckle or marrow bones)
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 piece ginger (about 2 inches long), sliced into thin coins
  • 5 star anise pods
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rock sugar
  • 1 package rice noodles
  • 1 lb beef brisket or flank steak, thinly sliced
  • Bean sprouts, lime wedges, cilantro, and basil, for serving


  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Place the beef bones on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven for 30 minutes, flipping them over halfway through.
  2. While the bones are roasting, char the onion and ginger directly over an open flame (such as a gas stove or grill) until they are lightly charred on all sides. Rinse them under cold water to remove any excess char.
  3. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the roasted bones, charred onion and ginger, star anise, garlic cloves, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for at least 6 hours, skimming off any foam or impurities that rise to the surface.
  4. After 6 hours, strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean pot. Discard the solids. Add salt, fish sauce, and rock sugar to the broth and stir to combine.
  5. Prepare the rice noodles according to the package instructions. Divide the noodles into bowls and top with the sliced beef.
  6. Ladle the hot broth over the noodles and beef, making sure to cover everything evenly. Let the soup sit for a minute or two to allow the beef to cook through.
  7. Serve the pho with a plate of bean sprouts, lime wedges, cilantro, and basil on the side.

Tips for Making Perfect Pho

Tips for Making Perfect Pho
Tips for Making Perfect Pho

Here are some additional tips to help ensure that your homemade pho turns out delicious:

  • Use high-quality ingredients. The better the quality of your bones, meat, and herbs, the better your broth will taste.
  • Don’t rush the cooking process. It can be tempting to speed up the simmering time, but this will result in a less flavorful broth.
  • Skim the foam off the surface regularly. This will help keep your broth clear and free from impurities.
  • Taste as you go. Adjust the seasoning to your liking, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different herbs and spices.

The Best Pho Restaurants Around the World

If you want to try pho at its best, here are some highly recommended restaurants around the world:

  • Pho Tau Bay in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Pho Binh By Night in Houston, Texas, USA
  • Pho 79 in Garden Grove, California, USA
  • Pho Pasteur in Paris, France
  • Pho Hoa Pasteur in Vancouver, Canada


So, why is pho sweet? Maybe, but it is also an incredibly complex and delicious dish that has captured the hearts (and appetites) of people all around the world. Whether you prefer your pho sweet or savory, there is no denying the unique and satisfying flavors of this beloved Vietnamese soup.


  1. Is pho always sweet? No, the sweetness level of pho can vary depending on the recipe and the chef’s preferences. Some pho is less sweet, while others are sweeter.
  2. What makes pho so flavorful? The combination of roasted bones, herbs, and spices simmered for hours creates a rich and complex broth that gives pho its signature flavor.
  3. Can vegetarians eat pho? Yes, there are vegetarian versions of pho available that use vegetable broth and tofu or seitan instead of meat.
  4. Is pho healthy? Pho can be a healthy and nutritious meal, especially if it is made with high-quality ingredients and minimal added sugar or sodium.
  5. What is the history of pho? Pho originated in Northern Vietnam in the early 20th century and has since become a staple dish in Vietnamese cuisine.
About Yen Le

Welcome to Bunker Vietnamese, a website dedicated to exploring the diverse world of Vietnamese cuisine. As a proud Vietnamese-American, my passion for cooking and sharing my cultural heritage has led me to create this platform. Join me on this culinary journey and discover the vibrant flavors and textures that make Vietnamese food so unique and delicious.

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