Pho is arguably one of my all-time favorite dishes to eat any time of the day. There is just something about the taste, the aroma, and the look that I’ve always found captivating.

For years I’ve searched for the best bowl of pho in Ho Chi Minh City. However, I still look forward to going home to the U.S. once a year so I can have one of my favorite bowls of pho in Orange County, Southern California.

If you don’t already know, pho is a noodle soup, one of the most popular and well-known dishes in Vietnamese cuisine. A close second would probably be goi cuon (fresh spring rolls) and banh mi (baguette) to round off my top three.

My list of my favourite Vietnamese dishes also includes banh xeo (sizzling Vietnamese pancake), bun bo Hue (Hue-style noodles), bun cha (Hanoi-style noodles), bun rieu (crab noodle soup), com tam (broken rice), bo luc lac (shaken beef) and bo bay mon (beef seven ways).

I’ve always said that the broth makes or breaks a bowl of soup and pho is no exception. Pho is all about the broth. It is a long-simmering affair with beef bones (bone marrow and knuckles included), charred onion, ginger, star anise, fish sauce, cinnamon, beef chuck, beef brisket, rib roast, and rump or oxtail (depending on availability, or all for variety).

I have never had the courage to take on the task of making pho at home but I have seen it made, and a six-hour simmer is really rushing it. They key is to use high-quality beef, cooked low and slow.

When it comes to pho, the banh pho (rice noodles) are just as important as the broth and the quality of the beef. These translucent noodles are made from rice flour and water.

Ingredients such as cornstarch or tapioca are also added to increase the chewinessy texture and improve the transparency of the noodles.

There are two popular types of banh pho, thin or flat, as well as dried or fresh varieties. Which one you choose depends on your personal preference.

Every bowl of Ho Chi Minh City-style pho is usually topped off with ngo (chopped cilantro), rau hung que (Thai basil), rau hung lui (spearmint sprigs), ngo gai (thorny cilantro), bean sprouts (either fresh or blanched in boiling water), hoisin sauce, chilli sauce, fresh chopped chillies, ground black pepper and a squeeze of lime. All these flavours combine to make a symphony.

As Jason Stratham says whenever he puts on his brass knuckles in the soon-to-be cult movie classic The Expendables, “can’t beat a classic”.

1. Pho Hien (since 1995)
269A Nguyen Trai Street
Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward
District 1, HCMC
Open 6am to around midnight

2. Pho Pasteur (since 1968)
260C Pasteur Street
District 3, HCMC
Open 6am to around midnight

3. Pho Dau (Since 1958)
288 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street
District 3, HCMC
Open 6am to 12pm

4. Pho Le (since 1970)
413-415 Nguyen Trai Street
District 1, HCMC
Open 6am to 1am.