When it comes to noodle soups, Vietnamese pho has fast become one of the most popular dishes in North America. And for good reason!
This soup is made with simple ingredients: broth, noodles, meat/seafood, and herbs, but it packs a punch of flavor and has a hugely satisfying texture.
While pho broth is arguably the star of the show, this soup wouldn’t be what it is without the addition of a slurpable, chewy, delicious noodle of some kind to soak up the broth and balance out the meat and herbs.
So, what are the best noodles for pho? The best and most traditional noodle to use is bánh phở, also called flat rice noodles. You can also try rice vermicelli, sweet potato glass noodles, mung bean thread noodles, and bánh canh (tapioca noodles).
Read on to discover more about what pho is, where it came from, the best noodles to have with pho, and a simple and delicious pho recipe!
What Is Pho?
Before we dig into the best noodles to eat with pho, let’s learn a little more about the history of this popular and delicious soup.
Understanding more about where our food comes from, what it tastes like, and its traditional styles can help us choose the best ingredients and noodles for our own pho.
Pho is a Vietnamese dish that originated in the northern Vietnam capital of Hanoi sometime around the late 19th and early 20th centuries and has since made its way around the world.
At its simplest, it is a dish of hot broth, rice noodles, and beef, though Vietnamese chefs have been adapting and experimenting with different techniques and ingredients for decades.
Chicken-based pho seems to have originated around 1939 in response to the government forbidding the sale of beef on Mondays and Fridays. Since then, it has become a popular and delicious variation on the classic beef pho.
This incredibly flavorful and complex dish is believed to have been born from the combination of French, Chinese, and Vietnamese influences as those three cultures were living in close proximity in the region at the time.
The French are credited with incorporating beef into the dish, which was quite uncommon in Vietnam at the time.
Chinese culture contributed the spices, and the Vietnamese people adapted a traditional water buffalo and rice noodle soup into the delicious pho we know and love today.
The classic spices you’ll tend to find in a bowl of pho include:
- Charred onion, garlic, and ginger (charring these aromatics gives the broth an incredible depth of flavor)
- Star anise
- Fennel seeds
- Cardamom pods
- Cinnamon sticks
- Whole black peppercorns
- Fish sauce
The combination of these herbs and spices is unique, aromatic, and incredibly delicious.
The tangy sourness from the fish sauce grounds the broth, while the star anise gives it a licorice-like flavor. All the other herbs and spices balance out so you have a truly harmonious and special broth.
Northern Vietnamese pho is quite simple, with few condiments aside from lime and chili slices.
The version we’re most familiar with is the one from southern Vietnam with mint, basil, lime, chilies, a spicy broth, and many different cuts of meat.
When it comes to noodles in pho, you really can’t beat rice noodles. The texture is different than egg or soba or wheat noodles, and they really soak up the flavor of the broth in a special way.
With that being said, you can get creative and try some other styles. Let’s dig into the noodles!
The 9 Best Noodles For Pho
Now that we understand more about what pho is and the importance of the noodles (they’re one of 3 main ingredients!), we can start looking at the best noodles to use if you’re making pho at home.
These are just suggestions, so feel free to get creative!
1. Bánh Phở – Flat Rice Noodles
Taking the top spot on our list is the traditional noodle used most often in pho dishes around the world, especially in Vietnam.
These flat rice noodles are long and chewy, with a great texture that holds up well to sitting in broth for an extended length of time.
The width of these noodles can vary a bit, but you’ll want one that is sort of small to medium-sized so it can soak up all the brothy goodness of your pho.
Think roughly the width of fettuccine or linguine. These noodles are made from a combination of rice flour and water.
When you buy them they look sort of white, and they turn translucent as they cook. In terms of flavor, they don’t have much of their own, which is why they are the perfect noodle to use in a piping hot bowl of flavorful pho.
2. Bún – Rice Vermicelli
While these noodles aren’t traditionally used in pho, they definitely still taste great.
You’ll most often find rice vermicelli used in noodle bowls, salad rolls, or cold noodle salads, but I have enjoyed them in many a bowl of homemade pho when I’ve run out of flat rice noodles.
These noodles are round and thin, as opposed to flat and long like the flat rice noodles.
They may not soak up quite as much flavorful broth, but they can hold their own. And some people prefer the texture of the thinner noodles, so it really comes down to your personal preference.
I love them because you don’t have to cook them for very long, only 1-2 minutes, and a little goes a long way.
Like flat rice noodles, they don’t have much flavor on their own, which makes them perfect to use in pho. They are white when dried and cooked.
3. Sweet Potato Glass Noodles
These noodles definitely aren’t traditional since they are most often used to make salads or as the noodle in a hot pot dish. However, the texture is really nice, and they hold up well when sitting in a bowl of hot pho broth.
Glass noodles are made from sweet potato starch and water. When they’re cooked, they turn almost completely translucent, hence the glass noodle name, and they have a springy, firm texture that is really appealing.
Like rice noodles, they don’t have a very strong flavor on their own, which makes them perfect for enjoying in a big bowl of pho.
4. Mung Bean Thread Vermicelli (aka Glass Noodles, Cellophane Noodles)
Made from the starch of mung beans, these vermicelli or glass noodle threads are another great option to throw in your bowl of pho.
They are fast and easy to cook; simply soak them in boiling water for about 3 minutes then add them to your soup.
These noodles have a similar texture to the sweet potato glass noodles.
They may not look the most appealing in the package since they have a bit of a gray hue before they’re cooked. However, once cooked they are clear and beautiful with a slippery and flexible texture that’s fun to eat.
5. Bánh Canh – Tapioca Noodles
These noodles have a different texture than many of the others on this list, but they can be an interesting alternative to the firmer, chewier rice, mung bean, or sweet potato noodles.
Tapioca noodles are a little slimier than their counterparts, which can add a different layer to your bowl of pho. They are often made with either pure tapioca flour and water or a mixture of tapioca and rice flour.
When compared to other types of noodles, they’re similar to Japanese udon noodles and can come in different thicknesses and styles. I like the vermicelli style, but you can find flat noodles and other kinds if you want to get creative.
6. Mì – Egg Noodles
Another very nontraditional noodle style that can add a little spin to your classic pho is Vietnamese egg noodles called mì.
These noodles are similar to a Chinese lo mein type of noodle and are a type of yellow egg noodle made with wheat flour.
They are often used in stir-fries, but can also make a delicious addition to a pho noodle soup thanks to their different texture and subtle flavor. They have a bit more bite and flavor than rice noodles but are still simple to use.
Just soak them in boiling water for 5 minutes, rinse with cold water, and toss in a little oil to prevent them from sticking together. Add them to your bowl of pho and enjoy!
7. Ramen Noodles
I think it comes as no surprise that ramen noodles are most often eaten in a bowl of hot ramen. However, the texture and flavor of ramen noodles make a great complement to the spiced broth of a good bowl of pho.
If you’re making your own pho broth and look in the cupboard and all you’ve got are ramen noodles, don’t fret! These thin, delicious noodles can be swapped out for delicious results.
They are made from wheat, salt, and water and have a softer texture than Italian wheat pasta.
Most ramen noodles are made with wheat flour, but you can now find rice flour varieties as well if you want to try them out or you can’t eat gluten/wheat.
I love the squiggly, soft texture of ramen, and they soak up flavor really well, making them a tasty addition to a bowl of pho!
8. Soba Noodles
Another noodle that’s not traditionally used in pho, but can add a great texture and spin on a classic are soba noodles.
They are a kind of Japanese-style noodle typically made from buckwheat flour and water, though you can find them in all kinds of varieties now.
These noodles are delicious in soups because they are slippery and perfectly slurpable. They also have a nutty flavor thanks to the buckwheat that tastes delicious with the strong spices and aromatics of a perfectly cooked pho broth.
They kind of look like spaghetti in terms of length and thickness, though there can be a lot of variety in size and shape.
If you’re looking for a spin on a classic, but still want a super slippery and delicious noodle, try adding soba to your pho!
9. Udon Noodles
Another fabulous Japanese noodle, udon is thick, chewy and amazing in soups of all kinds.
Typically, these noodles are served in a simple dashi broth, but they also work great in a big batch of pho. They are made with wheat flour, salt, and water and can be flat or rounded.
The chewy texture of these noodles makes them a perfect pairing for a bowl of pho that’s loaded with herbs, spices, and meat or seafood.
How To Make Pho Broth
Now that you know what noodles taste the most delicious with pho, learn how to make a simple and flavorful broth that you can customize with different meats, condiments, and noodles.
- 1 lb. beef or chicken bones
- 1 white onion
- 1 bulb garlic
- 6 inches ginger
- 6 star anise bulbs
- 1 tbsp. whole fennel seeds
- ½ tsp. whole cloves
- ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1-2 tsp. cardamom pods
- 4 cinnamon sticks or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
- ½ cup fish sauce
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 8-10 cups of water
- Set oven to broil.
- Cut onion into half then into quarters, keeping the skin on.
- Break apart the bulb of garlic and smash each clove, keeping the skin on.
- Cut up the ginger into small chunks and smash with the flat edge of your knife.
- Place bones, garlic, onions, and ginger into a large cast-iron frying pan and place under the broiler.
- Stir with a spatula every couple of minutes. You are looking for some burning of the skins and browning of the bones and aromatics.
- While the aromatics are broiling, gather your spices and tie them into a small piece of cheesecloth or tea bag. Add to your large stockpot, crock-pot, or Instant Pot.
- Once aromatics are blackened and browned, about 5-10 minutes depending on your oven, add to your pot.
- Fill your pot with water and add fish sauce, sea salt, and sugar.
- Place the lid on the Instant Pot and make sure the vent is set to “Sealed”
- Hit the manual button and set the timer to 40-60 minutes. The longer it cooks, the stronger the flavor.
- When the broth is finished cooking, you can let the steam release naturally (unless you’re in a hurry for dinner, in which case you can release the pressure).
- Strain the broth and season it to your taste. If the broth is really strong, you can thin it down with boiling water when you serve it.
- Set to high temperature and let the broth simmer 6-8 hours. You might need to add some more water after about 4 hours in case it evaporates away.
- Strain your broth and season with a little salt and pepper to your taste. If the broth is really strong, feel free to thin it out a bit with some hot water.
Saucepan On The Stove:
- Cover the pot with a lid and bring the water to a boil.
- Once the water has boiled, reduce to low heat and simmer for 6-8 hours.
- Strain your broth and season to your taste. You can dilute a super strong-flavored broth with water until you get the flavor you’re looking for.
Store your broth in mason jars in the fridge. If you are freezing any leftover broth, make sure you leave one inch of space at the top to prevent jar explosions. Broth lasts about a week in the fridge.