One of our favorite parts of working on our “Oodles of Noodles” subscription box was putting together a sprawling, crayon-ready map of global noodle dishes. (This box truly delivers a noodle-y mother lode: a hands-on pasta-making lesson, plus our subscription series’ expert-tested recipes and activities.) And as we contemplated that wide world of noodles, one dish stood out.
No disrespect to spätzle, udon, or dan dan. But sometimes, you’ve gotta have phở.
Vietnam’s signature noodle soup has become a staple far beyond that country’s borders, especially in cities with large Vietnamese communities. With its warming, aromatic broth and typical pile of herbaceous condiments, phở is perfect comfort food.
It’s also something you (and your kids) can make at home for an immersive lesson in one of the great cuisines. Together, you can see how history and culture intersect in a bowl—and just how much passion can swirl around one dish.
Phở, indeed, is one of those multi-dimensional icons people love to debate. Can soup without beef really be phở? How do you pronounce that word, anyway? (Roughly speaking, it’s “fuh,” but study up and ask around!) Where does the name come from? (Many say it derives from the French pot au feu, a legacy of France’s colonization of Vietnam. But maybe it comes from Chinese!) When do you eat it? (Americans have adopted phở as a lunch and dinner dish with a sort of wintry-cozy vibe. In Vietnam, it’s a breakfast dish popular year-round in steamy Saigon.)
These five recipes—among the many you can find here, there, and everywhere—vary as to how involved kids could be in the preparation. (All feature steps best done by adults, for sure.)
—Spice Spice Baby offers a medicinally oriented take.
—This adaptation of Andrea Nguyen’s phở ga (chicken, not beef) emphasizes speed and ease, while making the point that this rice noodle showcase can be a boon to the gluten-free.
—Don’t tell kids the name of the blog serving up this fast, easy “cheater” version.
—Is there anything cuter than a PBS Kids recipe?
—As noted, the concept of vegetarian phở could catch some blow-back from purists, but we are not purists, so here you go.
Like we said, this soup offers a lot to discuss! This Food Republic story demonstrates that people tend to harbor strong opinions about how to enjoy their phở. Leading cookbook author Andrea Nguyen explains that the soup takes different forms in different regions of Vietnam; the dish’s fascinating history now includes generations of international evolution, largely driven by emigration after the 1975 conclusion of the Vietnam War.
You could dive into all of that, depending on your kids’ ages and appetites for culinary and geopolitical nuance. Or you could just focus on the alchemy of broth, noodle, and herbs—an endlessly customizable soup, and a great way to experience different herbs and sauces.
Whatever your focus, and whoever does what in the preparation, the discussion will be all-inclusive. Between slurps, of course.
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