The Return of Veggie Pho

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This past week I was able to give the vegetarian pho recipe a real test… not just would I be making it for myself and Huyen, but for Huyen’s mother, her mother’s significant other, and her younger brother. That’s four people who know real, authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Four people that would be more than happy to tell me that my pho wasn’t as good as the pho bo (beef pho) in Vietnam.

I pretty much stuck to the recipe, but asked my mother-in-law for some advice to help give the broth a little bit more of an authentic taste, while keeping it vegan. Here’s what we did:

  • She advised using a pho spice packet (available in many Asian grocery stores) with veggie broth instead of the broth recipe listed above (it’s a little easier and has the right balance to give that authentic flavor).
  • I added more star anise and ginger for extra flavor. I think it would hard to overdo the flavor in pho broth.
  • She roasted a shallot in the toaster and added that to the broth.
  • I threw in a few dashes of soy sauce, a couple of bay leaves, and some garlic.
  • Near the end, she added some salt.

Of the three or four times I’ve made this recipe, this was by far the best result. Huyen loved it, as did her mom and brother. I was surprised her brother liked it as much as he did, since he’s far from a vegetarian, but he really liked the seitan in place of the beef and ate the whole bowl. When Huyen’s mom’s SO got home from work, I heated up a bowl for him. Even as a hardcore meat-eater and someone who’s eaten authentic Vietnamese food for over 50 years, he was surprised at how good the soup was and finished every last bit of it.

I’ve decided that if I ever open a vegetarian restaurant, a veggie pho adaptation will be one of my signature dishes. I’m going to play with the formula just a bit more and then post the final version here.

27 Responses to “The Return of Veggie Pho”

  1. lisa

    You’ve got at least one person eagerly awaiting the recipe. :) Thank you.

  2. doovinator

    Yes I’d like the recipe too!

  3. Robert

    I was getting into eating a lot of beef and chicken pho a few months back, but I got tired of all that tripe and who-knows-what-else. Some veggie pho would hit at least one of my many spots.

  4. Sam

    I looked at the Veg Pho recipe that Sally Bernstein posted. It looks doable but there’s a typo on the amount of basil. Does anyone know how much basil should be used?
    Thanks.

  5. Ryan

    Personally, I would guess a 1/4 cup of fresh basil leaves. But you can always do more or less if you’d like… this recipe doesn’t really rely on precision.

  6. cookytrix

    ive been working on a pho recipe for 6 years. i can make it better than ANY restraunt but cant get away from vegetable extracts. they are supposed to be simmilar to msg. they put the pho over the top with a caremel flavor. does anyone know how to get that flavor in a healthy way. ive caramelized onions. but maybe im doing it wrong. ive roasted and sauted the hell out of then but its not enough. if you guys want my recipe ill give it. ive made i for a lot of vegan pho addicts and they all say its the best. really, these folks know there pho.

  7. Gilda

    Hi, your pho experimentation sounds great . .. i was looking for the recipe on your site but couldn’t find it, may I have it? i’m vietnamese -american (born here) and vegetarian, and I love pho (and have given it up since becoming vegetarian 10yrs ago) and its impossible to find good vegetarian pho… your site is a life saver :)

  8. awon

    I would really like the recipe for vegetarian pho. my husband and i, although we eat chicken, like veggies a lot better. thanks a lot!

  9. Sabrina

    I loved your blogs on the veggie pho. I’m currently dating a Vietnamese man who’s into body-building. Any ideas on a vegan pho with whey protein? Can’t wait to see your finalised recipe!

  10. HT

    I came upon your site through my survey to find the consensus for various Vietnamese recipes. Although annoying, I wasn’t surprise to find such asinine ideas such as yours.

    I’m sure after you read this you’ll delete it because it’s not in support of what you’re doing. That’s OK by me. I’d rather be honest and point out something wrong and stupid than just go with the flow and patronize people like you. You’re another example of culture dilution. As I have observed during my 24 years in this beautiful country, one of its major weaknesses is that for any given culture, its true intrinsic value is diminished and its richness diluted in the hands of some fanatical Americans who are either fussy w/ food, never learned how to cook or to eat, or are just brainwashed into vegan or whatever diet fad is going on at the moment.

    Making “Pho” as a vegan is no longer “Pho.” Don’t you get it? Call it something else, but don’t insult my culture w/ your limited knowledge of cuisine, tradition, and history, let alone your egostitical disrespect for anything that is not within reach of your world under a rock.

    One final note, just because someone came from Vietnam, doesn’t mean they know “Vietnamese” food. If you know anything about the old Vietnam before those commies took over the whole country, you should know that not only Vietnamese food varies greatly by region, but the different locales afforded different people w/ different levels of food sophistication or authenticity. For example, for someone living in Saigon (the capital of South Vietnam), they’d have a much higher expectation of the authenticity of food compared to someone who never lived in Saigon. Not to sound snobbish, but Saigon always was the gauge by which other regions’ foods were compared. It’s like comparing gourmet food in Paris to Las Vegas.

    Well, before you delete my post, I hope you learned something. If nothing else, at least respect other culture’s long and rich heritage. I know it’s American to not resist the temptation to dilute and fudge originality, but try it. It’s very humbling to realize that the true beauty in different cultures is each culture’s essense, its raison d’etre, and not how you can personally shape it to satisfy your fastidiousness.

    Have a great day!

  11. Ryan

    I’m not sure why you’d think I’d delete your post… even though I disagree with you, at least you were generally polite about how you voiced your opinion.

    In any event:

    just brainwashed into vegan or whatever diet fad

    I wasn’t brainwashed in the least. I chose to stop eating animals for ethical reasons. And the vegan diet’s far from a fad… it’s been around by name for sixty years and in concept for much longer.

    Call it something else, but don’t insult my culture w/ your limited knowledge of cuisine, tradition, and history, let alone your egostitical disrespect for anything that is not within reach of your world under a rock.

    Where are you getting this idea of “disrespect” from?

    One final note, just because someone came from Vietnam, doesn’t mean they know “Vietnamese” food.

    For reference, the people I worked with on this recipe are from the “old Vietnam.” One from the Mekong region (Can Tho) and one who lived in Saigon and the nearby Long An. One comes from a family who ran a pho stand for many years. They both told me about the various ways that vegetarian pho is made in Vietnam, as well as pho bo, for reference. As you well know, vegetarian versions of popular meat dishes have been popular amongst devout Buddhists for hundreds of years. Discounting their contribution to the people’s cuisine is an insult to their efforts.

    Your accusations of me being disrespectful are baseless and implying that adjusting a favorite dish so that it doesn’t use meat is disrespectful of a cuisine or culture seems pretty far off to me.

  12. Ross

    I found HT’s rant rather amusing and your response quite
    measured and right-on. Why he has a problem with vegan/veg,
    and why the word ‘Pho” cannot be used to describe something
    which is very close to it and has no better word in English
    is beyond me. Talk about reverse political correctness!

    Do I have to ask each of you for your individual veggie pho recipes
    or are you all talking about the one linked to in the first (Dec 1) post?

    Sounds like there are multiple recipes being discussed. Could
    someone put all of them up for us all to see?

    I would also like to see the one with the carmelized onion.

    Thanks! Ross in Seattle

  13. Ryan

    Yeah, notice how he never came back to respond?

    In any event, yes, the recipe mentioned here is a slightly modified recipe from the original. I never got around to posting the exact recipe, unfortunately. That’s on my things-to-do list.

  14. Gretchen

    I had problems finding the Pho recipe. I found your site via google in search of a pho recipe, and was taken directly to your message group for the vegan pho. Is there somewhere I have to sign up to in order to get that recipe? Let me know.

  15. Ryan

    I’ll have to try and get the recipe together by the end of the year. In the meantime, this might help you out.

  16. Marcella

    Sign me up as another future fan of your veggie pho recipe. In the last 6 months I believe I have become an addict of good pho. Being a veg, I have an excellent option here in Seattle (Than Brothers, multiple locations). Unfortunately, none are too close to my home, and I would love to give it a try, although I admit I am wary of doing this amazing meal justice.
    Would you be so kind as to send yours? Many thanks,
    M.

  17. Kyle

    Was happy to come across this site in my quest for some pho recipes to add to my pallette – but omg HT, what’s going on there bud?

    Pho is actually vegen by nature, until cooked in chicken/meat broth. An original pho preperation actually only uses 4 ingredients and is the basis for all pho today.

    Its ingredients are:

    Star Anise
    Cinnamon
    Mace/Nutmeg
    Cloves

    In some preparations you will find mace (the outside of a nutmeg, or just nutmeg).

    Take just these 4 ingredients and rub them together in your hand and smell – it is the signature pho smell that can never be mistaken for anything else. (I know because i’ve been carrying a bag of it around in my briefcase and all i can smell is pho in my office).

    Now, I eat my pho regularly with seasoned pressed tofu, frozen tofu roll, plain tofu, seitan, etc. (the asian markets near my house are an amazing source for all kinds of veggie protein you never heard of!!) – alright, so my question – Does anyone knows of a prepared veggie ‘beef’ or a way to prepare other vegetable protein products to make it similar to beef that will cook up good in pho?

    I am treating my wife’s vietnamese family to a feast and I want to start it off with a vegan pho bo preperation (although, they’re perfectly happy to eat tofu). Any help is appreciated!

    Before I go.. a word on MSG – those little pho cubes you get at vietnamese/asian markets taste wonderful, but they are PACKED with MSG. If not MSG they’ll include hydrolized vegetable protein (which at concentrations above 80% purity can technically be referred to as MSG) – this stuff is dangerous people, it’s not just a matter of bloating or making you feel full – glutamate actually destroys brain nuerons – what a way to wreck a great bowl of pho!!

    Kyle
    Vancouver, BC.

  18. YS

    To Kyle and others,

    MSG has this strange stigma around it, but as I can find from numerous sources including Wikipedia, “Although glutamate is an excitotoxin if certain neurons are exposed to very high doses, and can be used to produce an obesity syndrome in rats, the idea that it has any comparable effects in its normal use as a food additive is looked upon by mainstream scientists as being pseudoscientific since there is no conclusive scientific data that support the claims.” If you can cite one conclusive study yielding statistically significant results against MSG, I would like to see it. Otherwise, it’s just part of myth and urban legend.

  19. Kristine Coleman

    Please send me your pho recipe asap. It sounds yummy.

  20. DN

    Hate to revive this old blog post but HT’s post was amusing from a Canadian born Vietnamese perspective. It seems the older generation Vietnamese are really bent into preserving their culture and while I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing — I am proud of my parents roots — they tend to lack the proper skills to put things into perspective. I’m vegetarian (not vegan but yea) and the Vietnamese people I know who are over 40 think it’s the absolute worse thing in the world and sometimes I think they pray for me that I won’t die of starvation or something. The only thing is that I’ve had to stop eating almost every single Vietnamese dish I used to enjoy, so if you ever post your recipe it would be a GodSend because I really do miss my pho. So HT, grab a stick of celery and eat it! :D

    Glad to note that one of the stores I go to in Vancouver also gladly makes me Banh Tet without the pork and that’s my other favourite dish around Chinese New Year.

  21. Charlotte

    Thank you for these hints. I just got home from Viet Nam and have been searching the internet for recipes to try my hand at some Vietnamese cooking. This sounds just like the veggie pho that I so feel in love with on my trip. Thanks.

    Oh, and a word about being a vegetarian in South East Asia: It was extremely difficult to communicate that I didn’t eat meat during my travels. I never had to break down and eat it, but there were times that I resorted to rice, soy sauce, and water spinach. The way you say “I am a vegetarian” in Vietnamese is “Toi an chai”. However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t get meat in your dishes. I brought a pocket translator with pictures which was somewhat helpful. There was a “no meat” symbol, but it was still very confusing. I wasn’t planning on eating fish while abroad, but I ended up doing so because of necessity. It is best if you find someone who speaks both English and Vietnamese to help you if necessary. I think it is very confusing to run into a “rich Westerner” who doesn’t eat meat, because meat is a luxury in Viet Nam. You don’t eat meat unless you are too poor to do so.

  22. linh

    hi, i’d read your comments and anxiously looking for the recipe from the website… WHERE IS IT? i’m vietnamese, ominivore. Or in vietnamese, it’d be “eat any four-legged things except a table, any swimming thing except a submarine, any flying thing except an airplane.” I like veggies however because it’s quick and clean to cook and superdupper healthy. i think any dish can be converted to a veggie dish if you pay attention closely the strongest favor/smell of the dish. in this case of pho, the strongest would be asine, cinnomon, roasted onion and ginger. if you want the sweetness of the soup, i would recommend adding daikon because it’s very sweet and has no side-effect smell. it’s a best subsitution for sugar/msg.

    anyhow, could i have the recipe for veggie pho? Thanks

  23. Sumiko

    I stumbled upon your site looking for pho recipes. I’ve been on a quest for a good pho for quite a while, wreaking havoc in my kitchen and feeding my fiance lots of experiments (he’s such a good sport…he actually introduced me to pho). Where can I see some of these mysterious and famed recipes?

  24. kreesta

    hey!
    does anyone know a good pho place in vancouver that has vegetarian pho (not the dry kind). i just moved from ottawa where golden turtle had the best veg pho. so good a bunch of my friends and i would go at least once a week and i actually converted the meat eaters to the veg version. thanks!

  25. cookytrix

    veggie pho and a few of my other vegan recipes at:

    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog&Mytoken=17CBC218-6661-43CD-A3C16C32FBC8E13B3392101

    u wont be disappointed.

  26. pho life

    HT

    SHUTUP DUMBASS!

    pho is for lovers, go vegan!

  27. Katielady

    I read some people in Seattle saying Than Brothers, I’ll have to give them a try, but the very BEST pho I’ve had in the Seattle area is “I love Pho” on Mercer Island. I get the #V8 vegan chicken pho. They put fake chicken in it. I get it with extra veggies, it rocks my world!

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