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Pho Bo To Go

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Pho Bo To Go


How to make your own Pho Bo To Go… aka learn from my mistakes (or Pho Faux Pas) so your Pho To Go will be perfect. 

Why Pho?

  1. …because if you do it right, it is delicious and satisfying.
  2. For special diets, this dish is a dream! Packed with flavor, and gluten free. Swapping rice noodles for veggie ribbons will make it Paleo. It is traditionally made with oxtail broth and rare beef, tripe or meatballs, but versions can be made with other proteins, including chicken (pho ga), or even vegetarian (pho chay)!
  3. Soup in a thermos is always an easy make-ahead lunch option. Making your own soup ensures control over ingredients. 🙂
  4. …and because the same ole pb&j or tuna wrap gets tiresome.

Also, for some of us (ahem, me), Pho is one of those foods that makes us feel fully nourished and calm.

So recently I had an opportunity to make Pho for friends, for a luncheon.

Number 1 rule for food service = serve hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Sadly, I dropped the ball on this one.

Taking time to make my broth the day before, my thought was “how easy!” I can just provide a hot broth, let everyone throw in what they like… done! So I reheated the broth on lunch day, put it in a crock pot – clever, right? – and transported it. Sadly, after a 25 minute drive and 5 or 10 minutes more before I could plug the thing back in, my broth was not all that hot. Bowls of soup were made; the broth was hot enough to gently cook the beef, so I moved on to other things and neglected to follow up.

It was only AFTER lunch that I noticed that the noodles still in bowls did NOT look right. 🙁 Ugh!!! There was a microwave sitting right there and a 1 or 2 minute nuke would have made the soup delicious… had I been paying attention. My former culinary instructors would be horrified, as was I… I served hot food cold. 🙁

… But making lemonade out of lemons! …lessons from my Pho fail will make your Pho To Go absolutely perfect! 🙂


By the way, the lunch was still lovely and the company delightful! We also had a Kale-Papaya salad, which I will post soon. Tropical fruity flavors are a nice contrast to cinnamon and clove flavors of beefy Pho broth.

I LOVE making Pho at home. In my house, each person has very distinct flavor preferences and dietary needs. So any dish which allows the individual to customize his or her own plate is a winner! This is the spirit of Vietnamese Pho. The interactivity with the food is culturally intended to honor both the dish and the diner.

All I have to do is make the broth, get it screaming hot. and provide add-ins. My family gets to pick and choose what textures and flavors they want, and also control the spice level. A little of everything goes in my bowl. 🙂

Making Broth for Pho

Although oxtail is traditional – use it if you have it, we generally just use Grass Fed Beef bones. My butcher cuts them up for me, I roast them for an hour or two, then use these bones to make a rich broth.

The bones I have today are not optimal. They are not marrow-filled oxtail. But they are from grass fed beef and this suits us nutritionally. So in they will go. If your bones are less than optimal. you can throw in beef (the meat itself) or even chicken bones and meat, to deepen the flavor.

Shortcut: If you want a quick soup that is Pho-inspired, you can purchase a really good beef broth and simmer it with traditional Pho spices. I wont tell anyone that you do this if you promise not to tell anyone that I suggested it.


When I have time, I roast my bones first. This enhances flavor and melts away some of the fat. Another option is to first blanch the bones by dropping them in boiling water, then removing them. In a cleaned pot simmer blanched bones for broth.

Charring onion and ginger for the broth enhances flavor, as well. Today, I threw them all in together, put them under the broiler and used tongs to pull out items as they charred.


Charred onion and ginger and roasted bones go into the stock pot.


Now add water to cover the bones by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. A slow simmer keeps the broth clear.


Any scum that rises to the top must be skimmed off with a spoon. This does not make pretty clear broth.


Spices. mmmm. Star anise, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, bay leaves, coriander, and fennel.


You can put your spices in a sachet – cheesecloth, tied with string. The sachet is dropped in the pot to infuse flavor and easily removed and discarded with tongs.



Alternatively, you can just throw the spices in loosely and strain them out later.

Spices are added to the beef broth and simmered for 3 hours, lid on. That sounds intense, but it is sooooo easy. You just throw everything in the pot, then forget about. Flavors develop themselves.

When the broth is done, skim the fat off the top and discard. Strain everything out. To give the broth more clarity, make it in advance, cool it, and refrigerate it. Fat will rise to the surface and can be easily removed this way.


Making Pho to go, for a portable lunch

Using a very sharp knife, slice beef very thin… paper thin, if possible. It is easier to do this if your steak is partially frozen. I am using grass fed sirloin steak, because this is what is available.


Prep your add-ins. Great add-ins include cilantro, fresh basil, lime wedges, sliced jalapeno, bean sprouts, and mint. I like to also include very thinly sliced onion and sautéed shitake mushrooms.

You can also add sauces, like hoison, sriracha, and fish sauce.

I LOVE gochujang in Pho, although it can contain gluten and corn syrup. You can make your own, if you are so inclined.

Because this is going into a lunch box, I am putting my veggies into little containers.


Cook rice noodles per package directions. If you are making this to-go slightly undercook, cool, and pack into a little container. I like to swirl noodles in smaller portions.


Sliced beef goes into its own container. And if you are able to reheat broth in a microwave at work, you can put it in a container as well. If not, get it very hot and pack it in a thermos.

Important note! If your thermos will not keep broth extremely hot by the time you are ready to eat, then go ahead and add in beef at this point to be sure it is cooked. Also, keep noodles warm next to the thermos so they do not cool down the broth at lunchtime.

Pack it up! Off you go!



When you are ready to eat. place noodles, covered with beef into a heat-safe bowl or container and pour the broth over them. The heat of the broth will cook your beef.


Throw in your other ingredients.



Vietnamese Pho Broth

Make this rich broth in advance and refrigerate or freeze it in batches for quick easy Pho. Cook once, eat many lunches.


  • oxtail or beef bones, 4-5 lbs. (I like grass fed beef bones, your butcher can cut them for you)
  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, 3-4 in long, cut in half
  • pho spices – 1 cinnamon stick, 5 whole star anise, 5 cloves, 1 whole cardamon pod, 2-3 bay leaves, 1/2 T coriander, 1/2 T fennel
  • 2-4 T fish sauce
  • salt, to taste
  • optional: cheesecloth and string to make a sachet for spices


Roast bones, or blanch them in boiling water to remove some of the fat. Place bones in a stock pot and cover with water – water level a couple of inches over the top of bones.

Cut onion and ginger in halves and char them under a broiler. Add them to stock pot with bones. Add chunks of beef, if you have it. Alternatively, you can add chicken bones and meat to enhance flavor. Add spices, either loosely or tied up in a sachet for easy removal. Add fish sauce. If preferred, use anchovies instead of fish sauce.

Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer. Skim off scum that rises to the top. Cover with a lid and simmer for three hours. You can simmer longer, but you have extracted most of the flavor after three hours simmering. Add salt, to taste. Adjust seasonings, as desired.

Remove bones and strain for a clear broth.

Use immediately or cool and refrigerate. Remaining fat will rise to the top when refrigerated, making it very easy to remove.

Making Pho To Go


  • Broth, 1 1/2 – 2 cups, or enough for a bowl of soup, whatever amount you like.
  • Very thinly sliced beef, about 4 oz (grass fed has omega 3!)
  • Cooked rice noodles, about 1/4 cup, or any amount you like
  • Add-ins, such as bean sprouts, cilantro, fresh basil, mint, lime wedges, and jalapeno
  • Optional: hot sauce, fish sauce


Put very hot broth into a thermos, or refrigerated broth in a container to be reheated at work. Pack noodles into a baggie or container and place next to thermos (or where they will not be chilled). Cold noodles will cool broth too much. Pack add-ins into a separate baggie or container.

At lunchtime, pour hot broth over beef and noodles to cook beef. Add in everything else. Enjoy!

Important to remember!

  • If you will not be able to keep broth VERY hot, then add beef at home while broth is hot, then add to thermos.
  • Be sure rice noodles are room temp or warm when added so they do not cool down the soup too much. In a pinch, running cold noodles under hot water will quickly bring them back to life. Then they can be added to the soup with delightful results.



Addendum to my Pho Faux Pas story.
For anyone who has ever experienced a culinary mishap.

As we were lunching, I noticed that one of my friends was eating only salad, as she usually does, but had placed cold noodles on her plate as well. No soup. No broth. Just cold noodles. I thought this was odd, but hey, I don’t judge. People can eat whatever they choose to eat; this is why I provide so many options.

As we were leaving, my son chooses this moment – too late to do anything – to tell me that her husband had removed the cold hard noodles from his soup and placed them on her plate! Ugh! How embarrassing! Could my son not have nudged me under the table or something?! Everyone is so very polite! 🙂

Moral(s) of the story: great concept does not always result in perfect execution. It will be okay; it’s only food. (But ALWAYS keep a backup salad on hand. Be ready with Plan B) And the occasional epic fail keeps one humble. 🙂

One more: It is fun to say Pho Faux Pas and Pho Bo To Go. 🙂
* Note to self: Post a recipe for Faux Pho

Also, I owe my very sweet and polite friends really GREAT Pho.

How to pronounce Pho.

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  1. Ricki
    RickiApril 19,14

    Chef Gina, this is an award winning article, in my opinion. It is a brilliant explanation of a great dish, that happens to be one of my favorites. This is the main staple for the Vietnamese. All my Vietnamese friends are slim, healthy, and energetic. Seriously if the “award givers” fail to notice this article, shame on them.

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