The Asian Noodle Soup That’s Ready to Come After Ramen’s Throne

Why Vietnam’s favorite comfort food will soon be everywhere

May 4, 2016 9:00 am

For the past decade or so, restaurants across the country have felt obliged to “keep up” with ramen.

It never fails to thrill, mostly because it’s an accessible means for a city to up its culinary scene without going so left-of-center so as to alienate the casual foodie. Combine its humble American beginnings as dirt cheap college rations with a longstanding tradition as Japan’s comfort food of choice, and you’ve got a great platform for creativity and experimentation.

But there is another Asian soup deserving of its rightful place in your belly. A dish with the same piping-hot deliciousness and hand-pulled, slurpable noodles but not the same glorified reputation, and criminally so: Vietnam’s pho (pronounced like such).

In some ways, this is not about which is better, because ramen is not pho and vice versa. But it is a discussion worth framing in such a way, if only to highlight why it could “be the next big thing.”

Because while a report drawn up by Food Genius in 2014 claimed pho was only found on 1% of menus worldwide, Google’s 2016 Food Trend Report tells us interest in the traditional beef noodle soup has been growing at a consistent rate of 11% year-over-year since 2013.  

And we suspect that number to only continue to grow. Here’s why.

It’s better suited to enjoy on the regular.
The major difference between between pho and ramen is in the stock. With ramen you’re combining hard-boiled broth, fat and seasoning to create a dark, intense soup that’ll transfer over to the noodles with every slurp. Pho is made by a slow-simmer of bones, oxtail and beef with aromatics like anise and ginger for a clear but equally delicious consommé . Couple that with thin-cut rice noodle that are filling but not bloating, and you have a lighter, more nutritious meal you can enjoy at any time of the day (it’s breakfast in Vietnam), and theoretically, every day of the week.

It’s a most democratic noodle dish.
In all the ways, pho’s cheaper. Not only to make, but to eat. That’s because there are fewer ingredients involved. Pho comes standard with sides of Thai basil, culantro (the stronger, wide-leaf cousin of cilantro), bean sprouts, chilli peppers and green onions. It’s a self-governing soup in that way — strong enough to savor on its own, yet open to interpretation with garnishes as you see fit. Ramen? Not so much. What pho doesn’t have in mind-boggling regional differences, it gains in straightforward simplicity.

Which means it’s ripe with creative intent.
Simple. Fresh. Delicious. These are the tenets of a foundation upon which building blocks can be placed. Already familiar to those who love ramen, pho’s natural next step is for brave chefs to throw their own spin on it. You just wait and see.


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