Spicy+Sweet Pho

Last year, I found myself living with some unconventional roomies; two unbelievably sweet people who took me into their home like a daughter and one adorable furry friend for life.

We had the best time learning about one another’s lives and we poked fun at each other like family. We also battled frequently in ruuuuthless games of Mexican trains, and I shared some wonderful memories and life achievements with them over glasses of Merlot and frosty pints of Stella.

One cold, Canadian winter night, we ordered takeout pho to the house. It was my first time trying pho and damn, was it ever good.

By no means is this going to be your authentic version of Vietnamese Pho. Traditionally, the process of making pho is a bit lengthy and relies on roasting bones and drawing flavour slowly. However, to make this a bit more home-cook friendly, I use accessible pantry ingredients and cheat-cheat store bought broth to kickstart the cooking. I promise I wouldn’t be posting about this soup if I didn’t think it tasted just as good as true pho. PLUS, it introduces you to a spice I bet you’ve never cooked with before; star anise.


  • 2 cartons of Campbell’s pho broth
  • 4 cups of water
  • 3 green onions,
    (2 chopped in rough chunks, 3rd chopped fine)
  • Ginger, 3 slivers
  • Lemongrass, 2 stalks
    (check either the herbs or Asian greens section in the grocery store)
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced thinly–almost translucent
  • Star anise, 3 podsyes, an uncommon spice but 100% necessary.
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick
  • 3/4 cup of hoisin sauce
  • 3 tbsp of mild hot sauce, 2 tbsp if you aren’t a spicy person
  • 3 tbsp of soy sauce
  • Cooked vermicelli rice noodles
  • Cilantro, chopped for garnish
  • 2 Limes, 1 for the juice + 1 for wedges

1. Begin by prepping the ingredients that will flavour the broth: 2 green onions roughly chopped in 1 inch pieces, thin slivers of ginger, thinly sliced white onion, and lemongrass. Reserve half of the onion slices and put to side.

[TIP]To prep the lemongrass, remove its woody and fibrous outer layers until you reach the soft inside layers. The usable part of lemongrass is only the lower 3-4 inches of the stalk–so remove by cutting the top half of the stalks off. Next, gently make incisions with your knife along the length of the stalk to release all of its packed flavour and essential oils into the broth.

2. In a large pot, combine the pho broth and water. Add all infusing ingredients mentioned in step 1, the star anise pods and cinnamon stick, and the juice of one lime. Bring to a gentle boil on medium–high heat.

3. Once the broth starts to boil, stir 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce, 1 tbsp of soy sauce, and 1 tbsp of mild hot sauce (I used Frank’s Original since it’s a staple in many kitchens). In another medium-sized pot, boil some water and cook vermicelli noodles by package instruction. Drain and set aside to cool.

4. Continue to let the broth gently boil for 5 minutes. Add another batch of hoisin, soy sauce and hot sauce with the same measurements. Repeat once more after another 10 minutes of simmering.

[TIP]By doing this step in batches, you can gage how spicy or tangy you want the broth to be.

5. In the last 10 minutes of simmering, prepare your garnishes: chopped green onion, chopped cilantro, lime wedges and the rest of the sliced onion. You may also garnish with roughly chopped springs of Thai basil (a little harder to find in stores but worth it if you can!), bean sprouts or even a little siracha does wonders.

6. Place cooked vermicelli noodles in a bowl and any garnish you’d like, before serving the hot broth over top. Squeeze some lime in there and you got yourself a piping hot bowl of ridiculously good pho.

Almost all traditional phos incorporate actual protein– such as beef, chicken, or even raw shrimp–that cooks gently from the hot broth alone as you serve it. I stuck to the basics in my version because I wanted to focus mainly on the fact that this broth is amazingly diverse and tastes sweet, salty, tangy, and even sour from the lime.

That my friends, is what we call UMAMI. Also, if you haven’t ever used star anise before? You better never re-create pho without it from now on. :’)

Don’t be afraid to reach out for any questions with this recipe.
As always, peace and good eats.
– A❁

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