Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Phở?

Phở is a beef soup that was born in Hanoi during the last part of the 19th century. Phở is a combination of Chinese and French cooking. The square rice vermicelli noodles, called  bánh phở, and the spices that give the soup its distinctive aroma and flavor were imported from China. The French influence is responsible for the use of beef stock and the addition, in some cases, of red meat. Before the coming of the French, cattle were used only as work animals and the eating of beef was largely unknown.

The name, phở, pronounced "fuh?" with the question-like rise at the end (thus the marks over the "o"), is believed to be derived from the French name pot-au-feu (pot-on-the-fire), the name of a beef soup made with aromatic vegetables and seasonings. Phở benefits from the French method of adding charred onion to the broth for color and flavor, one of the techniques that distinguishes it from other Asian noodle soups. Vietnamese cooks took the Chinese, French and native influences and turned them into a dish that is uniquely Vietnamese.

True Southern-style cooking

Starting in 1954 when the country was divided into North and South Vietnam, phở spread south. In true Southern style, cooks improved it with additional ingredients, until it is the magnificent dish that we serve at Phở Saigon. The Saigon-style phở is a complex dish made from a dozen ingredients: spiced beef soup broth, bánh phở (noodles), green onions, fresh mint, cilantro (coriander leaves), basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, sliced chili peppers, and sliced raw beef, chicken, shrimp or fish, with Hoisin sauce and chili sauce as condiments.

2. How do you eat Phở ?

It takes just a little preparation on your part to create the perfect bowl of phở, suited to your personal tastes. The first time you do this, go slowly and do a lot of tasting, as it's easier to add more seasonings than to take away, for instance, too much spicy-hot.

OK get a Chinese spoon and a pair of chopsticks and let's begin.

Step One: cook the bean sprouts in the broth.

Your phở comes with just the right amount of bean sprouts for most people. A tip: order your phở with the bean sprouts already in and cooking. Normally, they are served on a side plate, covered with fresh herbs and a wedge of lime. You should set the herbs and lime aside and immediately put only the sprouts--not the herbs--in the bowl. Then use your chopsticks to push them down under the noodles. This is so that they will have a moment to cook and get a little tender. Make sure to submerge any pieces of rare beef that are still pink as well, if you like it done.

Don't put the herbs, the basil, cilantro, sliced chilies, or fresh lime juice in just yet.

Step Two: add Hoisin sauce, lime juice, and spicy sauce, and mix it up.

Now taste the broth. Add a dollop of Hoisin sauce (just a dollop) if you would like some sweetness. For some sour, squeeze the lime wedge into the soup. Finally, if you like it spicy, add sparingly the Sriracha sauce. Remember that it's going to be spicier when you slurp the broth by itself rather than with the noodles, so do it a little at a time until it's just right. (We don't recommend using the chili paste with Phở, but you may want the garlicky flavor...it's your soup.) Use your chopsticks to mix it all up thoroughly.

Step Three: sprinkle the fresh herbs on top.

Next, pull the leaves from the stems of fresh Basil and Cilantro and sprinkle them on top of your bowl. Don't mix them in: they are meant to be eaten completely fresh, floating on top. Add the slices of chili pepper, too, if you enjoy your phở WHOOPEE extra-spicy. Alternately, you can keep the chili peppers to the side for later use as practical jokes or to make your dog stop licking.

Step Four: Time to eat!

Now you can relax and enjoy your phở! Put your chopsticks in your dominant hand and the Chinese spoon in the other, and dig in. Try to simultaneously grab some noodles with a piece of beef and a basil leaf or a slice of chili pepper. Try to overcome your inhibitions and SLURP! Phở Saigon is an internationally-recognized Free-Slurping Zone, and slurping is also a perfectly polite Asian sign of enjoyment. Slurping also keeps you from splashing as much of the broth all over your front. And don't forget to slurp the broth from the spoon between bites of noodles and meat (yes, also a sign of enjoyment), so Don and Kerrie will know you're having a good time. Chúc quý khách ăn ngon miêng!

3. What's the difference between Vietnamese cuisine and Chinese food?

You will find that Vietnamese food is light and fresh-tasting when compared to Chinese. We use a lot of fresh vegetables (lettuce, beans sprouts, onions, etc.) and our sauces are very light when compared to Chinese sauces. Also, we only use the best cuts of meat, the choicest chicken and seafood, and the finest herbs and spices in our food. Our portions are generous: our intention is to give you a delicious meal, not to save money by using cheap ingredients or by skimping on the servings.

4. What are your most popular dishes?

Our two top sellers are P7. Special Beef Combination phở with Eye of Round steak, brisket, and Vietnamese Meat Balls (shown above) and R15. Combination Fried Rice, with egg, beef, chicken, and/or shrimp (shown at right). People seem to like the combination of meats in both dishes.

Our most popular appetizers are the A1. Spring Rolls and the  A2. Egg Rolls, and the most popular Rice Noodle (Bún) Bowl is B1. Grilled Pork. Our grilled pork is heavenly.

5. Do you have smaller portions? I got a lot more food last time than I could eat.

We do have a smaller bowl size for our phở, as well as an extra-large size and of course the regular size. For the rest of the entrees, please ask for a to-go box if you can't finish your meal. Our food reheats well at home and you can enjoy the delicious flavors again later. We would rather serve a little too much than have anyone go home hungry!

5. Is this genuine Vietnamese cuisine?

Don Nguyen was born south of Saigon (a.k.a. Ho Chi Minh City) and learned to cook there from his mother. Kerrie's mom came from Vietnam and taught her to cook in the traditional style, too. So, yes, although the food is sold by an American family using largely American ingredients, the recipes are genuine, traditional, Vietnamese cooking, and the flavors are authentic.

6. I'm allergic to wheat. What can I eat?

The vast majority of our food is wheat-free. We are very aware of food allergies, as some of our friends have nasty ones (including our Webmaster). The good news is that our dishes have been tested by our wheat-allergy-ridden friends, in the only way that is effective: they ate them to see. Nobody reported a reaction when they followed our recommendations below. 

Disclaimer: we can't guarantee "wheat-free" because we do use wheat products in the restaurant, and God only knows what the manufacturers will put in their products and not tell us. But we feel confident in our recommendations, as our wheat-sensitive friends eat here almost every day with no reactions.

The spring rolls and any of the phở dishes do great. Note that the Sriracha sauce is wheat-free, but be aware that Hoisin sauce has wheat in it, so avoid that (you can ask the cook to add a little sugar if you like your phở  sweeter, or put some in yourself).

You should be fine with the majority of the Rice Noodle or Bún dishes, as bún is a rice-only noodle.

The egg-rolls have wheat in the wrapper, so avoid those (but not the Spring rolls, which use a rice paper wrapper). Also, the Lemon Grass sauce has soy sauce in it, and our soy sauce contains wheat.

PLEASE stay away from the egg noodles! Pure wheat.

The rice dishes with grilled meats do very well.

For the stir-fry dishes, ask your waiter to make sure that the chef doesn't use soy sauce, but that's easy. Also, the chefs wash the wok thoroughly between orders.

The vinegar in the sweet-sour sauce is rice vinegar, so that should be fine, too. The grilled meats are marinated in wheat-free marinades, and the fish and shrimp are wheat-free, of course.

The drinks are of course wheat free, but be sure to read the label on the canned drinks, as they sometimes slip glucose in as the sweetener, and we can't control that.

Remember, when in doubt, ask your waiter to find out for you. We cannot be 100% certain that any condiment or sauce has never come in contact with wheat, but we try...and we try our food out on our friends, and they tell us that they feel safe as long as they are careful as described above.

We will be happy to even read bottle and can labels, if that is what it takes. The last thing we want is for you to have an allergic reaction, no matter how delicious the food is.

Also note that we are completely dairy-free except for the Thai coffees and teas, which have milk in them.

7.  Is it OK to use a fork instead of chopsticks?

You betcha. We are not chopstick chauvinists. A fork works well for most of our foods. We will, however, be happy to show you how to eat using chopsticks and of course serve up for you as much delicious food to practice with as you can afford. The advice is free.