Vietnamese Chicken Pho


chicken pho 1

A fragrant and soul-soothing beef pho is often what I crave when only a steaming bowl of noodle soup will do. But when time is sparse and I don’t have 3 hours to potter about in the kitchen, a chicken pho is a rather wonderful alternative.

According to Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl in their delightful new cookbook on Vietnamese cuisine, Real Vietnamese Cooking, chicken pho was invented during the Japanese occupation of Vietnam in the 1940s when beef was in short supply. The broth is lighter and sweeter, but with a familiar nod to the traditional beef version, thanks to the use of the same fresh herbs and spices.

I make chicken soup at home quite frequently; it’s almost my default menu when I don’t have a lot of time to cook because I can just let the chicken simmer gently on the stove while I’m tending to something else. At other times, I simply stick the chicken in the oven to roast. But if you are in the habit of frequently making your own chicken soup or stock, turning it into a pho is a nice way of varying the menu a little. I often do the same when I have homemade beef stock to hand, and you can get some ideas on how to turn a simple stock into a pho broth in my recipe for Frenchy Pho.

chicken pho 2

The recipe below is adapted from Real Vietnamese Cooking, a fabulous collection of home-style Vietnamese recipes written by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl, two Australians who are passionate about the culinary scene in Vietnam. And so extensive is her knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine that Tracey Lister is also one of the directors of the successful Hanoi Cooking Centre and helped to set up KOTO, an Australian-Vietnamese charity which trains disadvantaged youths in Vietnam to cook and serve.

Something unusual about their recipe for chicken pho is the addition of thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves upon serving, alongside the more commonly used herbs. Kaffir lime leaves are not widely used in Vietnamese cooking, and especially not when serving pho. However, they do add a lovely citrus note to the dish and their addition is likely to be a regional variation.

chicken pho 3

While it’s hard to beat a chicken noodle soup in any form, I’m rather impartial to the Vietnamese version. I made a double batch of this chicken pho and felt smug throughout the week just knowing that a big, comforting bowl of noodle soup could be assembled for dinner in minutes.

Vietnamese Chicken Pho

vietnamese chicken pho

Recipe adapted from Real Vietnamese Cooking by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 30 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: Serves 4


For the broth

  • 8 shallots or 2 small onions, unpeeled and left whole
  • 4cm (1½ inch) fresh ginger, unpeeled but sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 whole chicken, about 1.5kg (3½ lb)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce

To serve

  • 800 g (28 oz) fresh rice noodles
  • spring onions (scallions), finely sliced
  • coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
  • Thai basil, roughly torn
  • red chillies, finely chopped
  • lemon or lime wedges
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Sriracha hot sauce


  1. Chargrill the shallots (or onions) and ginger on high heat, or over an open flame if you have a gas stove, until they are slightly charred.
  2. Place the chicken in a large pot and add just enough cold water to just cover the chicken. Bring to the boil and remove any impurities.
  3. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the chargrilled onions and ginger, as well as the cinnamon stick and star anise. Simmer for about 1 hour. During this time, skim off any impurities from time to time, and top up with boiling water if the broth has reduced a lot. I try to maintain the same water level from start to finish.
  4. Remove the chicken to a large bowl, and let it cool a little before shredding the meat.
  5. Strain the broth through a fine sieve into a clean pot and return to the heat.
  6. Season the broth with the salt, sugar and fish sauce. Taste for seasoning. If the broth is too strong or concentrated, add some boiling water.
  7. Bring a pot of water to the boil and soften the fresh rice noodles for just a few seconds.
  8. Divide the noodles between 4 large bowls with a handful of shredded chicken on top of each.
  9. Ladle the hot broth into each bowl and serve with the fresh herbs and accompaniments.

Kitchen Notes

  1. You will need roughly 200 g (7 oz) of fresh rice noodles per person, but use more or less as you wish. If you cannot find fresh rice noodles, you can also use dried rice noodles and rehydrate them as per the packet instructions. Make sure they are the thin and flat noodles.
  2. To ensure that you have a flavourful broth, use a pot which will comfortably fit the chicken and pour in enough water so that it is only just covering the chicken. If you later find that the broth is too concentrated, simply dilute with some water. Usually, my method creates a fairly concentrated broth, but it is much easier to dilute a strong broth than to add flavour to a weak broth.
  3. For more details and information on serving pho, please see my post on Vietnamese Pho Beef Noodle Soup.

Kitchenware Notes

The beautiful round wooden board used in the above photos is made by Sophie Conran for T&G Woodware which you can purchase online here.

Share your photos!

If you have made this dish, I would love to hear how it turned out! Please leave a comment below and share your photos on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter using #eatlittlebird


  1. Gourmet Getaways 14 May 2014

    Simply irresistible! I like the way you photographed this dish and the manner the recipe was scribbled.They say hot noodles are best for the cold weather. Well, hot or cold, I’m gonna make my bowl out of this great recipe. Thank you!

    Gourmet Getaways

    • Eat, Little Bird 14 May 2014

      Thank you, Julie! I often crave a bowl of noodle soup when the weather is cold, but I eat noodle soups just as often in hot weather too! I always find it so nourishing. Hope you will enjoy this recipe.

  2. Cecilia 14 May 2014

    I do love Vietnamese food, although I don’t cook it so often. It is a little difficult to find all the ingredients here in rural France. When I lived in San Francisco, my favourite place was a little Vietnamese cafe not far from our home and they made great pho. The best ‘pick-me-up’ food, I know. As always, a terrific and inspiring post. Thank you!

    • Eat, Little Bird 14 May 2014

      Ooh I agree – pho is such great “pick-me-up” food! But then, I have a soft spot for any type of chicken noodle soup. It used to also be a bit difficult to find Asian ingredients in Zurich, but I think the Swiss have become more adventurous or there is now more demand, so I can now easily find most items. However, where my family live in Brittany and Normandy, it’s virtually impossible to find coriander, chillies, fish sauce, soy sauce … anything Asian!

  3. Jo 14 May 2014

    This really looks wonderful Thanh. And so light and fresh. I’ve just put the ingredients on our shopping list – it looks just the ticket to help us get back on course with healthy eating having ever so slightly derailed in the past couple of weeks. Beautiful post 🙂

    • Eat, Little Bird 14 May 2014

      Thanks Jo! This dish is 100% healthy 🙂 But maybe not if you eat as much as I do in one serve … 😉

  4. Paula 14 May 2014

    Even if it’s not my favorite type of food, I really like this dish!!!! So great flavors, and I want to try rice noodles!!

    I’ve never tried them, my mother has told me that they’re delicious. But I thinks her recipes with them are not as adventurous as yours 😛

    Have a nice week, Thanh!!! 😀

    • Eat, Little Bird 14 May 2014

      I need to somehow convert you to noodle soups … I think I need to cook for you one day! 😉

  5. Rushi 14 May 2014

    Oooooh chicken pho. I love chicken based soup and this seems so appealing. A no fuss dish that’s bang on flavour 🙂 These are the times I wish that you lived next door…..

    • Eat, Little Bird 17 May 2014

      Almost next door … 😉 Hope you are well and that someone is making chicken soup for you!

  6. Tracey Lister 20 May 2014

    Hi. Yes, the addition of lime leaf is new. It started appearing in Hanoi about 6 years ago and I’ve become quite addicted to it. I have a Pho Ga for lunch most days. The lime leaf in Vietnam is a little different to kaffir lime leaf, but a very similar perfume and taste, so kaffir can be used.
    Loving the blog and the photos. Best Tracey

    • Eat, Little Bird 20 May 2014

      Hi Tracey,
      So lovely of you to pop by and leave a message! That’s very interesting to hear that the use of lime leaves have become more popular in Vietnamese cooking, especially in the north. I suppose it makes sense, considering that the neighbouring countries use it quite frequently in their cooking. Here in Switzerland, lemongrass can sometimes be tricky to find, so I sometimes substitute with kaffir lime leaves from a little plant which I have been nurturing at home for a few years. Of course, it’s not the same, but I love the fragrance and citrus flavour from the kaffir lime leaves and can see how it would work well with pho. I’m looking forward to sharing more recipes from your lovely book 🙂

  7. mycookinghut 30 June 2014

    Pho is my all time favourite and I never get bored of eating it!

    • Eat, Little Bird 9 July 2014

      I’m so happy to see you pop by my blog! I never get bored of eating Pho either … I really wish I could have a bowl for dinner tonight! P.S. I love your cookbook 🙂 I have the French version and love the recipes.

  8. Danielle Nguyen 22 October 2014

    Hi! I love your blog. I just discovered it today and have been pouring over your posts and photos. Everything is so beautiful. I do have one question, though. Is there a specific type of chicken you use in this recipe. I remembered that my mom would use a ga di bo or “walking” chicken to make Pho Ga. I wasn’t sure if you have any thoughts on that?

    • Eat, Little Bird 27 October 2014

      Hi Danielle,

      Thanks for popping by my blog 🙂 I know what you mean … my mum uses a similar chicken when making Vietnamese chicken soups, and especially chicken congee. I think she calls the chicken something else, but it is essentially an older, free-range chicken which gives the broth a stronger flavour. It also has tougher meat than “normal chicken”. Here in Zurich, it’s possible to buy something similar called a “boiling chicken” which is an older chicken which comes with the neck and feet attached. While I prefer the flavour of the broth when using these chickens, I’m not a fan of their tough meat. So I would usually only use such chickens when making a plain chicken broth and when I don’t need to use the meat, although I do feel it is a waste to throw away the cooked meat.

      As a compromise, I often use a good-quality organic chicken. I think they give a good flavour to the broth and the meat is firm but still tender. On the other hand, non-organic supermarket chicken will impart a much weaker flavour to the broth, and their meat is often very soft.

      Whenever my mum couldn’t go to an Asian butcher for her preferred chicken, she then often had to resort to the supermarket variety (when I was growing up, supermarkets didn’t sell organic chicken), and would then always complain afterwards that her soup didn’t taste nice because the chicken was inferior. As a child, I couldn’t really tell the difference! But now the difference is much more noticeable to me. Sometimes you can’t avoid using non-organic supermarket chicken, but I always try to buy organic when I can.

      So that’s my two-cents’ worth 😉

  9. Sofie 6 February 2016


    I don’t know if you are still reading comments on this post, but I just want to add some sort of insight about the addition of lime leaves to pho ga. Tracey Lister said it’s a new trend that took place recently, but it’s not.

    Lime leaves and chicken is the classic combo. You know those chickens sold in whole along with the head and feet? In special occasions, Hanoians cook them and set them on a plate in front of the altar. When it is done, the chicken will be chopped in pieces, arranged on a plate, sprinkled with thinly sliced lime leaves and dipped in a sauce made of salt, pepper and lime juice. It ‘s one very much traditional but boring dish that is always there during our Tet’s meal, which is why it’s quickly losing popularity and would now only and only be present in Tet, just because. I’m a bit surprised that Tracey didn’t know this.

    And when we end up with a bunch of boiled chickens and really aren’t too thrilled about eating it the other way, we shred the chicken meat, throw the bones, the feet, the heads back into the broth pot and simmer it, fetch some banh pho and cook it up for the entire family, garnish the bowl with a generous pinch of lime leaves. Our family even has a lime plant sitting on the balcony just for this dish. So I can assure you it’s not a new invention. When you eat pho ga out, if there’s no lime leaves on top, it would be because the vendors are being cheap, not that it’s unheard of.

    Just my two cent.

    • Eat, Little Bird 7 February 2016

      Hi Sofie,
      Thank you so much for your comment and insights. It’s always very interesting to hear how dishes have evolved and why some ingredients are sometimes included or left out entirely. The Vietnamese are very resourceful people, so it doesn’t surprise me to read that food from one dish might be transformed into a different dish.

      My family is predominantly from the south but I have some relatives from the north, and I think I know the dish you are talking about, although I can’t remember if I have eaten it with lime leaves. That said, I have never eaten this dish in Vietnam and that might explain some of the geographical changes.

      I must admit that I rarely ever order Pho Ga when I go to a Vietnamese restaurant. When I was younger and went to Vietnamese restaurants with my mum, we sometimes ordered Pho Ga but were often disappointed because it was usually a Pho Bo broth with shredded chicken – you could taste that it wasn’t a chicken broth! My mum used to get really mad about this and complained that the restaurants were cheating! Since then, I only ever ate Pho Ga at home when she cooked it, or now when I try to make it myself.

      Coincidentally, my husband and I were just discussing today about when we can visit Vietnam. I would love to try Pho Ga and so many other dishes in Vietnam! I have travelled there a few times but I haven’t been there in 14 years!

      Thanks again for your comment and I hope to see you again on this blog 🙂 You sound like you know a lot about Vietnamese cuisine and I would love to hear more!

  10. Sofie 7 February 2016


    I’m glad to be able to inform you about some regional culinary differences. Well, I can relate. If you compare common dishes in Tet meal among the three regions of Vietnam, you coming from the South would be surprised about what people eat, say, up North. I like that it’s different, that the diversity is thriving. It would be boring if everything is the same, which defeats part of the reasons why we travel: the food.

    I agree with the part about eating Vietnamese food anywhere but in Vietnam. They have extensive menus, but it seems everything falls into ‘could be better’, compared to the one dish stands in Vietnam, where they perfect the art of crafting food. The one Vietnamese imbiss I used to work for did exactly what you said: they use the same broth for pho ga and pho bo! I resort to cooking it at home, but with other kind of noodles, like bun or mien, since I kinda have a high expectation for pho, the noodle itself, and am not really fond of the dry version.

    Do plan a comeback, since 14 years is a long time, you will be surprised at how fast Vietnam changed. And if you ever decide to come up North to Hanoi and are clueless about what to do where to eat, I do recommend Hanoi Kids. They have raging reviews on tripadvisor, not because the service is great, it’s also free.

    I will try to stop by this site often. I love the layout of the site and the photos are more than gorgeous.

  11. Valentina | The Baking Fairy 12 February 2017

    What an absolutely stunning dish! I love that this sounds so simple to make and perfect for a chilly night as an alternative to the classic chicken noodle soup. I’ll be trying this soon!

    • Eat, Little Bird 12 February 2017

      Thank you! All chicken noodle soup is comforting, but I am somewhat partial to the Vietnamese version 😉 Hope you will enjoy this recipe!

  12. Eloise 7 March 2017

    Hi there, I am looking forward to trying this version. I am wondering, do you leave the lid on when simmering the chicken? Thanks, Eloise

    • Eat, Little Bird 7 March 2017

      Hi Eloise,
      No, I don’t leave the lid on when simmering the chicken. I like to make sure that the pot is on a gentle simmer and I frequently check on the pot to skim off the impurities. Once the chicken has been removed from the pot and you have added the seasonings, taste for seasoning to see if you need to add a bit more of anything. At this point, I often find that the stock is a bit strong, so I add more boiling water to dilute it a bit. I prefer to make the chicken broth this way because if you add too much water at the beginning, it’s hard to fix an already diluted broth. Hope this helps!

  13. Eloise 8 March 2017

    Thank you 🙂

  14. […] CHICKEN PHO – Eat Little Bird | There are so many wonderful flavors in this Vietnamese soup like star anise, cinnamon, cilantro, red chili, citrus, and basil. In the end, it’s a simple, but flavorful, bowl of fresh rice noodles in a simple from-scratch chicken broth. […]

  15. Emerson 28 October 2017

    Oh, yummy. Yummy. Yummy. I stumbled on your website to make Char Sui tomorrow, but I have the ingredients to make the Chicken Pho. I love Pho, but Pho is a bit arduous so I am thrilled to try your Chicken recipe. Would you please clarify what you mean by leaving the shallot unpeeled? Do you mean leaving the skin on or peeling off the skin bUT leaving the shallot intact? Thank you. I also cannot wait to try the hot and sour soup. Actually, I cannot wait to try most of your recipes.

    • Eat, Little Bird 29 October 2017

      Hi Emerson,
      Thank you for your lovely words! I am actually in the process of updating my recipe for Chicken Pho (just changing the format), so I will make the instructions a bit clearer in relation to the shallots. The shallots should be unpeeled and left whole. So you grill the shallots with the skin on until they are slightly charred. By leaving the skin on, it will give the broth a bit of colour. For the ginger, I also leave it unpeeled but I slice it in half so that you get a more intense flavour from the ginger. I hope this makes sense, but let me know if you have any other questions 🙂 And I hope you will enjoy my recipes! Thanks for popping by.


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