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EATING WELL IN KANSAS CITY - December 2018 - Kansas City

Pho is Food for the Season

By Mary T. Nguyen


This is my favorite time of year.

I love the overlapping conditions of late fall and early winter. The crunch underfoot as you walk outside from stomping on fallen leaves or perhaps, if lucky, an early snowfall.

The cold encourages a stillness indoors and out, while the holidays bring families together. It motivates you to seek warmth, both literal and figurative.

The quest for comfort reigns supreme. And in my family nothing brings comfort like pho.

Pronounced "fuh-uh," pho is a Vietnamese soup consisting of primarily meat, rice noodles, herbs, and broth. Despite its simple presentation, the broth has a rich depth of flavor that enrobes the soup's components as it’s slurped from the bowl. 

That flavor comes from hours of simmering herbs and spices in a rich broth of boiled meat and bones and fills not just your kitchen, but entire home, with the smell that is 100 percent the essence of warmth. And because those spices include a lot of what might be considered traditionally autumnal (anise, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and clove).

Actually, the smell of these spices has never been season-specific for me. The "pumpkin spices" could fill our house growing up at any time of year; thinking about it now I wonder if my mom made this meal when meat was on sale, since the quality of the meat is essential to the flavor of the broth. And with this soup, the broth is key.

When my brothers and I make this dish, we try to use local free-range chickens raised on natural feeds. These chickens tend to be more nutritious and the meat and bones contribute more flavor when simmered. You can find quality chickens and other meats from producers at winter farmers markets or at local butcher shops such as Broadway Butcher Shop (midtown Kansas City) or Local Pig (soon to be located in the River Market area).

 It is served with a buffet of additional elements that the diner can opt to add or not to make it more herbaceous, spicy, crunchy, salty.

In spring and summer, many of the accoutrements can also be grown yourself or purchased from local growers. These include Thai or cinnamon basil, cilantro, scallions, jalapenos, bean sprouts, and white onion. Others include hoisin sauce, fish sauce (nuoc mam), chili sauce, and lime.

 I hope this dish brings as much warmth to your home and heart as it does mine.


Mai Nguyen's Pho Ga  (Chicken Pho)


Serves: About 6

Cooking time:

Active: about 30-45 minutes

Inactive: 4-6 hours



Large stockpot

Small saucepan

Small sauté pan

Fine mesh strainer

Tea/spice sachet


Broth ingredients:

One pound of chicken wings

One whole fryer chicken, butchered

One Vidalia onion, peeled and halved

One three-inch piece of ginger root, sliced lengthwise into thirds

Fish sauce

Rock sugar

Four black cardamom pods, split open

8 cloves

One 2-inch cinnamon stick

1/2 tsp. black peppercorns

1/2 tsp. fennel seeds

1/2 tsp. coriander seeds

Four star anise pods

Chicken bouillon


For serving:

Two packs of banh pho noodles

White pepper

Half a Vidalia onion, sliced razor thin

Chopped scallions



Jalapeno slices


Bean sprouts

Thai basil


Hoisin sauce

Sriracha/Chili sauce


First, parboil the chicken: Fill stockpot about 2/3 with water and bring to a boil. Place all the meat in and return to boil. Boil, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside. Discard water. Rinse pot.

In small sauté pan, brown cut sides of onion and ginger. This may also be done under the broiler or over the flame of a gas range. Place charred onion and ginger in small saucepan with a little water and cover with lid. Toast spices in pan until just fragrant (3 to 5 minutes). Place spices in sachet and add to saucepan with onion and ginger.


Fill stockpot with 5 quarts of water. Bring to boil. Add onion and ginger. Return to boil. Add chicken. Bring to a boil. Add spice sachet. Reduce heat so water is just simmering (too high a heat and the chicken will break apart). Let simmer, covered with lid, for about 2 hours. Remove large chicken pieces—but not game hen or wings, which will cook to flavor the broth. Shred chicken and set aside for service. Let broth remain simmering, covered, for at least four hours and up to overnight.


Add one piece of rock sugar (about a 1-inch piece). Add fish sauce and bouillon to taste.


When ready to serve, prepare banh pho as directed on the package (usually boil in large saucepan for a certain amount of time). Divide noodles into bowls. Add shredded chicken, slices of onion, scallions and dash of white pepper. Ladle broth into bowl, submerging noodles, through a mesh strainer (to catch particulates; broth should be "clean.") Serve while piping hot, with garnishes on the side. Add garnishes to taste and enjoy the warmth!



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Mary T. Nguyen is the communications manager of Cultivate Kansas City, a homegrown nonprofit that builds foods, farms and community for a healthy local food system for all. Her favorite vegetable is the carrot. Her favorite fruit is lime. Learn more about Cultivate Kansas City at


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