Pho vs. Ramen: The Differences Between these Asian Soups427
with Matt Osier
Savory Spice Team
The popularity of Asian noodle soup dishes in America is unmistakable and the level of devotion each person has to their favorite soup is quite remarkable. In particular, pho and ramen dishes are popping up everywhere, and for good reason. These soups are cheap, quick, and full of delicious flavor. But there is often some confusion surrounding what the differences between pho and ramen are. To help settle any debates, I will explain some of the major differences between phenomenal pho and remarkable ramen.
Let’s start with the basics–where do these soups come from?
Pho (pronounced “fuh”) originated in the 20th century in northern Vietnam, at an intersection between several cultural influences. Traditionally made with beef, pho is a common breakfast food for the Vietnamese because of its filling nature—thanks to rice noodles and robust broth. Today in Vietnam, you can find pho on almost every street corner, whether from a street food vendor or a restaurant, making it one of the most recognized Vietnamese dishes around the world.
Ramen (pronounced “raa-muhn”) originated in the 19th or 20th century and is thought to have been introduced to the Japanese by Chinese immigrants. The earliest versions of ramen were made with wheat noodles in a rich, pork-based broth and topped with roast pork. Ramen was popular among the working-class and was served in street stalls and markets throughout Japan. In 1958, Nissin Foods introduced what we all know to be a college student’s best friend and the 10 cent sensation—instant ramen—and the world was hooked.
Broth & Preparation
Although they may look similar, pho and ramen broth have some key differences that give each their own distinct flavor and characteristics.
Pho, in its most basic form, consists of a light broth, rice noodles, and protein such as steak, brisket, tripe (cow stomach), or meatballs. Traditionally, the broth is made by simmering beef bones, oxtail, charred onions, and ginger for many hours. The broth is really where most of the flavor comes from, so adding bold spices like Star Anise, Black Cardamom, Coriander Seeds, and Cinnamon is crucial to give pho its—well, pho flavor. Lucky for you, we’ve developed a 40-Minute Pho recipe that gives you those familiar pho flavors in a lot less time.
Unlike pho, ramen broth is very rich and is generally made from boiled pork or chicken bones, kombu (kelp), bonito flakes (dried tuna), ginger, garlic, and miso (fermented soybean paste). However, just like pho, ramen’s flavor depends on its broth preparation. Ramen broth tends to be slightly thicker and cloudier due to the additions of miso and collagen from the pork bones. By adding all of the flavors together and simmering them anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, you are able to extract every bit of essence to make a complex, delicious ramen broth. We’ve also developed a simple and flavorful Black Garlic Dumpling Ramen recipe for you to try yourself.
Ingredients & Toppings
The final step before you tuck into your pho or ramen is to add as many toppings as possible.
Pho is a little more simple when it comes to what toppings make for a good bowl of pho. When you visit a Vietnamese restaurant, you’re given a bowl of broth, rice noodles, and meat and it's up to you to add the toppings. Traditional toppings include a variety of herbs (like Thai basil, mint, and cilantro), bean sprouts, Jalapeño or Fresno chiles, fish sauce, and hot chili oil. In the United States, a Vietnamese restaurant will include lime wedges and Sriracha. This allows you to customize your pho to your personal taste and is one reason why pho can be described in so many different ways.
Ramen, on the other hand, is served with all the toppings in tow. The typical topping lineup depends on your choice between the 3 common broth bases—Tonkotshu (pork bone broth), Shoyu (Soy sauce broth), or Miso. Common toppings include Chashu (barbecued pork), green onion, nori (seaweed), pickled radish, fish cakes, soft-boiled eggs, chile peppers, carrots, corn, and bean sprouts. Regardless of how the ramen is topped and the ingredients involved, you can rest assured that each inclusion is purposeful towards creating a cohesive dish.
Now that you’re an expert on the differences between pho and ramen, take your new-found knowledge out into the world and see these soups in a new light. Grab a friend or two, visit a pho or ramen shop, and have your own pho vs ramen discussion—because nothing brings a group of people together like a hot bowl of soup.
Do you prefer pho or ramen? Tell us in the comments below and tag us on Instagram. with photos of your favorite soup!