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Pho vs. Ramen: The Differences Between these Asian Soups

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with Matt Osier
Savory Spice Team
February 3, 2020
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Pho vs. Ramen: The Differences Between these Asian Soups

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.

Origin

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

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

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.

Ingredients & Toppings

The Recap

Recap of Pho vs. Ramen differences

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!


Comments on this Article


(guest), on February 04, 2020

Loved this article! Very informative!

(guest), on February 04, 2020

Thank you for explaining the difference as I love both. Ramen is my go to when I have a cold or the flu. I look forward to try your recipes.

(guest), on February 04, 2020

Hello, Possible to make the link for Pho available? Thank you.

(guest), on February 04, 2020

Excellent explanation of the difference between my 2 favorite Asian soups. Thanks for the pronunciation guide and recipes too!

(guest), on February 04, 2020

This article is a great synopsis of two superb soups. Thanks very much!

mosier (registered user) on February 04, 2020

Hello and thanks for all the great comments! I have added the link to the 40-Minute Pho Recipe above.

(guest), on February 04, 2020

Very informative article, thank you! I love both but ramen usually wins when given the choice. Yum.

(guest), on February 04, 2020

Awesome write up! Can’t wait to try the mixes for the two soups :)

(guest), on February 04, 2020

Love this! Can't wait to make mine!

(guest), on February 04, 2020

Very informative and well written. Easy to understand and to the point. Thanks also for making the spices available so we can enjoy!

(guest), on February 04, 2020

The black garlic dumpling ramen sounds amazing! But unfortunately it only brings up the pho recipe. Could you please fix the link to the ramen recipe. Thank you!

(guest), on February 04, 2020

Nice summary of the soups. I will say that I always received lime wedges when ordering pho in Vietnam, so that's not a US-only thing. Sriracha, of course, is. The condiment of choice in Vietnam is ketchup, which actually has its origins there—their modern version is a bit spicy and sour. You're correct that there are three main types of ramen broths—soy sauce, miso, and "tonkotsu" (no 'h' in there, it's pronounced "tone coats")—this means miso is not always an ingredient. Ramen is now the most popular restaurant food in Japan, with Japanese-style curry being the favorite make-at-home food (and thus the two most popular foods in Japan being not inherently Japanese). Also, your picture shows one of my favorite Japanese ingredients that wasn't mentioned: lotus root. Definitely try it if you can find some! Anyone interested in more Japanese soups should try nabe as well—much easier to make at home (and personally I prefer it to ramen).

(guest), on February 05, 2020

The kind of article I had to read with a napkin, have to stop the drooling somehow;) Now, off to the kitchen! Loved the additional comments by one of the guests discussing ketchup, ramen, Japanese street food and on. Good job

(guest), on February 08, 2020

Love this, was very helpful.I am a Ramen person.Thanks.

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