My family regularly had our own pho party on Sunday mornings, but when I was growing up, I didn’t realize it. We’d attend 8 a.m. Mass, eat the little communion wafer, and our tummies would start to rumble. “Join us for doughnuts and coffee in the hall after service,” someone would announce but I knew that we’d never participate. My family quickly piled back into our station wagon and sped home.
Mom would change out of her fancy silk ao dai tunic and slip on a more casual blouse suitable for cooking. Some of us would set the table while others formed an assembly line to set up the bowls for pho. I was often in charge of portioning out the noodles. “Remember to put extra noodles in Dad’s bowl,” someone would say, as if I didn’t remember from the zillion times before.
“I don’t like the raw onion. None for me,” my sister Tasha would chime in. I quickly learned that pho was highly personalized. Within my own family of seven people, each had his or her preferences.
As we assembled the bowls, we’d remember whose was where. Meanwhile, my mom reheated the broth and finished its seasoning. When all the pho bowls were assembled, she’d ladle the hot broth into each bowl and someone would bring it to the table. My dad would always be served first. We chatted while we ate and it was a fun group activity. Our family of seven was having our own pho brunch party.
There was work at the front end but my mom did it mostly on Saturday, when she brewed the beef or chicken pho. The broth and cooked proteins sat in the fridge overnight and the next morning, she prepped the noodles, toppings, and garnishes before going to church. She then marshaled us kids to help her put things together. Together as a family, we were a mini pho stand and pho fest!
To host a pho party of your own, follow our family's playbook but add some other considerations for guests. Hugh, one of the recipe testers who helps me with my books, recently emailed about his pho celebration:
My in-laws are in town and I've made the quick veggie pho from the cookbook for a bunch of extended family who are over. It was a hit. I set up a station where everyone could take their bowl of dunked noodles and customize the ingredients then come back for broth and it was efficient and let everyone make their bowl according to dietary need (no noodles for people doing ketogenic, just noodles for one of the picky kids). Good times!
Hugh sent along photos and one of the great things was this: there were different eating areas! Kids had a table, some people ate around a dining table while others were comfy slurping by a coffee table. The collage at the top of this post reminded me of Nguyen clan gatherings my family had on weekends long ago. He also added that a pho party is a great way to entertain 16 to 20 people.
Pho Party Menu Planning and Organization Tips
Ready to plan your own pho fest? For the pho noodle soup, make one broth but vary the toppings. If you’re industrious, have two kinds of broth – say the vegetarian “beef” pho and one of the beef pho recipes since that combo would allow people to compare flavors. Guests can mix and match toppings, if their dietary and taste preferences allow. Here’s how to make your own frozen pho kits from The Pho Cookbook:
For easy storage and thawing, fill ziplock plastic bags with broth. Initially freeze them on trays or baking sheets so they’ll freeze flat. To use, partially thaw to loosen the broth from the bag, then tap the bag on the edge of the counter or sink to break into pieces that will slide out into a pot for reheating. Wash, dry, and reuse the bag. Freeze uncut pieces of cooked meat separately.
You may also consider making just the vegetarian “beef” broth and offer meatless and meaty toppings. At Lucy’s pho shop in hipster Brooklyn, NY, the broth is vegetarian but for the topping, customers may choose between barbecue beef brisket, chicken, or tofu. It worked when I had this bowl of beef brisket pho:
If you want to build a more elaborate pho menu, add light snacks and a beverage. Pho in and of itself is a meal in a bowl. However, you may want to show off your pho chops.
Options include goi cuon rice paper rolls, which are always crowd pleasers and fabulous when made fresh at home. The classic version with shrimp is awesome but you can opt for tofu filling or something else. Regardless, set up a “roll your own” station with the filling components and rice paper. Have the sauce nearby and let guests go at it. They can roll and eat as they go.
To further set the mood, offer beverages like lager beer on ice, cocktails such as the three in The Pho Cookbook, or a zippy limeade made with soda water. The coconut coffee in the book on page 148 is good because it’s not all rocket fuel, heart-thumping stuff, but relatively tame with the slushie of coconut milk that’s involved.
If you’re up for a bigger cooking production, go for the Hanoi-style pho noodle rolls on page 133 of the book. Any of the pho pot sticker recipes in the book are great for a crowd. Either have people help fill, shape and pan-fry the dumplings or, you make the fillings in advance (freeze them, if you want) and cook them off to serve guests after they arrive. Note that the pot stickers are great as steamed dumplings, too; the instructions for steaming are on page 130. To offer gluten-free pot stickers, use this GF dumpling wrapper recipe at VWK. Noodle soup and dumplings are great friends.
To balance out a bowl of pho noodle soup, add a salad. The two slaw recipes in the book on pages 141 and 142 are perfect because they can sit around after being tossed. The cashew, coconut, and cabbage salad is deliciously vegan and the spicy chicken slaw makes great use of extra chicken meat that may be around from a batch of chicken pho!
Pho parties are fun because people exchange tips and discuss their preferences for broth, toppings, and garnishes. The flexible nature of the noodle soup inspires people to jump into conversations and share ideas. Despite growing up with pho, I never tire of the socializing that goes on when people are enjoying a good bowl of pho. I’ve witnessed it at my pho classes as well as at my home when I’ve invited guests to assemble their own bowls.
I hope you’ll be inviting folks over for a pho fest soon! If you have pho party tips to share, don't hold back.
P.S. I tweaked the comments method for VWK to encourage folks to chime in! It should be easier, though comments from the last two years under Disqus were delete. Here's a pho highlight from earlier this week!