Sep 2008

Phở Chay – Vegetarian Phở

My mom prepares this vegetarian version of pho on auspicious days according to the Lunar Calendar when all Buddhists refrain from eating meat. The broth is fragrant with star anise and five spice, while the “meat” is comprised of mushrooms and wheat gluten.

For noodles

  • 1 package of fresh or dried banh pho (flat rice noodles). Prepare according to directions on package. Make sure to rinse noodles well under cold running water after boiling.

For broth

  • 1 leek (leaves only)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 ginger
  • 5 star anise
  • 14 oz. vegetable broth
  • Water
  • ¾ tablespoon Chinese five spice
  • Soy sauce (Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce)
  • Sugar

For “meat”

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 leek (stem only)
  • 1 ten oz. can of mock meat/fried wheat gluten (mock duck, chicken, abalone, etc.)
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms (any variety)
  • Soy sauce (Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce)
  • Mushroom seasoning
  • Black pepper

Make soup

For the soup, heat vegetable broth and 10-12 cups of water in a medium-sized soup pot, leaving enough room for the ginger, onion and leek leaves.

Remove the outer layer of the onion and add it whole to the broth. Leaving the skin of the ginger intact, chop off the nubs and bruise using a mortar and pestle. Add to broth. Separate the leek leaves from the stems and add them to the broth along with five star anise “fruits.” Let the soup boil on high heat for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the onion and ginger have softened.

Once the onion and ginger have softened, discard the leek leaves. Add ¾ tablespoon of Chinese five spice to the broth and season with soy sauce and sugar to taste. Continue to cook on medium heat for an additional 15 minutes.

Make “meat” mixture

While the soup is boiling, thinly slice the leek stems and chop the mushrooms and mock meat into bite-sized pieces. Deep-fried tofu can be used in place of mock meat if desired.

Saute the leeks with vegetable oil in a medium-sized pan until golden. Add the mushrooms and “meat” to the leek and oil mixture along with half of the canned mock meat “juice.” Season to taste with soy sauce, mushroom seasoning and black pepper. Tip: My mom says to make the “meat” mixture slightly salty because the broth will balance out the excess saltiness.

Assemble and garnish

Grab a bowl and fill it with noodles and the “meat” mixture. Pour some hot broth on top. To garnish, add fresh or steamed bean sprouts, onions, cilantro, lime juice, herbs (basil, saw tooth herb, etc.), hoisin sauce and chili sauce.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


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33 thoughts on “Phở Chay – Vegetarian Phở

  1. I’d never heard of a vegetarian pho, but I also didn’t know that there are meatless days in the Vietnamese calendar. The Greek Orthodox calendar has more meatless (no meat, no dairy, but shellfish are ok. Go figure) days than not, so while we aren’t very good about observing the fast calendar I’m always looking for something interesting to serve on those days. This would be a great one to try!

  2. I made this for my family last weekend and they LOVED it. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. This was great. I messed up a few things, but it seems to be forgiving. I ended up running around Portland looking for the Chinese five spice while the broth was boiling. I finally broke down and got the main ingredients for the 5 spice and used that instead, wasn’t too bad after all. I remembered eating nothing but pho ba. the veggie pho is just as delicious. Thanks for the great recipe!

  4. When I make Pho Ga (Chicken Pho) I use ginger and onions in making the stock, but what I do (and I believe it’s the same process when you make Pho Bo (Beef Pho)) is:

    – I at least quarter the onions, and cut the ginger into smaller thick chunky strips.

    – The ginger and onion are then put over a gas hob on a naked flame (you can put them under a grill) for a couple of minutes or so to slightly cook them but really to burn them. Becareful to just burn them slightly!

    – Then bash the ginger slightly to release the juices and flavour and chuck it into stock pot to cook – adding some star anis also

    I find that the burnt ginger and onions in combination with the star anis gives the stock that authentic pho smell that we all know and love.

    Guess you can try it the next time you make vegetarian pho and let me know how it goes – I’m too much of carnivore to be eating vegetarian pho 🙂

  5. Made the veggie pho 2 nights in a row, we liked it that much. I didn’t have the star anise and made the “4” spice with what I had available in the pantry (fennel, sichuan and black pepper and cloves). Still came out tasty. Thank you mom.

  6. That recipe sounds great. Maybe I’ll try it sometimes. But since I discovered this insanely good and easy Pho product called Happy Pho that I can use to make pho from scratch in 15 mins I’ve found it hard to motivate myself to cook Pho without it. It’s by a comapny called Star Anise Foods and the founder used a secret family recipe from her grandparents’ restaurant from Nam Dinh where Pho came from to make the spice packet in the kit. You get a spice packet with all natural and organic spices, and brown rice noodles and just have to add some chicken or beef broth and fresh herb and mushroom or meat if you like. I was skeptical at first but now I completely LOVE them. I got mine from Noe Valley Whole Foods, you can get them online at — check them out here

  7. I made this soup last night. Oh, wow! It tasted so good! I made a few changes, but kept the recipe essentially the same. Thanks so much for the great recipe. Rice noodles are amazing! And the five spice powder added such a good flavour.

  8. I made this yesterday and IT WAS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!! I can’t believe I never tried pho before.

    I used extra firm tofu as the “mock meat” and the soup was incredible. Thanks for the recipe!

    My boyfriend thought it was delicious as well.

  9. pho chay it look nice . but sorry do chay doesn’t have onion please. PHO chay no onion or garlic. i eat vegetarian

  10. What’s a good mushroom seasoning substitute? I went to 2 chinese grocery stores and couldn’t find any!

  11. I made this last night since the vegetarian BF came down with a cold. It was yummmy.. I made it with tofu and meatless chicken. Friends are already asking us to do a pho party in the near future 😉 Thank you for posting this recipe! Also, I never heard of Chinese 5 spice until now. It definitely made a different when I added it to the broth. Reminds me of how my parents would make Pho with Beef stock.

  12. Wonderful recipe! I have never had pho before but made your recipe and was just wowed over how good it was, I even blogged about it. I used tofu in mine. Delish! Thank you.

  13. Hi I was addicted to Than Bros vegetarian pho chay in Seattle and have looked in vain for decent veggio pho recipes. Haven’t tried it but plan to. Thank you for posting this recipe.

  14. Thank you for the beautiful pho chay recipe! I saw someone else mention Than brothers in Seattle, and that is my sons and my favorite. I made the pho tonight and it was amazing. It was fun to read your reviews of Seattle restaurants as well. I used to bake bread for Tom Douglas and I live on Capitol Hill and love many of the places you went.

    I saw someone mention Tamarind Tree and I would wholeheartedly agree with that recommendation as well.

  15. wow!! this turned out GREAT!! i had been wanting to try pho for years but could not find a restaurant that made a veggie version. now i can make my own! thank you!

  16. hey girl,

    ill def try this broth in geneva but not the veg option i think. thx for the tip…now gotta find star anise 😛

    chao em 🙂 hi V!

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