The Post with Division Street (Vegan) Pho Chay

Pho real. I’m sharing the how-to-guide for my carefully developed vegan pho stock: the Division Street Pho Chay.

When Portland starts to look like this again…

Today in Portland.
Today in Portland.

A bowl of this can work wonders.

Pho sure.

Rants & Reason

I’ve been tinkering around with the eventual recipe for Division Street* Pho, which is traditionally identified as a pho chay, for months now. Tinker, tinker. I found myself on what became an epic quest for vegan pho chay in Portland last winter  (which I’ll be compiling one of these days), and really studying the flavors in the bowls in front of me. Specifically, which broths boasted or lacked flavor, spices, development. I turned to google search and Vietnamese cookbooks to read up on just what makes traditional pho broth (Spoiler alert: charred, simmered bones), how to avoid the off-putting canned broths and salty flavor packets, the building blocks of the Buddhist vegetarian version (chay), the requisite spices and herbs, and ultimately, how I could achieve my own animal-free depth of flavor.

While on my restaurant tour, as any vegan pho-seeker knows, I found myself depending on the now-standard table side Sriracha and hoisin, heaps of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño when provided, and ditto for my beloved Thai basil. You should see the look on my face when there’s nothing but piles of cilantro (I’m sorry!) and sprouts, or two small basil leaves. A sad, single wedge of lime. The horror.

Because pho chay does not have a base of slow-cooked bones and hunks of meat, it’s really up in the air when you order it out. The broth seriously may be canned, from a packet, super boring, or hopefully, if you can find it, made from scratch.

After one local option that made me question if my rice noodles were being served in water, I started researching way too many traditional meaty recipes and a few vegetarian ones (most of which seemed to be based on this one from Vegetarian Times), and decided to make my own from scratch. I wanted to attempt a rich, authentic broth by starting with scorched vegetables. Since I have an electric oven, I opted to broil, but if you can scorch, do it! My take has a double dose of mushrooms with two dried varieties, shiitakes and black fungus, which you’ll usually see in hot & sour soup , and a few more roasted in the base of the stock. As with any housemade vegetable broth, throw in whatever you have hanging around and you think would work, flavor-wise.

In conclusion to all my yapping about pho chay, the results of my rounds of passionate testing follow. 

Part I: Roasting The Stock Base

Ready, set, roast.

What you need:

  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 large carrot, sliced into chunks
  • 1 leek – the white part,sliced into large rounds > save the green tops for the next step
  • handful of whole mushrooms, halved, such as cremini,button, portobello, oyster or shiitakes
  • drizzle of peanut oil
  • sprinkle of coconut palm or brown sugar
  • 3 inches of peeled ginger, sliced into large chunks
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, peeled and sliced into large chunks at its base
Basically, you want an approximation of the above list. As with any stock, I find myself altering both the roasting and eventual stock ingredients based on what I have around. For traditional vegetable stock, I keep a small bag of frozen odds and ends, as in carrots tops and mushrooms that have seen better days, in my freezer. Make sure to avoid persuasive ingredients like asparagus and fennel unless you intentionally wants those flavors in your soup.
As I mentioned in the intro, if you have a grill, you can scorch the vegetables (leave them whole for ease) vs. roasting. I roast them here to develop the sweet, full flavor for the pho chay broth. I’ve used both a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and casserole dish to roast.

Roast 25-30 min at 500F for broiling, stirring halfway though, being careful not to blacken.

Pho real.

Part II: Simmering The Stock

Stock prep.
Stock prep.

Add the roasted vegetables and whatnot to a large stock pot, along with:

  • 12-14 cups water > The question is, how big is your stock pot? 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari (for a gluten-free version)
  • 2 teaspoons whole back peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon coconut palm or brown sugar
  • 2-4 star anise pods
  • 1 heaping teaspoon hoisin sauce
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • generous handful of fresh Thai (also known as holy) basil
  • 8 ounces dried mushrooms, such as shiitakes and black fungus
  • leek top, thrown in whole
If you have onion tops or garlic flowers floating around, throw ’em on in!
Bring to a boil, and simmer for 2 hours. Strain well, with a mesh strainer or cheese cloth, discard the vegetables and herbs, and set aside. If you are not going to be using all of the broth at once, put some aside in your refrigerator or freezer. Well sealed, this broth will keep in the fridge for one week.
Simmer, simmer, simmer.
Another round of development.

Part III: The Bowl

Here’s how to assemble your bowls of soup:

  1. Cooked rice noodles (which usually call for a quick hot water soak and run under cool water)
  2. Prepped vegetables
  3. Protein (alternately, add this with the toppings)
  4. Ladle in your hot broth
  5. Top with your desired fixins, herbs and sauces (more on that below)

My go-to vegetables & proteins:

  • pan-fried salt & pepper tofu cubes
  • fresh tofu chunks
  • pre-fried tofu slices
  • quickly sauteed crispy greens, such as baby bok choy
  • shredded or thinly sliced carrots
  • halved shiitake mushrooms sauteed in peanut oil
  • sliced veggie ham
  • smoked seitan
Tat-Soi is one such choy.

Part IV: The Fixins

Suggested staples for a vegan pho chay party:

  • sliced jalapeno or serrnao peppers (Tip: toss these in first to develop a spicier broth from the start)
  • Sriracha. Of course.
  • Hoisin sauce (make sure it’s vegan, most seem to be)
  • fresh bean sprouts
  • fresh Thai basil
  • fresh cilantro
  • scallions or green onions
  • lime wedges
  • fried shiitakes
  • ground chiles
  • soy sauce or gluten-free tamari
  • additional tofu and vegetables
The inaugural experience.
With fresh tofu and lots of vegetables.
Served Cari (Vietnamese curry)-style.

For a curry version for two servings, whisk one tablespoon of curry powder (Indian is fine to use, while homemade Vietnamese curry powder is pictured here), a pinch of brown or coconut palm sugar and dash of soy sauce or tamari into 1/2 cup of coconut milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, divide into two bowls, and move forward into your bowl assembly from there, starting with the noodles.

Vietnamese Cari (Curry) Powder from Curry Cuisine
The beginning.

*why, because I live on Division Street. Pho serious.


  1. This looks so good! Can’t wait for your Portland pho guide–I’ve actually never had pho – if you want to give me the spoiler version of your favorite, I’d appreciate it. : ) i’ll have to try making my own sometime, too.

  2. I would love for you to try my pho one day, it sounds similar to yours, but I usually add homemade sausage balls. I will even leave off the cilantro, tho that’s scary. Also, I think the pho chay from Hanoi Kitchen is excellent (they use ginseng on their stock). Also, most hoisin has wheat starch in it– so careful no gluteners!


  3. You’re amazing and I definitely need to try your recipe! There’s never too much Thai basil.

    I’ve been looking for a good, authentic from-scratch curry book- is Curry Cuisine the one to try? Super keen on some new and different new curry powder recipes.

  4. Vegetarian pho, or phở chay, has never been about healthy eating in Vietnam. Of course there are people who must go the vegetarian way due to health or personal belief reasons, but for the majority of the population, pho chay, and other chay foods, are more about observing strict non-meat meals as part of the Buddhist religious observance. Now with pho being quite popular in the U.S. and the population becoming more conscious about leading a healthy lifestyle, it’s only natural that restaurants offer vegetarian pho or pho chay on their menus.

  5. That is some solid pho right there. I’ve only had the soup once in my life, which strikes me as a real shame. Now I have a good reason to revisit it- I really don’t think it could get much better than this recipe.

  6. I made some beef pho again today -check out the new photo, I’ve just updated the post- and I felt like making a phở chay, vegetarian rice noodle soup for the rest of the family. The only extra work for pho chay, in addition to the beef pho (for the carnivores at home) is to fry some silken tofu and make the vegetarian broth.

  7. I finally made this! It was so good–I loved the rich flavors of the broth and it was fun putting all manner of mock meats and veggies and herbs in the bowl. I had actually never had pho (gasp!) so it was a neat new food for me. Looking forward to making it again!

    1. Oh, that is so rad to here! Don’t worry, I seriously had barely heard of it before I moved to Portland. Funny enough, I recently made a ‘cheater’ version I will one day get around posting!

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