We live in a time when most grocers have at least one aisle dedicated to internationally sourced ingredients, and we can get hard-to-find ingredients delivered to our front doors with ease. So you'd probably be successful at tracking down most of the ingredients you need for traditional beef pho between those two sources, but I urge you to make a visit to your local Asian grocer before beginning your pho journey.
You Pho Shopping List
If you want to try out pho at home, here's what you'll need.
How To Make Pho: The Best Method for Most Home Cooks
Beef Bones (Beef Knuckle and Beef Shank)
The best pho at home is 100 percent dependent on excellent broth. Beef knuckles are traditional for beef pho broth because they are rich in connective tissue, but low in fat. The knuckle joints cook down in the broth-making, giving the broth a rich thickness that cannot be replicated.
If you can't find knuckle, go ahead and double the beef shank called for in the recipe. Your broth will be a little slicker (shank has more beef marrow, which results in fattier broth), but no less rich or flavorful.
Market tip: Some Asian markets sell packages labeled "beef soup bones," which can be exclusively knuckles or a combination of knuckles and shank (or leg bones). If you find them, snatch those up for beef-broth boiling.
Butcher shops are another great source for beef knuckles (and you can always order them online, if you have to).
Made from fermented fish, fish sauce is a fixture of Vietnamese cuisine. This salty staple keeps well in the pantry, and just a few drops can season a pot of soup or salad. Look for fish sauce with two or three ingredients on the label.
Fish sauce has a very long shelf life, so consider picking up more than one bottle at a time.
More on fish sauce shopping: Five Expert Tips for Choosing the Best Fish Sauce
Market tip: Red Boat is a great entry-level brand if you get overwhelmed with the choices at the Asian market.
Beef pho is traditionally made with rice noodles. These flat noodles are sometimes labeled "rice sticks" and are sold both fresh or dried. Fresh noodles can often be found in the freezer section.
While fresh noodles have a lovely softness, I tend to eat more pho if I keep the dried version on hand. Look for rice noodles with a medium thickness — too thin and they'll dissolve in the broth, and too thick means endless chewing.
More on Vietnamese noodles: A Guide to Vietnamese Noodles
A bowl of pho is made personal by the tray of accompaniments served alongside the bowl. While Thai basil, red bird chiles, limes, Sriracha, and bean sprouts are all worth picking up at the Asian market (they're usually cheaper there), I'm confident you can find those elsewhere.
Instead extend your shopping efforts at the Asian market to finding a really good bottle of hoisin sauce. Although this addition to pho is an American adaptation, this tasty sauce can be used well beyond pho.
More to Look for at the Asian Grocery
While you stock up on ingredients for pho, consider taking a look at our shopping guide for this whole series on making Asian soups at home. You could pick up kombu for miso soup, noodles for ramen, or any of the items we share here: 5 Essential Items to Buy from the Asian Grocery Store