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Why Are Pho Serving Sizes So Large?

I've been to several pho places, and every time they bring me a gargantuan amount of pho. I'm seriously talking about easily, EASILY 4 servings-worth of pho. Is this normal? What's with the huge portions? I always feel guilty leaving so much behind, but I can't always take it with me, and it just doesn't taste as good reheated anyway.

Is it wrong to ask for a small, lunch-sized serving of pho?!

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  1. I don't think they are large.

    Sometimes I wish they were larger.

    1. We have ONE thing left in the world untouched by the Portion Control Police.


      Can we please leave it alone?

      4 Replies
        1. re: Cheese Boy

          Portion Control Police? I have no idea what you're talking about - if anything, portions are getting bigger to accommodate our ever-expanding American asses. Can you give me an example of something that used to be a big portion that has recently been made smaller?

          1. re: kgrote

            The one that quickly comes to mind is candy bars (smaller, but same price), pasta...used to be a full 16 oz in a box, coffee..smaller bags....but I think the reference is to Mayor Bloomburg (sp?) oulawing oversize sugary drinks in NYC.

            1. re: njmarshall55

              I think the candy bar and pasta examples are about inflation, not portion control. Keep the price the same, decrease the amount of food in the package = higher priced food.

        2. Cheap, huge, and delicious -- that's the beauty of Pho!

          I have been to a few places that offer a small or large size bowl, but even then the "small" is huge.

          1. When you take away the broth, does it still seem like 4 servings' worth of food? ^-

            1 Reply
            1. re: inaplasticcup

              It does if you include rice noodles. If you don't, probably not.

            2. It is normal to not to be able to finish the broth. If you're leaving pieces of meat behind, you're either doing it wrong or you should be ordering a different dish with less meat.

                  1. re: Midknight

                    Sorry! When this thread appeared I just couldn't help it.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Stop with the bad puns, pho crying out loud!

                          1. re: Midknight

                            I laughed so hard, I almost sprayed iced tea out of my mouth all over my pho-king keyboard!

                            1. re: chefj

                              We actually have a restaurant here called Pho King Restaurant. LoL

                              1. re: boogiebaby

                                Boogie, like you, we used to have on here call "Pho King Noodles".

                                There's no way they CAN'T know. :)

                                1. re: boogiebaby

                                  Here too! And it is one of my Favorites.

                        2. re: Tripeler

                          As the OP, I fully support this sub-thread.

                        3. As others here have said, I don't think the "typical" serving of phở is large. As ipse says I sometimes wish they were larger. Certainly I wouldn't mind more beef, more tripe and tendon too. I definitely prefer the South Vietnamese style where you get a plate of garnishes (Thai basil (húng quế), sprouts, lime, chile slices, maybe additional cilantro (ngò rí) and if you're lucky or if the place is a good one also some ngò gai (culantro). Usually everything (except perhaps all the chile) goes into my bowl of phở over the course of my eating it.

                          (North Vietnamese style phở does not have or serve that plate of garnishes and the types of meat included are far less, commonly no tripe or tendon etc too, with a more "stripped down" phở, so to speak. Perhaps if you could find a North Vietnamese place instead of the far more common South Vietnamese places [I see you are in WA] maybe that might be a "better" fit for you?)

                          Although I sometimes drink all the broth, I often don't - which is also a common practice amongst SE Asians when they eat soup noodle dishes.

                          Can you describe the exact size/volume of what you mean by a "lunch-sized portion"?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: huiray

                            I'd say roughly 3 cups of broth and a 1/4 - 1/3 pound of meat. And frankly that's being a little generous.

                            1. re: kgrote

                              Three cups of broth and 1/4 to 1/3 lb of meat - that sounds like a normal portion of phở to me.

                              So your bowl of phở that you complain about has 12 cups of phở broth and 1lb to 1 1/3 lb of meat? I've never seen a bowl of phở THAT big. What kind of restaurant are you going to?

                          2. I'm sorry, but loving food doesn't mean you have to stuff yourself with pounds of it.

                            I can accept not eating all the broth, but all the pho I've had comes with a very sizable portion of rice noodles as well. If you take out the noodles and we're just talking about broth, meat, and condiments, then that sounds ok to me.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: kgrote

                              Hmm... The places I go to give around 3 cups of broth and about 3oz of meat and about 2/3 cup of rice noodles. I've dissected my pho before because I do Weight watchers and was trying to figure out the points so I measured everything. I've never had pho with massive amounts of noodles in it.

                            2. When I want a smaller portion, I ask for less noodles.

                              1. Phở is usually offered in at least 3 sizes. Often the first couple of listings are the largest bowls with all the cuts of Beef.
                                I regularly order a small bowl which I would guess holds 3-4 cups of liquid.

                                1. Maybe I'm just really bad at eyeballing quantities, but you know those great big bowls they use to serve pasta at Italian restaurants? I've been getting Pho in bowls that size filled to about an inch of the brim, including meat and noodles.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: kgrote

                                    What is the size of this bowl - i.e. actual dimensions?

                                    There *are* places that serve enormous bowls as a sort of "feature" - like 12-inch wide bowls, 4-5 inches deep - but those are exceptions. Most, in my experience, would serve "normal" portions in bowls about 7-8 inches in diameter and about 3 inches or thereabouts in depth. Filling these "normal" bowls to about an inch (or less) from the top edge is normal for a normal portion.

                                    1. re: kgrote


                                      "Large" bowl: ~9" wide x ~3.5" deep.
                                      "Small/Lunch-Size" bowl: ~6-7" wide x ~3" deep.

                                    2. My favorite nearby vietnamese place just started serving a small size pho. It's perfect! Sometimes, you just don't have room for a giant bowl of pho, no matter how wonderful it may be.

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: alliegator

                                        Dimensions of this "small" bowl?
                                        Dimensions of your "giant" bowl?

                                        1. re: huiray

                                          Huiray, these are guesstimates, but I'm going to say the large is about 10 inches wide and 4 deep. The small: 5-6 wide, 3-4 deep.
                                          My reason for getting the small sometimes is basically just a desire to not waste food. The small bowl has about the same meat/noodles/broth ratio as the large one. I often meet friends for lunch at this place, and there is a lot of appetizer sharing and sampling someone else's dish, so it just makes sense for me.
                                          That said, I'd never walk away from a "giant" bowl of anything so wonderfully tasty :)

                                          1. re: alliegator


                                            Y'know. that "small" bowl you describe (5-6 inches wide, 3-4 inches deep) sounds like something that would leave me hungry.

                                            1. re: huiray

                                              Sure, no problem.

                                              And I think it would leave most people hungry. But I'm a very small person, so miniature pho works out fine on some days. I could be off on my estimation, but in my head I do the dollar bill=6 inches thing and that seems about right.

                                              I do plan to go to Vietnam someday for some serious eating (and learning), we're thinking next year. As for now, I'll take on Moroccan food in Morocco starting Friday.

                                            2. re: alliegator

                                              The "small" sounds about like what I would prefer, too.

                                          2. re: alliegator

                                            Then just eat the meat and whatever broth and noodles and garnishes you wish. The noodles are by far the cheapest component of the dish (really) and leaving behind most of the noodles if need be is not being financially extravagant. As has also been said, drinking all the broth is not always done (and frequently not done by native diners).

                                            @the OP and others: Of course, it should (again) be noted that in SE/E Asian terms the soup is the vehicle to convey the noodles to one's mouth with the vegetables being major components and the meat as just accompaniments to the dish. This is opposed to Western/USAmerican notions of meat being the overwhelmingly predominant feature of a meal with other stuff being just side dishes or afterthoughts. This is true in most E/SE Asian "homestyle" or "non-banquet" meals so expressing dismay at the "vast" amount of noodles compared to the "tiny" amount of beef one gets in a bowl of phở (if one were to be inclined to think so) would be to misunderstand what the cuisine(s) are about.

                                            1. re: huiray

                                              Honestly, this is entirely about not wanting to waste food rather than a dietary/health or money concern. I just can't stand leaving so much (good) food behind, be it noodles or whatever. I can live with leaving broth behind, since that's mostly water anyway.

                                              I enjoy a good noodle ratio in the pho, as I think it provides a nice base note to the other flavors in the bowl.

                                          3. When I have gotten a regular-sized pho for takeout, the broth usually fills a quart-sized container. (The solid ingredients are in a separate container.)

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: FoodPopulist

                                              Most places I frequent have a small size, a regular (or large) size and an extra large size. If they don't offer sizes, you can usually add meat for $1 or noodles for $1, effectively building an XL size. I usually get a large size with rare beef only, or else rare and brisket. There is usually a pleasant, but not gut busting portion of meat. My husband gets the kitchen sink version in the large size (rare, well done, brisket, tendon, tripe) and often remarks that the portion of meats is massive. The tripe and fattier cuts of meat are not really quality meat per se, so I guess the bowls with only rare meat place more value on the meat and thus, serve a more modest portion, which suits me fine. It's always a filling bowl for me. I do drink the broth, when it is aromatic and tasty. I think it's great value for a full meal. Granted, in Vietnam, I'd pay a fraction of that price ($1-2), but I'd also only get the equivalent of a small/medium portion in each bowl, allowing for a visit to a different pho vendor later in the day, if I'm still craving pho. That size makes a fine breakfast meal.

                                              1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                That sounds a lot like what I've been getting as well.

                                              2. I would be upset if my bowl of pho were not large. Indeed, if there were one dish to not be concerned over portion control, this would be it. As others said, eat fewer noodles. The broth is the filling part in my opinion.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: amybowenslc

                                                  See, that looks like a perfectly reasonable amount of Pho (unless your bowl is abnormally deep). What I've been getting is more like 3-4 times that much.

                                                2. Perhaps it is because you're ordering in the US. I once watched a Vietnamese movie that made fun of this. Two Vietnamese nationals ordered Pho in the US and were shocked at the size of the bowls. They muttered, "No wonder why Americans are so fat!"

                                                  5 Replies
                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                      Amazing photo of the huge pho bowl. Just as surprising are the giant pair of cooking chopsticks the guy is holding.

                                                      1. re: Tripeler


                                                        Did you click on that embedded link? (http://eatdrinknbmerry.blogspot.com/2...) That takes you to a blog with 4 pics of said bowl with 4 diners...the second guy I would think has NO CHANCE of finishing it at all, let alone in 1 hour - but that photo also shows (OP, are you reading this) a more "normal" sized bowl, empty, just to the side of the bowl and the scale versus the guy and table etc is useful to see.

                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                          Now THAT'S what I would call a liquid diet.

                                                      2. re: huiray

                                                        Damn. Luckily I haven't been getting anything THAT big.

                                                    2. Traditionally, the quantity of the pho (noodles) is small enough so that you can finish it before it gets overcooked and soggy. Then you ask for seconds, thirds etc.

                                                      1. I find that even if I eat the largest bowl of Pho and finish it, I am hungry an hour later. Also are you drinking the leftover broth? Don't do it!

                                                        1. Might it have something to do with keeping everything hot? A smaller bowl would cool more rapidly than the larger bowls. You definitely want enough heat to cook the meat.

                                                          1. I wonder if there's some regional variation in the sizes offered. A couple of people have said that, where they live, pho places offer three sizes. Where I live, they have two, small and large. There may be some restaurants that have only one size. If you're finding the portion too big, it's worth asking if they have a smaller bowl. That having been said, people's appetites are different. I've never had a problem finishing a large bowl, noodles, broth and all. I've seen many other patrons do the same.

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                              Where I come from (Little Saigon in OC), you get all of 'em. Just depends on the place. I'd say the large in most places makes for about 2 reasonable meals, but I've never been to a place that serves one of those Man vs. Food sized servings.

                                                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                                That raises another interesting question, because Pho is street food, right? So with street food, you're likely to get a bowl you can hold in your hand and eat. That's kind of why I think these large amounts of Pho I've been getting are tainted by American portion expectations.

                                                                1. re: kgrote

                                                                  In an ideal world, you eat the solids first then take the bowl in both hands, raise it to your lips, and drink the broth.

                                                                  1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                                    Maybe some other dishes, but not pho. A lot of the flavor is in the broth. Eating the solids and drinking the broth later would result in underseasoned noodles and too salty broth.

                                                                  2. re: kgrote

                                                                    Pho is street food in the sense that it can be sold on the street. But each vendor provides little tables and stools. I'm talking stools that are squatting height. Pho is also sold in pho shops where people sit and enjoy their pho. Pho is also served in the home and families enjoy this at the table also.

                                                                    Eating pho traditionally requires two hands, one for chopsticks and one for a spoon. Unlike a rice bowl that you can hold in one hand, it would be impolite to pick up your bowl of pho even if it is to drink the broth. That's what the spoon is for.

                                                                    1. re: kgrote

                                                                      Street food in VN is not street food in the US.

                                                                      There are tables and chairs for you to sit in. There is no way anyone can eat pho by balancing a HOT bowl in one hand and only using the other for chopsticks and spoon.

                                                                      1. re: jaykayen

                                                                        Yes, street food in US (and Canada) is pretty pathetic! Much better here in SE Asia.... Street food here comprises everything.... just cheaper and better. Eat street food pretty much everyday for lunch and dinner.....

                                                                    2. The photo here with my niece is the "large" size of pho I usually get (at my very favorite pho restaurant Pho Oregon in Portland, OR). She's having a different noodle soup, but this is the same size bowl. My brother will take the leftovers home, so no need to fear waste.

                                                                      The other photo is a less-awesome pho in Beaverton, OR. But the bowl is about what I expect. Sorry there isn't much to provide clues to the scale.

                                                                      1. Amy's pic above looks about right for a large bowl.

                                                                        Portion size is one of those things that is unlikely to ever be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. You would think that since almost all Pho places serve at least two sizes, and many serve 3 sizes it would be enough to make everyone happy. I can promise you that a serving that would satisfy my mother wouldn't even make a decent appetizer for some of my younger friends. What they eat would be two or more meals for me.

                                                                        I hate throwing away the broth, it tastes so good. And being raised as part of the clean plate club, leaving uneaten noodles is painful as well. But face it, rice noodles and broth are not exactly high value items. if you finish the 5 or 6 slivers of rare beef (or whatever else your choice is) then the rest is just icing on the cake. Delicious, but not necessary to eat all of it.

                                                                        1. i don't know if the serving size is necessarily the problem, so much as the eating culture. pho is supposed to be a complete meal-- the garnishes constitute a small salad, rice noodles for starch, a little bit of meat, and lots of hot broth to fill you up and serve as a beverage.

                                                                          lots of american diners can't wrap their head around *just* eating a bowl of soup for a meal... so they order egg rolls or a chicken wing appetizer and a large coke or bubble tea on the side. then when the pho hits the table, they are already full from the fried foods and the soft drinks.... so *then* what happens? LOL they ignore the plate of healthy veg garnishes, eat all the meat and noodles out of the pho, and complain that the portion is too large and too heavy/starchy... when in fact the noodles and meat in a bowl of pho equal, what-- 1/8th to 1/6th the portion of a spaghetti and meatballs dinner at the average italian-american chain or indie restaurant?

                                                                          1. I always thought it was funny -- but good! (and delicious). I can eat a lot of food, but I found that the portions can be large. In Toronto, my favourite pho place has small, medium, large.... and I order a small - which is more than sufficient no matter how hungry I am..... I have seen the large size and it looks like the size of a large wash-basin ..... absolutely huge! It could feed a family (although they might charge more if you share :p).

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. Haha. I remember once ordering a soup at a Vietnamese restaurant, and not at all realizing what I was getting in to. I wasn't very hungry (I had pretty much tagged along with some friends), so I decided to get some soup, and the small was only like $5, so it probably wasn't that big, right...? My friends have a picture of the expression on my face when a VERY large bowl of pho was set in front of me. It was large even for a bowl of pho. My friends happily helped me finish it, but I still wonder how many people the large size would have fed...

                                                                              1. But its mostly water so while its filling immediately - I find i'm usually hungry again quite soon. - and Rice Noodles seem very easy to digest as well.

                                                                                Eat slower and don't get anything to drink with it.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: echoclerk

                                                                                  The protein (about a servings worth 4oz) mixed in with the soup tends to trick my stomach into feeling full longer.

                                                                                2. You know, I've been some places where the Pho seems unusually large...but usually those place offer both a "regular" and a "large", and I have ordered the large by mistake. If I wanted a snack-like pho, or more of a side dish, it would be hard to find, but for a full meal, the portions vary between a nice medium-sized meal, and a large meal. Of course, I can't leave the broth behind, so all that liquid makes them feel extra filling. Every once in a while I come across a place that packs it full of noodles though. I'd much prefer a lot of flavorful broth and toppings, with some meat and pretty sparse noodles

                                                                                  Pho always comes in a much larger bowl than my standard bowl at home, but to get the right mixture of noodle to beef to broth, a normal sized bowl would give you practically nothing but broth.