Pho and Ramen are two wildly popular Asian noodle soup dishes. From 1000 feet they look pretty similar. Overall, they've got similar noodle shapes/sizes, their broths are often made from meat, and they contain a metric ton of umami (joking!), but in reality, these soups are unique and flavorful expressions all to themselves.
While they may share a lot of common traits, Pho and Ramen are completely different experiences. With different flavor profiles, ingredients, and noodle styles, it's important to recognize how these two soups differ from one another and what makes them unique!
Pho vs Ramen: A noodle soup showdown.
Ramen and Pho are incredible examples of delicious Asian noodle soup dishes that are packed with a huge amount of flavor. Beyond major differences like noodle type and place of origin, there are smaller differences that make these two soups entirely different culinary experiences.
Whichever you happen to be eating, Pho and Ramen are incredible tasty soup dishes that will leave you full and content. No matter which you prefer, read on to get an in-depth breakdown of the differences between these two amazing noodle soups.
What is Pho?
Pho pronounced "fuh" is a bone broth-based Vietnamese noodle dish composed of thin rice noodles in a flavorful broth with thinly sliced veggies, herbs, and various protein accompaniments.
The most common version you'll see in restaurants around the country is usually made from flavorful beef broth, with various cuts of beef, ranging from meatballs to sliced fatty brisket, tripe, tendon,to usually raw eye round or flank.
The broth is usually made from beef bones and is flavored heavily with cinnamon, star anise, onion, garlic, and other herbs. While hearty, the broth itself isn't over-rich or heavy.
Pho is usually accompanied by a plate of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno peppers, and chunks of fresh lime. Along with common table sauces, like sriracha, hoisin, and sate sauce, these accompaniments allow you to fully customize your bowl of noodles at the table.
Overall, pho is most often prepared fresh, either at home or in a restaurant. There are a few types of instant Pho style noodles available, but for the most part, if you are enjoying a fresh bowl of pho, you're most likely eating it in a restaurant.
What is Ramen?
Ramen, like pho, is a broth-based noodle dish. Most commonly associated with Japanese food culture, Ramen actually originated in China, or at least the wheat noodles used in Ramen did.
The prevailing theory is that ramen-style noodles made from wheat flour were introduced to the Japanese population during the 19th Century by Chinese Immigrants. Ramen truly began to take hold in Japan after World War 2 during a historic rice shortage throughout the country. Inexpensive wheat flour became the go-to starch ingredient and bread consumption during these years sky-rocketed, along with the popularization of ramen which was sold in street-side stalls throughout larger cities.
Today, ramen has been refined into an insanely flavorful culinary experience with tons of variations on ingredients, presentation, and composition. Most commonly, ramen is composed of wheat noodles, in meat broth, with toppings like sliced roasted meats, nori, fish cake, and soft-boiled eggs . The broth itself is often heavily flavored with ingredients like miso or soy sauce.
Ramen is commonly eaten in stalls or small ramen shops along with izakaya which is a pub or drinking house that serves a range of foods. In America and around the world, ramen can be found in specialty restaurants by amazing chefs who specialize in the creation of insanely flavorful bowls of noodles, and also in your own at-home or on-the-go creations with instant ramen noodle cups and pillow packs.
While the broth for pho is most commonly made from beef bones, Ramen broth is often much more complicated. One of the most common soup bases is made from roasted pork bones called Tonkotsu ramen. In addition to heavily flavored meat broths, ramen is often flavored with a fish broth composed of bonito flake, which is a roasted and dried fish flake that provides incredible levels of umami to the dish.
You'll rarely see a brothless pho, but brothless ramen dishes are becoming far more common. Called Mazemen, brothless ramen is often served with a dipping sauce such as Tare, or with a bowl of hot soup broth on the side to dip in as you eat the noodles.
Want to shop the best instant ramen out there that's made with ridiculously rich broth, simple ingredients, less sodium, and steamed not fried organic noodles? Try the Mike's Mighty Good cups and pillow packs. We recommend starting with the cup best-sellers kit which has 4 of our flavors: Chicken, Spicy Beef, Pork Tonkotsu, and Vegetarian Vegetable.
Rice Noodles vs Ramen Noodles.
While there are certainly differences in the composition of these two noodle dishes, along with the spicing, and flavor profile, the main difference between the two is certainly the type of noodle used in each dish.
Ramen uses familiar wheat-style noodles, that look like many other wheat-based noodles around the world. The one thing that makes Ramen style noodles really special is the use of Kansui or alkali water in their production. Many believe that the yellow color of ramen noodles is from eggs used in their production, but this is actually not the case. Restaurant ramen noodles are most commonly made from wheat flour, gluten, water, and a special type of alkali water that increases the gluten strength in the noodles themselves.
The goal of ramen noodle production is to create a stretchy, chewy noodle that can stand up to hot, flavorful soup while retaining its texture and structure. The yellow color in the noodles is created from an oxidation reaction between the alkali water and the wheat gluten.
Pho noodles are about a different from ramen noodles as possible. While ramen noodles are made from wheat flour, Pho Noodles are made from glutinous rice flour.
Pho noodles or Banh pho are thin, clear noodles that are most often sold dry. Some variations of Pho use fresh Banh pho but, these are less common and rarely seen overall. To prepare the Banh pho you must first soak the noodles in cold water for thirty minutes before cooking them in hot boiling water like you might other noodles. The rehydration process plumps the noodles and makes them less fragile so they can stand up to the boiling water.
While Ramen noodles are crafted to be chewy and bouncy, Pho noodles are far more tender. However, the rice flour used in their production hydrates less quickly than wheat flour, and they can stand up to their broth just as well as Ramen wheat noodles can.
Eating Pho and Ramen at home!
While ramen and pho are often eaten in restaurants and noodle shops, you can prepare incredible ramen and pho at home with just a little bit of effort.
Eating ramen at home is an incredibly easy process, especially with the availability of craft ramen products like Mike's Mighty Good Craft Ramen. These high-end instant ramen options provide the same incredible flavor and rich ramen broth that you might find in a ramen shop and they are ready in minutes.
You can certainly produce high-quality homemade ramen, it's just a process that takes a lot of planning and work. First, you'll need to prepare your broth which usually cooks overnight, then the noodles, any toppings or additions, and finally put the entire concoction together.
If you're looking for a great at-home ramen experience, it's much easy to find an incredible instant ramen product and then add amazing toppings like soft-boiled eggs, roasted meats, corn, or other veggies, and of course nori sheets. While it may seem like cheating, you can’t argue with results, and instant ramen can create some insanely tasty bowls of noodle soup.
Pho, on the other hand, doesn't have many instant noodle options available so if you're craving a bowl of pho at home you're most likely going to have to put it together yourself. Thanks to the availability of instant soup bases, you can put together a fair approximation of pho broth pretty quickly. From there, you'll need to prepare your meats, from sliced flank or eye of round to roasted fatty brisket and meatballs, there are lots of options to choose from.
Finally, every good bowl of pho should be accompanied by a plate of mung bean sprouts, Thai basil, sliced jalapenos, and chunks of fresh lime, so you'll have to have those things on hand.
While Pho is an incredible dish, it's just as much work to prepare at home as ramen is, and for many, it's just easier to head to a noodle shop for a bowl.
Final thoughts on Pho and Ramen.
While these noodle soups have lots of similarities, there is far more that makes them unique and special. Both are hearty, filling, and filled with umami, but the overall flavor experience from one to the other is very different.
Whichever one you like best, there are plenty of options available for you to choose from. That being said, if you're craving a noodle soup at home and you aren’t looking to turn the process into a multi-day adventure, craft instant ramen is the best choice for a fast, filling, and flavorful bowl of noodles!