Ramen vs. Pho | Both Noodles with Broth, But a World of Difference
Both ramen and pho are noodle soup dishes but use different noodles. Ramen uses wheat flour noodles, whereas pho noodles are made from rice. Pho broth is lighter but more seasoned with ginger, cardamom, coriander, fennel, and clove. Ramen broth is thicker and often uses miso and Worcestershire sauce.
Of course, there’s much more to these recipes than simply that. So let’s dive a little bit deeper into what these dishes are and how they differ.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is Pho?
- 2 What is Ramen?
- 3 Ramen and Pho: What’s the Difference?
- 4 Ramen vs. Pho: Nutrition
- 5 Different Types of Pho and Ramen Dishes
- 6 The Art of Ordering Noodles
What is Pho?
Pho (pronounced fuh) is a Vietnamese noodle dish consisting of broth, noodles, meat, and herbs.
The meal’s history dates back to the early 1900s, and many believe it reflects the country’s various cultures at that time.
The French colonists made beef easy to get, while the Chinese immigrants brought noodles from their home country.
The two came together, and pho was born.
Pho used to feed poor Chinese immigrants and Vietnamese farmers primarily.
Street vendors sold the dish by carrying a pole with two cabinets hanging from it, one of which stored a cauldron and the other that held the noodles and beef.
Eventually, pho spread across the country, and all citizens enjoyed the dish.
Pho didn’t come to America until the 1980s, but when it did, it hit big. After that, Pho restaurants opened everywhere, and it became the latest culinary trend.
What is Ramen?
Ramen is a noodle soup that originated in Japan.
It is unclear exactly how it came about but, like pho, it allegedly was inspired by Chinese immigrants who operated noodle stalls throughout the Japanese cities.
It may have also been a direct takeoff on the Chinese noodle dish lamien.
Many people enjoyed ramen throughout the country for several years, but it became even more popular in the 1950s when Momofuku Ando invented instant ramen.
This invention allowed people to enjoy the hot noodles at home by adding water to the raw, packaged form. This innovation allowed the dish to start spreading across the world.
By the 1980s, ramen was adopted as a trendy American meal, with chefs creating new varieties of the dish in addition to traditional Japanese ramen.
Today, the ramen trend continues to grow, with five-star restaurants dedicating themselves to ramen and advertise it as a healthy meal.
Ramen are not the only Japanese noodles! Here we listed 8 Different Types of Japanese Noodles (With Recipes) for you.
Ramen and Pho: What’s the Difference?
So far, we know that ramen was made in Japan and Pho originated in Vietnam.
Other than that, they both seem to be noodle dishes made with beef and veggies.
So, what’s the difference?
How Pho is Made
The first step in making pho is cooking the broth.
Most pho dishes require beef broth (sometimes chicken) combined with charred onion, ginger, cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed, and clove. The resulting broth is fresh and light.
Then the noodles are added. Pho noodles are rice noodles made from rice flour and water to produce a light and translucent texture.
The meat is typically different cuts of thinly sliced pork and beef.
Finally, sides of herbs and sprouts are added as well as various other garnishes like freshly cut chili and cilantro and finish it off with a squeeze of lime,
Some also enjoy their pho with fish sauce, hoisin sauce, or chili oil.
How Ramen is Made
Ramen has a thicker texture and a more robust flavor than pho.
It is usually made from chicken or pork along with other ingredients.
These are some typical ingredients found in ramen:
- Pork bones
- Dried sardines
- Kelp (wakame) or nori
Soy sauce, miso, and soup base add to the flavor.
Main Types of Ramen
There are three main types of ramen:
- Shoyu ramen, which has a soy-based broth
- Shio ramen, which has a salt-based broth
- Miso ramen, which has broth flavored with fermented soybean paste
The noodles themselves are made from wheat flour which makes them heartier and more filling than pho.
They also add an ingredient called kansui, a type of alkaline mineral water that helps the noodles stay firm after being in the water for long periods.
Like pho, you can add any meat to your ramen, including beef, chicken, pork, and so on.
Ramen is also much more customizable than pho. There are many options when it comes to what you put in your ramen.
Check out my article on the best toppings for your ramen for everything you can add, but roasted chashu pork along with some boiled eggs and a little chopped green onions combine well. You’ll also tend to find nori seaweed and bean sprouts topped on dishes.
Corn is also often added to give the meal a little extra sweetness to counterbalance the salty ramen broth.
Want to really be polite after recieving your meal? Know how you say “thank you for the food” in Japanese!
Ramen vs. Pho: Nutrition
Let’s take a look at how these dishes measure up in nutrition.
Pho Nutritional Profile
Pho’s nutritional information varies depending on the amount of meat and veggies in the meal, as well as the serving size.
However, beef ramen with four ounces of beef, six ounces of noodles, and 20 ounces of broth along with assorted veggies and herbs is 350 to 450 calories, 35 to 50 grams of carbs, 30 grams of protein, and a whopping 1500 mg of sodium.
Ramen Nutritional Profile
Both fine restaurants and local grocery stores have great options for ramen. Typically, ramen is often purchased in 3 oz serving packets at the grocery store.
The packages have a calorie count of about 180. Carbs are around 27 grams, and protein is approximately 5 grams. It also has 891 grams of sodium.
Different Types of Pho and Ramen Dishes
Pho and ramen have several regional variations that are usually categorized according to whether they come from the northern or southern parts of the country.
The main differences lie in the soup, broth, and toppings. Here are some examples of each.
Pho Dish Varieties
Pho that originates in North Vietnam has a savory broth.
It relies on garnishes like green onions, coriander, garlic, and chili sauce to balance the taste.
Hanoi, located in North Vietnam, serves a style of pho featuring a tasty, clear broth, wide noodles, and a few extra garnishes. It may also have green onion, fish sauce, and chili sauce added.
Southern pho has a lighter taste and uses garnishes like bean sprouts (just like in ramen) and adds some lime and a bit of freshly cut chili.
Saigon serves a Southern Vietnamese pho that has a sweeter broth and thinner noodles. Garnishes like basil, bean sprouts, and coriander are added.
Typical condiments include chili and hoisin sauce. You can add additional flavor, freshness, and spiciness by using some freshly squeezed lime and a few cut chilis.
Pho can also be distinguished due to its meat content. For instance:
- Adding pork makes the dish pho heo
- Adding beef makes it pho bo
- Adding fish makes it pho ca
These are just a few of the many possible pho dishes that you can try for yourself.
Ramen Dish Varieties
The two main types of ramen are domestic and Chinese. These differ in both their soup base and their meat content.
Common types of ramen include the following:
- Shoyu ramen: Also known as “soy sauce” ramen, this dish has a rich soy sauce base and springy, curly noodles. Toppings include thinly sliced pork, scallions, green onions, fish cakes, and a soft-boiled egg.
- Tonkotsu ramen: This type of ramen comprises thick and flavorful pork bone broth with wheat noodles, braised pork belly, kombu, fresh spring onions, some sesame seeds, and a bit of chili bean paste.
These are only a few of the many regional variations.
Other popular ramens include Sapporo Ramen, which has a miso-based broth.
Soki soba features a spare rib topping.
The Art of Ordering Noodles
Other key differences between pho and ramen lie in how they are served and ordered in their countries.
How Pho is Ordered and Served
You can find pho just about anywhere in Vietnam.
It is served at street stalls and in casual and upscale restaurants, and is most commonly ate for breakfast.
When ordering pho, you will first need to choose your type of broth, typically chicken or beef.
Then, you need to decide what kind of meat you want in your soup. The most popular options include steak, brisket, and meatballs.
Try flank steak, fatty brisket, tendon, or tripe if you want to get more adventurous.
The meal will come with a plate of vegetables, seasonings, sauces, and spices that you can add to your dish if you desire.
How Ramen is Ordered and Served
Ramen is sold in restaurants and street stalls throughout Japan.
The food is so prevalent in Japan that there is even a Ramen Street to find various ramen restaurants and stalls.
When you order ramen, you can expect plain ramen with the original toppings of green onion, mushroom, and pork.
However, there are other types of ramen you can order.
For instance, try the aji-tama ramen to get a soft boiled egg on top, or you can try the ever-popular cha-shu-men ramen to get an extra piece of delicious chashu pork.
You can also order a specific firmness of your noodles. For example, order futsu for regular noodles, katame if you want firm noodles, and yawarakame if you want tender noodles.
The thickness of the broth will also be up to you. Order usume for a thin broth. Futsu will get you regular sauce, and kiome means thick.
You can also choose how oily you would like your broth to be. Sukuname means little oil, futsu means regular, and ome means oily.
Now that you know the difference between pho and ramen, you will be able to enjoy these meals to their fullest.
Which do you prefer?
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.