Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup

Looking for the method to create the most flavorful vegetarian pho soup base? You’ve come to the right place. {Vegan, Gluten-Free adaptable}

Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup | Gluten-Free | Vegetarian | Vegan | Vegetables | Vietnamese | Recipe | Asian

The vegetarian diet has never been a mainstream thing in China, and it just started to gain popularity over the past few years. Vegetarian food is translated as Su Shi (素食) in Chinese, which literally means simple and plain food. Its definition is quite debatable. For Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, even spicy and pungent ingredients such as onion and garlic are not allowed. On the other hand, many Chinese vegetarian restaurants do serve eggs. And I’ve found quite a few people around me claiming to be vegetarian, but still eating chicken soup and food cooked in pork broth.

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you know that I’m not a vegetarian myself. However, I started to cook vegetarian meals more often after moving to the US and gaining 20 pounds in the first year.

Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup Ingredients

Today I want to introduce one of my favorite vegetarian soup bases, a recipe slightly adapted from the cookbook Neighborhood – Hearty Salads and Plant-Based Recipes from Home and Abroad by Hetty McKinnon. Hetty is a cookbook author, food blogger, and mother of three. She used to run Arthur Street Kitchen, where she made and delivered fresh salads to the local community. I got to know Hetty during the New York workshop and immediately fell in love with the beautiful vegetarian salads she makes.

I’ve also learned that she is a second-generation Chinese immigrant, having grown up in Australia in a traditional Chinese family. She’s been a vegetarian diet for over twenty years and shares plant-based recipes that are influenced by Asian, Middle Eastern, and French cuisines. It was fascinating to read the story about her family’s rejection of her conversion to a vegetarian diet.

Cookbook Neighborhood – Hearty Salads and Plant-Based Recipes from Home and Abroad by Hetty McKinnon

The photo on the right is quoted from Hetty’s Blog Arthur Street Kitchen

When I purchased her cookbook, I asked Hetty what her favorite recipe from it was.

“The vegetarian pho salad”. She said without a second thought.

I immediately knew it was the recipe I’d try out as soon as I got home.

Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup | Gluten-Free | Vegetarian | Vegan | Vegetables | Vietnamese | Recipe | Asian

Cooking notes

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas around the time I had gathered all my ingredients for the cooking. It had been raining heavily throughout the weekend. So instead of making a noodle salad (the original recipe uses a reduced pho broth), I made a larger batch of the broth and turned the dish into a noodle soup to warm us on that stormy day.

The length of the recipe might look formidable, but trust me, you are going to create the most flavorful vegetarian pho broth ever. The fact is, you need very little active cooking time to prepare the broth. Once it’s done, you can use it in many different ways, with whatever ingredients you have on hand.

  1. Charring the onion and ginger makes a big difference.

It takes a bit of time and patience if you do it on a gas stove. Alternatively, you can char the veggies under the broiler.

Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup Cooking Process

  1. Double the broth if you want leftovers.

I love this broth so much, so I would make more and save it for use in other soups later on.

  1. Do feel free to change up the toppings.

The original recipe uses a lot of veggies because it’s a salad recipe. I found that some tofu and one or two types of veggies make a great meal.

  1.  Two ways to cook the veggie toppings.

The quickest way is to boil the veggies in the broth after you remove the aromatics. But personally, I prefer to sear the veggies with some salt and pepper on the stovetop. You can also roast the veggies in the oven while you make the broth. Both ways create flavorful toppings.

Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup | Gluten-Free | Vegetarian | Vegan | Vegetables | Vietnamese | Recipe | Asian

  1. What is five-spice tofu?

It’s a type of tofu that is pre-seasoned and smoked. The best thing is, you can slice it and add it to the dish without having to cook it first. If you do not live close to an Asian market and can’t get five-spice tofu, you can use normal tofu on the stovetop or in the oven to create a crispy texture. It works just as well topped on the noodles.

Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup Cooking Process

More delicious vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup | Gluten-Free | Vegetarian | Vegan | Vegetables | Vietnamese | Recipe | Asian

Happy cooking and I hope you enjoy the dish!

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup | Gluten-Free | Vegetarian | Vegan | Vegetables | Vietnamese | Recipe | Asian

Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup

The most flavorful vegetarian pho noodle broth. Make sure to cook extra so you will have leftover broth to make soup with whatever ingredients you have on hand.
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Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Calories: 273kcal
Author: Maggie


  • 3/4 pounds 350 grams thick dried rice noodles
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 7 ounces 220 grams five-spice tofu, sliced (*Footnote 1)
  • Topping options *Footnote 2
  • 1 pound 400 grams broccolini (or broccoli), trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 to 3 heads baby bok choy quartered lengthwise
  • 1/2 pounds 180 grams bean sprouts
  • 1 pound white mushrooms trimmed and sliced
  • Salt and white pepper
  • Serving options
  • 1 cup Asian herb leaves Thai basil, cilantro, green onion, Vietnamese mint, or perilla
  • 1 lime cut into wedges
  • Hoisin sauce and/or Sriracha
  • Optional Red chili or jalapeno for garnish
  • Soup
  • 2 onions peeled and halved
  • 3- inch 7-cm piece of ginger, peeled and halved lengthways (*Footnote 3)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 white peppercorns
  • 3 star anise
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 8 cups 2 liters vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari for gluten-free
  • 6 carrots peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste


  • Pho soup base
  • To char the onion and ginger, turn a gas stove or a grill to medium high heat and place the vegetables directly on the flame. Cook until the surface is slightly blackened all over. Alternatively, you can turn on the broiler (without preheating) and place the veggies on a lined baking tray. Cook right below the broiler for 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Keep an eye on the veggies so they don’t burn.
  • Heat a large pot over medium low heat. Add the cinnamon, white peppercorns, star anise, cloves, and coriander seeds. Toast and stir for about 30 seconds, until you can smell a strong fragrance.
  • Add the vegetable stock, soy sauce, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, charred onion, and ginger to the pot. Cook over high heat until bringing to a boil. Turn to medium low heat. Simmer covered for 1 hour to 1 and half hours. Strain the broth and season with salt.
  • Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and cook rice noodles according to instructions on the package. Drain and rinse with running tap water.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook the broccolini, 2 to 3 minutes per side, until it turns tender and lightly browned.
  • You can cook the mushrooms and the baby bok choy with the same pan-fry method. Or you can boil them in the broth after you strain the broth, 5 minutes for the mushrooms and 3 minutes for the baby bok choy.
  • To assemble the bowls, add noodles into each serving bowl and pour the broth over them. Top with broccolini, baby bok choy, mushrooms, tofu, bean sprouts, and herbs. Serve hot with lime wedges, Sriracha, and hoisin sauce on the side.


  1. If you cannot find five-spice tofu, cook baked crispy tofu according to this recipe, or make pan fried crispy tofu with this recipe.
  2. It is perfectly fine to choose 2 to 3 toppings you prefer.
  3. My favorite way to peel ginger is using a small spoon. It gets into the uneven surface without peeling off too much of the meat.


Serving: 1of the 6 servings | Calories: 273kcal | Carbohydrates: 45.4g | Protein: 12.1g | Fat: 6.6g | Sodium: 240mg | Fiber: 6.3g | Sugar: 5.2g
Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup | Gluten-Free | Vegetarian | Vegan | Vegetables | Vietnamese | Recipe | Asian


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Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my New York kitchen.

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Recipe Rating

5 thoughts on “Vegetarian Pho Noodle Soup

  1. Karl @ Healthy Kreation

    May have to change the toppings as many of the ingredients I can’t get, but thanks for sharing this modified recipe from Hetty’s book. Love the pics as they make everything pop.

  2. Ben Myhre

    I, also, am not a vegetarian (even wrote a book about bacon), BUT most of the meals we cook at our house are vegetarian. My wife is…. and since I am the cook, I work to accommodate. There are great vegetarian meals out there that really don’t need any meat. This meal looks awesome. This is going on my to save list!

  3. Caryn

    I’m making this recipe today! A nearby city makes a marvelous vegetarian pho, and I’ve been hoping to replicate the full flavors, so knowing how good your recipes are I’m hopeful.

    I have a stovetop smoker and I frequently make smoked tofu, so I’m wondering if doing so with a five spice rub might replicate the flavor of the commercial product, which I’ve never tasted? I live in a rural area with no Asian markets.

    1. Maggie Post author

      I’m glad to hear you decided to try out the recipe!
      Wow, it’s pretty hardcore to make smoked tofu at home! I’ve never tried it before. I speculate you can rub the tofu with five spice powder (just a bit) and some salt to replicate the commercial stuff. Actually, I would recommend a wet marinade with some added soy sauce and sugar as well. Just to make to dry the tofu before smoking.
      Happy cooking and I hope the result turns out great 🙂