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What’s the Difference Between Phở and Ramen? (Differences and Similarities, Explained)

difference between pho and ramen

Phở and ramen are like apples and oranges. They’re both Asian noodle dishes that are a great meal year round, but that’s pretty much where their similarities end. The main difference between phở and ramen is that phở is a Vietnamese dish with a light, clear broth with rice noodles, lots of aromatic herbs, and a few meat-based toppings. On the other hand, ramen is a Japanese dish served in a thicker, stronger-flavor broth with wheat-based noodles and a serving of meaty and vegetarian toppings. 

Difference between pho and ramen

What is ramen?

Originally hailing from China, ramen is a noodle dish that is essentially made up of wheat noodles, a savory broth, and a variety of toppings, including pork belly, ground pork, beef, chashu, green onion, seaweed, and corn. And that’s the short list. It’s primarily characterized by the type of broth that’s served with the noodles, with the four most popular broths being shio, shoyu, tonkotsu, and miso. The type of broth you’re enjoying will usually dictate what toppings and protein you’re served with your ramen. You can read our in-depth guide to all the different broths here

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Most people come to know ramen through its instant version. The popularization of instant ramen in the 1980s and 1990s led to its adoption into the national culinary oeuvre. Recently, however, many people have come to come to understand that instant ramen is pretty lacking in essential nutrients and is not the healthiest means to achieve a balanced diet. Immi ramen, which is plant-based, low-carb, and consistently delicious, was created in response to this criticism. Immi ramen is an instant ramen that respects traditional flavors while catering to the health needs of a more modern population. The result? A super slurpable, chewy noodle dish with a savory broth that’ll warm your belly just like the restaurant stuff.

How is ramen broth made?

Ramen broth is heavier and has a stronger flavor than phở broth. It makes sense when you look at how two of its most popular types — tonkotsu and miso ramen — are made. 

Tonkotsu is made by boiling pork bones for hours at a time, sometimes even the better part of the day. The resulting broth is thick, murky, fatty, and absolutely chock full of savory umami flavor. Tonkotsu ramen — defined by this thick broth — is often cited as many people’s favorite type of ramen. 

Miso ramen is similarly packed with a super characteristic flavor that you can’t liken to anything else out there. To make miso ramen, you first start with a soup base that’s flavored with chicken, beef, seafood, or simply dashi. Then, you add fermented soybean paste, a funky, deliciously pungent seasoning that elevates the color of the broth from clear to beige and thickens up the texture. 

Ramen broth has layers of savory flavor, and more often than not, it’s thicker and more intensely flavored than phở broth.

How are ramen noodles made?

Ramen noodles are wheat-based noodles, made with flour, water, salt, and kansui (a special water that makes the noodles chewy and yellow). To make the (often) curly noodles, you mix the dough then roll it out. Then, you slice them into thin noodles that you can either cook shortly after or put it through the dehydration process that converts it into instant ramen. 

Most people prefer the taste of fresh handmade noodles, as they’re chewier, thicker, and springier. But many high-quality instant ramen noodles — like immi Ramen — will do a fine job of replicating both texture and flavor, and letting the broth’s flavor shine through.

Difference between pho and ramen - what is pho

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What is phở?

Considered Vietnam’s national dish, phở is a noodle dish made with bone broth, rice noodles called bánh phở, herbs, and sliced meat. While the broth is significantly lighter and thinner than, say, ramen broth, it packs a punch of flavor and a deeply aromatic taste that you can smell a mile away. 

Personally, I also find this dish “fun’ to eat, because of all the garnishes that it’s served with, including basil, cilantro, radishes, chilies, sprouts, and lime. All of which you’re welcome to add to the broth, or sometimes enjoy as a side dish. Every phở restaurant is also always stocked with bottles of sriracha or hoisin sauce, which you’ll want to use to eat your meat with. 

How is phở broth made?

Phở broth is unassuming, but mighty. You need only look at the recipe to figure out how such a simple broth contains so many flavors. To start, pre-boil the beef bones and meat for a long time. Then, char the onions and ginger, and toast spices like cloves, fennel, and coriander seed. Finally, the best broths aren’t seasoned with mere salt, but lots of high-quality Vietnamese fish sauce. The whole process takes many hours and should yield a clear broth that’s layered in flavor. 

How are phở noodles made?

Phở noodles are made with rice, are flat in shape (like fettuccine), and white and slightly translucent in color. To make it, you combine rice flour, salt, water, and starch into one lump of rice batter, steam it into thin sheets, then cut it into thick strands. The process can be finicky because of the stickiness of rice noodles and the tedious cooling process, so most restaurants and even home cooks will simply buy the dried version. However, true phở veterans know that fresh noodles are tender and melt-in-your-mouth soft, and can’t be replicated by simply boiling dried rice noodles.

Difference between pho and ramen - Main differences

What are the main differences between phở and ramen?

  • Broth: Ramen broth starts out with a clear meat-, seafood-, or dashi-based broth, then is seasoned with soy, salt, miso, or bone broth. Phở broth is made by boiling beef bones and seasoned with lots of spices and herbs. 
  • Noodles: Ramen noodles are wheat-based, yellow, and chewy and springy in texture. Phở noodles are rice-based, white, chewy. and extra slippery. 
  • Toppings: A bowl of ramen can pack a huge range of toppings, including different cuts of meat, mushrooms, corn, green onion, etc. A bowl of phở always has the same type of toppings, like bean sprouts, sliced onions, basil, cilantro, and chilies, while varying in the type of sliced meat it’s served with. 
  • Types: The variation in ramen comes from the seasoning that’s used to flavor the broth. The variation in phở, on the other hand, comes from the type of meat used, as well as the noodles and toppings it’s served with. 
Difference between pho and ramen - Similarities

What are the similarities between phở broth and ramen broth?

Phở broth and ramen broth share many similarities in how they’re prepared, despite yielding vastly different results. Excluding some seafood- and salt-based ramen broths, both ramen and phở are meat-based broths and benefit from the pure savoriness of animal protein. They also are both made via long simmering processes that rely on long cooking times to adequately extract flavor and break down the meat and bones. While the final flavor of these respective broths is wildly different, they’re both hot, savory broths that go perfectly with noodles.