Recipe ideas: Vietnamese beef noodle soup

Having the most frugal grocery budget in the world isn’t going to help you and if you can’t put together at least a few healthy, tasty, and cheap eats! Every month, The Outlier Model features a cheap recipe idea, along with the cost breakdown.

If you haven’t had pho or Vietnamese beef noodle soup, truly you are missing out. It is a wonderfully rich, broth soup made with slowly simmered beef bones and served with rice noodles and thinly sliced meats. Most people know pho as a cheap meal out, but it’s also an economical soup to make at home, both in terms of time and also money.


What you need:

  • Pho seasoning pouch or block (<$1)
  • beef bones ($2-3 for a giant bag)
  • tops of  daikon and carrots (free! – save these in your freezer until you use them in soup stocks)
  • 1 small onion, roasted ($0.20)
  • 1 small ginger root, peeled, sliced thickly and roasted ($0.35)
  • bean sprouts ($0.30)
  • fresh basil, whole ($0.5 half a bunch)
  • green onion, chopped finely ($0.33 a bunch)
  • cilantro, chopped finely ($0.50 half a bunch)
  • 1 package rice noodles ($1.49 a package)
  • hoisin sauce and chili sauce (<$0.25 per serving)
  • salt and sugar (<$0.10 per serving)

Nice to have:

  • star anise (your flavor pouch should have this, but it’s nice to toss in a few whole)
  • meat of choice – brisket or chicken breast is easy to use, but experiment to see what you like!
  • white onion, Thai chili or jalapeno

Clean and cut in half the onion and the ginger. Roast for a few minutes in the oven or toast on an unoiled pan until browned.

Fill a large pot with approximate 3L of water and bring to a boil. Add beef bones, daikon top, carrot tops, roasted onion, roasted ginger, and flavor pouch or block. If you intend on making cooked meat for the soup, add the cut of meat you are using now.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for at least one hour.

Strain the mixture into a new pot. If you are using pre-cooked meats (slices of leftover chicken, pork meatballs or tripe), add them now. If you had added meat earlier, slice it now and add it to the pot. Put the soup on low to simmer and add salt and sugar to taste.

Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water and cook rice noodles according to the package directions. One package makes 5-6 servings of rice noodles.

While the noodles are cooking, wash bean sprouts, cilantro, green onion, and basil. Chop the cilantro and green onion finely. Slice white onion and red chilies or jalapenos.

Divide the cooked noodles into large soup bowls and add broth and meat. Garnish with fresh herbs and veggies and serve with hoisin sauce and chili sauce on the side.

Servings: 6+

Cost per serving: It really depends on how many servings you get, which depends on how much water you used initially and how concentrated you allowed the broth to get.  If you assume only 6 servings, your cost ranges from about $1.40 to $1.75 per serving depending on what kind of meat and how much, if any, you include.

Remember, pho is not meant to be a meat-intensive meal!

Feeling adventurous? Use thinly sliced raw beef and add them to the bottom of your bowl before adding noodles or soup.  Then, allow the meat to cook in the hot soup just before eating.  Or, try other popular toppings, such as tripe or tendon. You can also try out other Vietnamese cuisines.

Frugal hack: Use leftover cilantro, basil and green onion to top a stir fry or instant noodles later in the week.  If you store washed and chopped herbs in a sealed container, they will keep for quite a while.  At the moment, I have fresh cilantro in my fridge that is almost two weeks old.  It’s still green and crisp!

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Posted in: Food and Grocery, Recipes

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