Hot Pot vs Pho: Key Differences Between These Soups

As someone who loves Asian noodle soups, I used to think hot pot and pho were basically the same thing. A closer look reveals some distinct differences between these two communal, broth-based dishes. While they both deliver warming comfort in a bowl, from the ingredients and textures to the flavors and customs, hot pot and pho each offer their own unique experience.

The main difference is that hot pot revolves around cooking raw ingredients like thinly sliced meat and vegetables at the table in a simmering pot of broth. Pho features rice noodles and herb garnishes in beef or chicken broth that is carefully prepared in advance. With hot pot, you dip and swirl into shared broth yourself while pho arrives ready to eat in an individual serving.

If you’ve ever found yourself confused between hot pot and Vietnam’s national dish pho, this article will clear things up. I’ll compare and contrast the origins, broths, dipping sauces, customs, and other nuances that make each soup distinctive. You’ll finish ready to decide which steaming bowlful to sample first! So read on to become an expert in the subtleties between hot pot and pho.

Overview of Hot Pot and Pho

To start, here’s a quick rundown of these two soups:

  • Hot pot – Chinese (or Asian) soup where diners cook raw meat and vegetables in a simmering pot of broth at the table.
  • Pho – Vietnamese noodle soup with rice noodles, herb garnishes, and beef or chicken broth. Broth is prepared in advance.

While both soups are served communally in one pot and eaten with chopsticks or a spoon, the particular ingredients, flavors, and customs of hot pot vs pho set them apart.

Hot Pot Ingredients

Hot pot starts with a pot of simmering broth. Common hot pot ingredients include:

  • Thinly sliced raw beef, pork, chicken, seafood
  • Tofu, fish cakes, fish balls, dumplings
  • Assorted vegetables like bok choy, mushrooms, cabbage
  • Rice noodles, glass noodles, egg noodles
  • Dipping sauces and condiments
  • Flavorful broth – chicken, tomato, mushroom, spicy

The appeal is selecting your own ingredients to drop into the shared broth to cook tableside.

Pho Ingredients

The ingredients that go into pho are much more precise:

  • Rice noodles – banh pho noodles specifically
  • Beef or chicken broth
  • Sliced beefsteak, brisket, meatballs
  • Onion, scallions, cilantro, basil
  • Bean sprouts, lime wedges
  • Hoisin sauce, Sriracha on side
  • Optional garnishes like chili oil

Pho is assembled with noodles and preset ingredients layered into the premade broth.

Cooking Methods

The cooking methods for these soups differ significantly:

Hot Pot Cooking

  • Tableside broth stays simmering
  • Raw ingredients are added to cook
  • Ingredients cook quickly in broth
  • Diners dip and swirl items themselves
  • Customizable as you cook

Pho Cooking

  • Beef bones are simmered for hours
  • Spices and herbs are added
  • No cooking at table
  • Broth and noodles are assembled
  • Strictly measured ingredients

The interactive component is lost with pho, as broth preparation is intricate.

Broths and Flavors

Let’s compare the broths and resulting flavors:

Hot Pot Broths

  • Clear, light essence
  • Subtle, lets ingredients shine
  • Diverse broth bases
  • Customizably spicy
  • Umami flavors enhancement

Pho Broths

  • Intensely beefy or chicken
  • Simmered for hours with spices
  • Anise, clove, cinnamon flavors
  • Beef bone marrow richness
  • Consistent depth of flavor

Pho broth is the star and requires masterful simmering for full flavor. Hot pot broth plays a supporting role.

Dipping Sauces

An array of dipping sauces completes hot pot, while pho has standard condiments:

Hot Pot Dipping Sauces

  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame sauce
  • Chili oil
  • Garlic sauce
  • Vinegar, ponzu sauce
  • Peanut sauce
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Chili crisp

Pho Condiments

  • Hoisin sauce
  • Sriracha
  • Lime wedges
  • Fresh chili slices
  • Bean sprouts
  • Thai basil
  • Optional extras like chili oil

The variety of hot pot sauces allows diners to control flavors. Pho relies on traditional condiments.

Customs and Etiquette

These soups come with their own customs:

Hot Pot Customs

  • Cook ingredients in batches
  • Don’t overcrowd the pot
  • Dip cooked items in sauce
  • Drink broth throughout
  • Add more broth and ingredients as needed
  • Use chopsticks or wire strainers
  • Help prepare ingredients to cook

Pho Customs

  • Add bean sprouts, basil, lime
  • Season to taste with hoisin and Sriracha
  • Squeeze lime juice and toss in basil
  • Drink broth between bites
  • Don’t add extra garnishes
  • Use chopsticks and spoon
  • Broth and noodles come fully prepared

Hot pot encourages involvement, while pho etiquette is more rigid.

Hot Pot vs Pho: Side-by-Side Comparison

| Category | Hot Pot | Pho |
| Ingredients | Raw meats, tofu, veggies, noodles | Rice noodles, precooked meat, herbs |
| Cooking Method | Simmering pot, dip and cook tableside | Complex broth, preset ingredients |
| Broths | Clear, light | Intense beef or chicken |
| Dipping Sauces | Wide array for flavoring | Standard hoisin and Sriracha |
| Customs | Interactive, customizable | Strict garnish and etiquette rules |

Origins of Hot Pot and Pho

Hot pot and pho also differ in their origins:

Hot Pot History

  • Mongolian nomads cooking in pots
  • Spread through China into Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia
  • Adapted with local ingredients like sukiyaki in Japan
  • Remained more traditional in China
  • Recently popularized in the West

Pho History

  • Originated in Northern Vietnam in early 1900s
  • Blends traditional Vietnamese and French cuisine
  • Gained popularity in South Vietnam post-war
  • Spread with Vietnamese diaspora across the globe
  • Emerged as Vietnam’s national dish

While both are Asian in origin, hot pot has ancient roots where pho is just over 100 years old.

Flavor Profiles

Here are the general flavor profiles of each soup:

Hot Pot Flavors

  • Clear, delicate broth taste
  • Ingredients’ flavors emerge
  • Sauces customize spice, salt, sweet
  • Umami enhancement via mushrooms, seaweed
  • Numerous ingredient combinations

Pho Flavors

  • Intense depth of beef or chicken
  • Warming anise, clove, cinnamon
  • Herbaceous cilantro, basil, lime
  • Savory hoisin, spicy Sriracha
  • Standard and consistent pho profile

Pho focuses on a singular, complex broth. Hot pot balances components.

When Should You Eat Each Soup?

Both soups hit the spot in certain scenarios:

Eat hot pot when you want:

  • An interactive, choose-your-own-adventure meal
  • Light, clear broth to balance ingredients
  • Numerous dipping sauce possibilities
  • Cooking components tableside for freshness

Eat pho when you want:

  • Intense, comforting beef or chicken essence
  • Noodles and garnishes neatly prepared
  • A warm, familiar flavor profile
  • A reliable homemade taste every time


Is hot pot spicy?

Hot pot can be spicy if you add chili oil, crushed chilies, or Sichuan peppercorns to the broth. The level of spice is customizable based on personal preference. Pho is generally not spicy unless you add chili sauce.

What meat is used in pho?

Pho is most commonly made with beef broth and thin slices of raw eye of round or brisket steak. Some pho contains meatballs. Chicken pho uses poached chicken.

What noodles are used in hot pot?

Popular hot pot noodles include rice noodles, egg noodles, glass noodles made from mung beans or sweet potato starch. Avoid fragile pasta noodles that can overcook.

How do you cook raw meat for hot pot?

Dip paper-thin slices of raw meat into the simmering broth for just 30-60 seconds until cooked through. Swirl vigorously to prevent sticking. Don’t overcook.

Is pho gluten free?

Traditional pho broth and rice noodles are gluten-free. However, some restaurants add wheat noodles, soy sauce, or oyster sauce containing gluten. Check ingredients if you have an allergy.

So Hot Pot or Pho – Which Is Better?

At the end of the day, whether hot pot or pho is “better” comes down to personal taste preferences.

If you want a fun, interactive dining experience with ultra-fresh ingredients, hot pot is likely more appealing. For those times you crave a steaming, flavor-packed bowl of noodles and meat, pho is the clear winner.

The best move is to sample both soups to decide which elements you enjoy most. Of course, there’s no rule you can’t slurp down some pho today and have hot pot tomorrow!

When it comes to delicious Asian soups meant for sharing, both hot pot and pho deliver mouthwatering flavors, textures, and customs. Now that you know the key differences between these two icons, pull up a seat and dig into whichever steaming bowl of goodness is calling your name.

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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