I've noticed that both in Europe as well as Vietnam, the beef slices in noodle soups (in particular phở bò) tend to have two salient qualities:

  1. they are absurdly, melt-in-your-mouth tender, and
  2. they are very curled up.

The beef is sliced quite thinly and added to the bowl of boiling hot broth right before serving. In particular, the meat is not stewed or boiled beforehand. While I don't know what cut it was, the prices at the places I've eaten at suggest they most certainly did not use the most expensive, tender cuts, and yet the beef was softer than anything I've ever eaten, but also curled up tightly, even more than e.g. bacon does in a frying pan.

What's the procedure to obtain both properties above (which I assume connected)? I would venture the guess they use some sort of chemical meat tenderizer, but I am not sure when and how exactly.

  • baking soda is fairly common in chinese cuisine for the purpose of tenderization. might be the same thing in vietnamese cooking
    – eps
    Apr 19, 2023 at 20:02

1 Answer 1


In your case it's probably brisket or flank steak, which are stringier cuts and are therefore more prone to curling. Slicing them very thin lets them cook through after a quick dunk in the hot broth and makes them tender without the long cooking that these cuts would usually require. They might also be frozen to enable them to be sliced thinly or after cutting for general preservation, which could make them even more tender. I doubt there's a chemical tenderizer or marinade involved, but you can always ask the restaurant.

  • Thanks for your suggestions. Would freezing be typically done before or after cooking, esp when aiming to maximize tenderness (mind you, the meat didn't seem close to falling apart or anything)? Apr 19, 2023 at 4:36
  • 1
    I would just put the steak in the freezer for 15-20 minutes until it's lightly frozen and then slice it with the grain into 2-3mm thick slabs. The quick cooking in the hot broth isn't long enough to break down the connective tissue so the meat will still hold together but when it's sliced that thinly it won't be unpleasantly tough or chewy.
    – vir
    Apr 19, 2023 at 17:56
  • I will have to try this; I am somewhat skeptical if this produces the observed result, because the meat wasn't "not chewy," but impossibly tender. We'll see. I might stop by the place around the corner here again and see if they let me in on their (not so) secret. Thanks in the meanwhile. Apr 19, 2023 at 18:49
  • I think @vir is the best you can do at home but I suspect the meat in the restaurant is sliced even thinner, maybe 1mm thick slabs which makes it even more tender. You can buy frozen, very thinly sliced meat in Chinese supermarkets for use in hotpot (a Chinese dish were you also throw the raw meat in boiling broth).
    – quarague
    Apr 24, 2023 at 12:10

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