Introducing Cookboffin - how to make tasty food on the cheap

Pho - Vietnam's national dish.
Pho - Vietnam's national dish.

THE AIM is to show people how to make really tasty food themselves, without blowing the budget and without (horror of horrors) relying on pre-prepared food from the supermarket.

It will be recipes I’ve come up with over the years whilst being a poor student and now a journalist.

All the delicious meals I’ve come up with have been born out of necessity: to save a bit of money, enjoy the food I make and then hopefully have a bit of cash left over for a few luxuries in life as a result!

I’m also going to show you some recipes which are quick and easy, because after a hard day’s work we don’t want to slave over a hot stove for hours on end.

So hopefully you’ll find a few nice recipes here which inspire you to give them a go!

For more penny pinching tasty recipes visit

Introducing Vietnam’s national dish Pho

IT’S PRONOUNCED ‘Fir’ like a fir tree and is delicious, warming, comforting and the most amazing skinny food you ever did see.

It’s also great for the purpose of this blog, which is to show you how to make cheap but tasty food.

Have you ever noticed the cheap food cookbooks you get in England all seem to have very English food?

Potatoes, offal, mince and root vegetables seem to feature quite heavily, which is all well and good, as I love all those things and am a huge fan of English food.

But let’s be honest, most of us get bored of eating English food all week and look forward to nice chilli laden pick me up!

There are all kinds of different versions of Pho, depending on where you have it in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese eat this for breakfast or lunch and they had a café in Ho Chi Minh City called Pho 24 which I think was kind of like their McDonalds equivalent – cost one dollar for a bowl.

There’s hardly any fat in here and in fact the majority of the bulk is made up of this chilli, lime and herb infused broth which fills you up but allows you to move about afterwards with ease and rehydrates you. Not bad when it’s 35 degrees outside!

Now in HCMC the quality of the meat varied a lot. The good quality places used steak, the less salubrious establishments were using stewing beef.

Obviously it’s nicer with steak, but I used a big hunk of stewing beef today from the butcher and it was great! Only £6 a kilo! And it was tender, melt in your mouth tender.

As for the herbs I grow my own mint and basil to cut costs down, but I haven’t started a new coriander plant yet, so bought that.

If you want to keep the cost down a bit, you can just use coriander and it will still be great, but the basil and mint do give it an extra lift. It’s also quick and easy.

Pho originated in the early 20th century, southwest of Hanoi in Nam Dinh province, then a huge textile market, where cooks tried to keep the Vietnamese happy with rice noodles and French tastes happy with beef.

Pho was first sold by vendors from large boxes, until the first Pho restaurant opened in the 1920s in Hanoi.

Here’s how to make it.

Serves one


About 100g-150g of stewing beef

Handful of beansprouts

One spring onion, finely sliced

Handful of fresh coriander, basil and mint leaves, chopped

Sprinkle of dried chilli flakes

Quarter of a lime

Fish Sauce

Thin rice vermicelli noodles

For the broth:

Beef stock cube

About six peppercorns

Quarter of an onion, chopped

A garlic segment, chopped

Sprinkling powdered cinnamon and ginger, about a level teaspoon of each


Put small pot of water on, about third full and boil. When boiling add all the broth ingredients.

Turn down to a simmer and leave to cook for an hour on a low heat.

When the stock is ready, get the bits of onion, garlic and pepper out with a slotted spoon and bin them.

Finely slice your raw beef and add to the pot on a low heat so it cooks gently.

Now put another pot on for your rice noodles. While that is boiling, slice your spring onion.

Put into a big soup or pasta bowl with your chill flakes, beansprouts, and herbs.

When the water boils add your noodles. They will only need about a minute.

Drain those once they have turned from translucent to white and put in the bowl.

Next tip broth with beef into the bowl. Squeeze the lime juice in and add a shaking of fish sauce.

In Vietnam they eat this with chopsticks. I use a fork to pick out all the bits, winding the noodles around my fork like with pasta and then a spoon to shovel the tasty broth down my gullet.

Sometimes if no one is watching I just drink it out of the bowl! It’s a lot quicker.