Phocumber: Sweet ‘n Sour Pho-Spiced Vinegar Pickles


I always had trouble coming up with a name for these, like my Phokra and Phomato. A mix of the word pho and pickles – Phockles – (pronounced “Fuckles” since pho is pronounced “fuh”) just never sat right. This is my update: Phocumber! Sure, it sounds like Fuck Umber, but that’s Umber’s problem, am I right?

I once made fermented pho pickles and I love them. Fermented pickles are not normally sweet, seeing as the very process of lacto-fermentation is the conversion of sugars into food-preserving lactic acid through the use of the living bacteria on the plant surface.

Although I really enjoy those fermented pickles, it got me thinking about a sweet version, seeing as pho soup is traditionally sweetened with some rock sugar. Notwithstanding that there are ways to sweeten fermented pickles (at least temporarily), a simpler approach is to make vinegar pickles.

There can be confusion about what vinegar pickling is. Vinegar is an end product of a fermentation process, but it is not a medium (i.e. liquid) in which things can be fermented. Its low pH strongly inhibits fermentation. This means, besides imparting its pungent sour flavor, it can be sweetened without risk of the sugars being fermented out. What’s more, in this recipe the brine is also boiled and poured hot over the cucumber chips, killing off any bacteria from the outset anyway.

So, if you’re looking for a sweet vinegar pickle with the unmistakable flavor of pho, look no further!

This recipe is for a quart jar of pickle chips.

You will need:


  • 1 lb. cucumbers, 1/4″ slices
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 rounded TBSP pho spice blend (+cinnamon stick)
  • 1 TBSP salt
  • 1/4 onion, thin-sliced (50g)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, quartered
  • Juice & zest of 1 lime
  • Several slices of ginger (~5-7g)
  • Several basil leaves and/or cilantro stalks
  • Several Thai red chilies (or slice a couple red jalapenos or other hot pepper as desired)
  • 1 TBSP fish sauce (more or less to taste)


1.) Wash and slice the cucumbers into 1/4″ slices. Also peel and prepare the onion, garlic, and ginger. Rinse the basil leaves and remove any stems. Zest and juice the lime and set aside.

2.) In the mixing bowl, gently mix the salt and cucumber slices evenly. Allow to sit for about 1.5 hours. (Covering with plastic wrap recommended).

3.) Towards the end of waiting on the cucumber, place the pho spices in the mortar and pestle and lightly crush. Then combine it in the saucepan with the vinegar, water, sugar, and cinnamon stick. Set on high and bring to a boil, stirring. Then cover the saucepan and reduce heat to simmer.

4.) Meanwhile, strain and thoroughly rinse the cucumber slices, then transfer them to the quart jar, followed by the sliced onions, garlic, ginger, basil leaves, hot peppers, and fish sauce.

5.) While the brine is still simmering, place the canning funnel over the jar (recommended) and pour the hot brine into the packed jar. Include all the spices and cinnamon stick into the jar.

6.) Apply the lid to the jar tightly and let stand for one hour. Then transfer to refrigerator and give at least 24 hours for the flavor to penetrate.

They should reliably keep in the fridge for at least two months. If anything is above the brine, just periodically push those pieces down under with a fork or tip the jar upside down.


  1. Oh man, you know I HAVE to make these! You’re a bad ass pickle man dude.

  2. Wow! I just tasted your pho kraut recipe after a three and a half week fermentation. Oh. My. Goodness!! So good. I am getting cukes tomorrow for this one. If it’s half a good as the kraut I’ll probably make myself sick. LOL

  3. Can this recipe be processed so keep for the winter?


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