Pho is a classic Vietnamese noodle soup, supposedly invented in Hanoi in the early 20th century. With this dish, everything's about the broth—if you don't have the right broth, you don't have the dish. Reprinted with permission from "Vietnamese Home Cooking," by Charles Phan. Published by Ten Speed Press.
For the beef stock: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add the oxtails, neck bones, and shank bones. Return the water to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Drain into colander and rinse the bones thoroughly under cold running water. Rinse the pot and return the oxtails, neck bones, and shank bones to the pot. Add water, slowly bring to a simmer, and cook for at least 6 hours. Meanwhile, roast the onion and ginger on a rimmed baking sheet for 40 minutes.
Add the roasted onion and ginger to the simmering stock, along with the cinnamon, star anise, clove, cardamom pod, pepper, and palm sugar. Add the beef brisket and cook for 30-45 minutes; remove and allow the stock to continue to simmer, skimming off any scum that rises to the top. After 6-8 hours, remove pot from the heat and use a slotted spoon to discard the large solids. Strain the stock into soup pot through a fine-mesh sieve. (Note: To store, let cool completely; then transfer to airtight containers and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Makes 6 quarts.)
For the soup: Thinly slice the top round and use the back of your knife to tenderize the meat slices; set aside. Slice the cooked brisket against the grain in thin slices; set aside. Blanch the bean sprouts in hot water; set aside. Season the stock with a few pinches of salt and fish sauce to taste.
Warm a serving bowl in hot water. Place the dried rice noodles in fine-mesh sieve; submerge the sieve in hot water and gently stir with tongs, 5–10 seconds. Place the cooked noodles in the warmed serving bowl. Top with brisket; then add a few slices of the top round and some chopped scallions and cilantro. Ladle the hot broth into the bowl, being careful not to submerge the top round. Serve immediately, accompanied by optional garnishes.