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Position oven rack approximately 5 inches (12.5 cm) away from the broiling element and preheat broiler to high. Quarter onions and slice gingerroot in half lengthwise. Arrange cut-side up on a large foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and brush lightly with oil. Broil for 10 to 12 minutes until deeply browned and almost black. Let cool. Do not remove the blackened areas.
Meanwhile, combine beef bones and meat in a 12-quart (12 L) stockpot. Add cold water to cover by 2 inches (5 cm). Bring to a boil over high heat; boil, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain and discard the water.
Meanwhile, combine star anise, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and coriander seeds in a small skillet. Toast over medium heat, shaking pan constantly, for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool. Enclose the spices in cheesecloth bundle, a tea filter bag or spice infuser, if desired. Set aside.
Rinse the bones and meat under cool water, carefully removing any scum clinging to the bones. Wash out the pot and return the bones to the pot. Add 8 quarts (8 L) water and return to a boil over high heat. Remove any scum that rises to the surface with a large spoon, then turn down to a simmer. Add the charred onions, ginger, spice bundle (or loose spices) and 1 tbsp (15 mL) salt. Gently simmer for 2 to 3 hours, until meat is tender (timing will depend on the cut used).
Remove the meat from broth with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of cold water to prevent it from darkening. Continue simmering the broth for 6 to 9 hours longer, maintaining a water level of 3 inches (7.5 cm) above the bones by adding water as needed, until flavour is developed. When meat is cool, remove from the water, cover and refrigerate until serving.
Drain the broth through a colander or large sieve into a large bowl or another pot, pressing down on the solids. Discard solids. There should be 6 quarts (6 L) broth; either add more water or reduce the broth over medium-low heat to reach that amount.
Return the broth to the pot and season it with fish sauce, salt and sugar, adding more to taste. Skim off the fat, as desired. Thinly slice the reserved meat and add it to the soup and reheat to serve. Garnish with onion, chili peppers and cilantro, as desired.