A gorgeous bowl of nộm hoa chuối by Aaron Joel Santos
Vegetarians will delight in a cuisine that appraises a good meal based on the number of herbs by which it’s perfumed. But more importantly, there is a vegetarian iteration for every major dish. Fear not -- dietary restrictions will never prevent you from sampling the country’s quintessential delights like phở, bánh mì, and gỏi cuốn. What distinguishes Vietnamese cuisine from all other Southeast Asian culinary practices is its respect for fresh vegetables and herbs. And for those who adhere to a vegan diet, you’re in luck. Hardly any dairy is used in the preparation of Vietnamese food. Just steer clear of fish sauce, the country’s most profusely used flavouring agent.
Unless you’re pescetarian, vegans should always say "không nước mắm" -- no fish sauce.
So what does Vietnam’s food scene entail for the wandering plant-eater? For starters, it won’t be an all-out mission to track down dinner as vegetarian eateries, as restaurants marked as ‘Quán Chay’ or 'Cơm Chay' are plentiful. Although the abundance of vegetarian-friendly restaurants is mostly widespread, vegetarianism seems to be more commonly observed down in Southern Vietnam because of its access to the Mekong Delta, the largest export market for fruits and vegetables in the country.
As you travel north, the numbers start to dwindle but vegetarian presence still remains strong in major cities such as Hanoi. Statistics reveal that while 55 percent of Vietnamese claim to be Buddhists, only 12 percent of Vietnam’s population abides by its strictures. Because vegetarian habits are somewhat rooted in religious principles, you see that it is readily available near pagodas and temples.
The diverse selection of vegetarian-friendly options goes beyond the standard characterless vegetable fried rice offered by neighbouring countries like Thailand and Cambodia. Between the well established tradition of baguettes, noodles and even steamed rice rolls, you'll have plenty of options. One of the best ways to start your day is a bánh mì ốp la, the ultimate breakfast sandwich, consisting of a fried egg, soy sauce, black pepper, and fresh cilantro.
Opt out of meat in your sandwich or noodles by saying "không thịt" -- no meat.
From avant-garde eateries to hole-in-the-wall cafes down unassuming alleyways, you’ll find meals that run a wide range. And unlike other countries where vegetarianism is more of a fad and therefore more costly, eating a fantastic meal won’t break the bank. Some vegetarian canteens that served up buffets of vegan entrees to choose from, alongside red rice, nuts and even faux-meat made from coconut.
To notify any vendor of your dietary habits, use the phrase:
"Tôi ăn chay." I eat vegetarian food.
As mentioned above, nearly any item on a menu has a vegetarian counterpart The magic word that will allow you to do so is “chay.” So, for example, when you want to order a vegetarian phở, all you have to do is attach “chay” to the end.
Phở chay = vegetarian pho
Bánh mì chay = vegetarian sandwich
Gỏi cuốn chay = vegetarian fresh spring roll
Cơm chay = vegetarian rice
Vietnamese cuisine proves that vegetarian food is anything but boring.
Bột chiên: fried square rice flour cakes with whipped eggs and green onion that has the consistency of seasoned potatoes
Nộm hoa chuối: savoury, zesty and scrumptious banana flower salad with a squeeze of lime and a handful of chili
Đậu sốt cà chua: fried golden tofu, bathed in rich tomato sauce and garnished with green onion
Rau muống xào tỏi: stir-fried morning glory (also known as water spinach) with diced garlic
Bánh xèo chay: fried savoury made of rice flour and coconut milk, stuffed with diced green onion, bean sprouts, and mushrooms
Xôi Bắp: commonly eaten for breakfast - sweet sticky rice mixed with boiled corn and topped with green mung beans, sugar, and fried onions
Gỏi đu đủ chay: green papaya salad dressed in a vinegary, soy sauce combo and garnished with crushed peanuts, bird eye chilies, and tofu
Cao lầu chay: noodles tossed in sweet soy dressing and garnished with a fluffy pile of greens and fried rice crackers found only in Hoi An
Chè: the popular Vietnamese desserts have many forms but are always vegetarian and even vegan friendly
Kay Vegan, 84A Nguyen Dinh Chieu, District 1, $$$ (vegan)
Hum Vegetarian, 32 Vo Van Tan, District 3, $$$ (vegetarian and vegan)
Prem Bistro & Cafe, 204 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, District 3, $$$ (vegetarian and vegan)
Saigon Vegan, 378/3 Võ Văn Tần, District 3, $$ (vegan)
Mani Vegan Restaurant, 291/2 Vo Van Tan St, District 3, $ (vegetarian)
Bong Sung, 86 Nguyen Du, District 1, $ (vegetarian)
Om Hanoi: Yoga & Cafe, 62 Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoan Kiem, $$$ (vegetarian and vegan)
An Phuc, 11 Ngo, 131 Thai Ha, $$ (vegan)
Loving Hut (Thế Giới Chay), 9A Dang Tat, Ba Dinh, $$ (vegan)
Com Chay Ha Thanh, 116 Ngo 166 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh (Kim MaTheatre), $$ (vegan)
V's House, 2nd floor, 40 Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem, $$$ (vegetarian)
Veggie Castle, 7 Yen Ninh, Truc Bach, $ (vegan)
Bo De Quan, 164 Au Co, Tay Ho District, $ (vegan)
Hanoi Social Club, 6 Ngo Hoi Vu, Hang Bong, $$$ (vegetarian and vegan)
Uu Dam Chay, 34 Hang Bai, Hoan Kiem, $$$ (vegetarian)