Veganuary - Shopping local from online stores in Saigon

Photo by Hermes Rivera / Unsplash

In the spirit of Veganuary and the upcoming Tet Holiday, let’s venture out and explore the beauty of Vietnamese vegan and vegetarian food – not from some brick-and-mortar shop on the sidewalk or hidden in an alley, but found across Facebook and Instagram, in Saigon’s thriving local online businesses.

If you happen to know the local tradition of an chay (eating vegetarian or vegan food) at the start and the middle of the lunar month, then you wouldn't be surprised about how abundant these choices can be - from the good old banh mi to a sumptuous hotpot for two. Hope this will help you add more local flavors to your daily vegetable munching.

1. Banh mi cha chay – Grandma Lu

  • $$: 41,000 VND
  • Based in: District 1 & District 3

The first one on the list actually has two storefronts around the city, but I ordered my first banh mi cha chay (Vietnamese baguette with vegetarian Vietnamese ham) from its online store on ShopeeFood. I appreciate stores that offer both meaty and non-meat options – it's important to make everyone feel included.

The lack of cilantro was a bit surprising to me but might be perfect for others who prefer living without it. The cucumbers and pickles are still there for veggie enthusiasts. As for the fake meat part, it was another kind of surprise - a good one! I have never tasted anything so similar to the beloved cha chien (fried Vietnamese ham) and yet so much lighter in texture and taste. A decent choice for those who have yet to venture far into the world of local cuisine.

2. Banh mi kem nam chay – Jungle’s Pantry

  • $$: 42,000 VND

The second vegetarian banh mi store, Jungle’s Pantry, offers a less traditional and more creative combination of the Vietnamese baguette with sauteed mushrooms and a creamy sauce.

The fillings include shiitake and wood-ear mushrooms sauteed with pieces of tofu skin, combined with fresh cabbage, homemade pickles and minced cilantro – so be sure to let them know in advance if you don’t want those tiny herbs. The dairy-free, oil-free yet still creamy sauce is made from cashew nuts and chickpeas, and sprinkled with chili flakes.

Just look at that! You’re wanting a bite already.

Jungle’s Pantry also has another vegetarian dish on their compact menu, a salad with brown rice vermicelli noodle, air-fried tofu and sesame soy sauce with a spicy kick from chili oil.

3. Banh bao nguyen cam chay – Hygge

  • $$: 100,000 VND/4 pcs (25,000 VND/2 pcs for no-filling buns)
  • Based in: Go Vap District

Banh bao, as the name suggests, is the Vietnamese cousin of baozi, the popular Chinese steamed buns. Hygge specializes in sugar-free, whole-wheat banh bao, and the filling features lotus seeds and shiitake mushrooms. Another option is banh khong nhan or buns without the fillings.

They sell these vegan buns twice a month for a limited time, depending on the lunar calendar, and they will post on their social media when order is open. In between making buns, they also bake some tuiles, biscotti, and granola – clearly all in for a healthy diet.

4. Banh bao chay – Unu Homemade

  • $$: 80,000 VND/4 pcs
  • Based in: Binh Thanh District

Another online store serving the same niche of banh bao lovers, Unu Homemade makes banh bao in the traditional Northern Vietnamese style. Their signature are the soft, white buns that are slightly sweet and remind me of my hometown Hanoi, but recently, they also added whole wheat buns to their menu.

Instead of using paper wrappers, Unu’s buns sit on pieces of banana leaf – more love for the planet. The vegan filling is made of shiitake and king oyster mushrooms, carrots, jicama, tofu skin, and vegan pork. Send them a message to pre-order!

5. Banh gio chay – Lachifud

  • $$: 32,000 VND
  • Based in: District 3

Banh gio is a pyramid-shaped rice flour dumpling originating from Northern Vietnam that has made its way to Saigon in the form of cheap convenient store food, typically sold for 10,000-15,000 VND. However, the traditional banh gio is made with a filling of minced pork and wood-ear mushrooms packed with boiled quail eggs, so those of you who have chosen the veg life might have never had the chance to try it. Now you do!

At Lachifud, an online store specified in homemade Northern snacks, their banh gio chay is just as popular as their quail egg and salted egg counterparts. Filled with five types of mushrooms, carrots, and onions, it looks as good as it tastes. For a slightly higher price, you get to enjoy this beautifully shaped dumpling with vegetarian Vietnamese ham and sausage as toppings.

6. Xoi nam - Yuki Kitchen

  • $$: 55,000 VND

In a versatile store serving different menus every week, it might be hard to choose just one dish to recommend, but for me, the most impressive and also a regular on their menu is xoi nam or mushroom sticky rice.

This is the vegan version of Saigon’s popular breakfast xoi man (man means salty, but it also means the opposite of chay – food with non-vegan ingredients). Xoi man usually includes pork floss and Vietnamese ham, so here the floss is replaced by shredded, sweet sauteed mushrooms, with a piece of vegan ham to top off.

There are lots of different types of Vietnamese sticky rice that are actually vegan in the first place, often served with muoi me (toasted sesame and peanut salt), but somehow this rendition of an originally meaty dish will make you feel more fulfilled and convinced that the possibilities for veggie lovers are truly endless.

Share with us your choices!