Before coming to a country of food diversity, knowing some essentials might help you get the best out of the trip, especially for vegan travelers. In short, vegan cuisine in Vietnam is vibrant, delicious, and cheap. However, if not well equipped, unwanted experiences might occur during your travel.
Overview of cuisine culture in Vietnam and what is it like for vegans?
Vietnam can be listed as a vegan-friendly country thanks to its deeply rooted religious influence, Buddhism. It's easy to find eateries, stalls, or restaurants with various vegan and vegetarian dishes in the developed areas.
In each region, locals have a slightly distinct flavor preference which also applies to vegan cuisine. For example, people in the south season foods sweeter than in the other areas, while in Central Vietnam, local preferences and bit more salty and spicy. North people have a more balanced flavor and utilize diverse types of herbal and medical elements.
But notice that, except in big cities, it gets harder to find vegan eaters as you travel north. There are way more people in the south and the south-central part (from Hue to Ca Mau) adopting a vegan diet than in the north.
As vegan eating in Vietnam originates from the practice of Buddism, a few commit to a fully vegan diet as a Buddism practice of being merciful to other species. However, the majority are partially vegan, which means each lunar month, they only eat two or four days in a vegan diet (on the full-moon day and new moon day, note that you can check the lunar calendar online. ). So during that time, many non-vegan vendors switch to making vegan dishes.
Local popular vegan dishes
Vietnam cuisine is famous for Pho and Bun Bo; these dishes also have vegan versions, which you can find almost anywhere, at any vegan restaurant in the country. Popular noodle dishes are Mi Quang Chay (vegan Mi Quang), Hu Tieu chay (vegan Hu Tieu), Bun Rieu Chay (vegan Crab paste vermicelli), and Bun Gao Xao (vegan stir-fried rice vermicelli).
Braised tofu with tomato sauces (Đậu hủ sốt cà chua)
Yes, vegans in Vietnam love tofu dis; among them, the most popular one is Fried tofu with tomato sauces. This plate is a perfect one to enjoy with white rice, as rice is an essential part of a traditional dining course in Vietnamese culture. Besides, braised tofu in spices sauce or braised tofu with mushrooms are also mouth-watering.
Some other signature dishes are Banana blossom salad (Nộm Hoa Chuối), Spring Rolls (Gỏi cuốn), Vegan Hotpot (Lẩu Chay), Vegan Banh Mi, and Sweet soup (Chè). You can check this extended version for the best vegan food in Vietnam and some recommended restaurants offering great vegan plates and services.
Save our local's favorite vegan foods to your bucket list.
Types of places that offer vegan food in Vietnam
The variety of vegan dining places is much better in big cities, especially in the south, such as Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang, or Hue. As you travel to non-tourism areas, there are primarily small eateries or Buddhist temples that offer you vegan food. Or else, you might have to ask for vegan dishes at normal (meat-based) restaurants.
In case there is no English menu (or no menu at all), you can write down, use online translation, or search the food image and show the restaurant. Please make sure you tell them carefully about putting only plant ingredients because they might add eggs, fish sauce, or meat-based spices/sauces into the dish.
Here is some info about the types of dining places that (might) offer vegan dishes:
Those are places that indeed serve a diverse range of vegan foods. But before ordering at a vegetarian restaurant, ensure that the dishes you order contain no egg or dairy (or honey).
Those are small and often cheap-priced vegan places available both in urban and rural areas. Usually, they don't have an English (or picture) menu, so it's best to show them pictures of the food you want or learn some Vietnamese names!
Normal restaurants/ eateries
If you cannot find any vegan places, you can go to a non-vegan restaurant (if you don't mind seeing and smelling the meat-based dishes) to have your meal. However, be clear to them about your vegan order and remind them to use no fish sauce, animal-based broth/sauces, eggs, and dairy.
Usually, there will be a vegan stall or restaurant inside a temple. If not, you can ask the monks for food; they will guide you to the nearest vegan place or offer you vegan nutrition for free. Make it clear that you don't want eggs or dairy inside your meal!
The prominent market has a high chance of spotting stalls that sell vegan ones. In smaller markets, you can buy easy vegan foods such as steamed sweet potato (khoai lang), steamed cassava (san), boiled glutinous corn (bap ngo luoc), peanuts (dau phong), local leafy cakes, sweet soups (che), sticky rice(xoi), or plain baguettes (banh mi khong).
Check this article for detailed information about notable vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City.
Things to notice!
It's not always easy to find a vegan restaurant with a visual or an English menu, so knowing some of the terms (or using online translate) is necessary! Notice that the word 'Chay' in Vietnamese translates both 'vegan' and 'vegetarian.' So ensure you got your correct 'chay' dishes with no eggs and dairy.
Vietnamese don't (usually) have food allergies such as nuts, seafood, or gluten, so people don't care and understand the dangers. You must be very clear about your allergy, especially to nuts (Vietnamese love peanuts)!
If you have a gluten issue, it's not a big deal in Vietnam because the locals use mostly rice products. But it's still best to tell them about gluten foods you cannot consume.
This concern only needs to be noticed when you have food at any local family (home-cook meals) or regular (meat-based) dining places.
Milk and eggs
Even though dining places serve the religious practice of not eating animals, they might still put eggs and dairy products into the dishes. You have to double-check if it is vegan or not!
In Vietnamese tradition, people avoid leftover food on the dish. They believe it disrespects people who grow and cook the food for you! So if you cannot eat a large portion of food, you can tell the seller beforehand or ask your friends to share the food with you!
Vietnamese vocabulary for vegan travelers
Here are some essential local words as you are a vegan traveler. You can write them down on a piece of paper for convenience!
- Chay - vegan/vegetarian
- Quán chay - vegan restaurant/ eatery
- Ăn chay – eat vegan/vegetarian diet
- Phở chay - Vegan Pho
- Bún chay - Vegan noodle
- Bánh mì chay - Vegetarian baguette/banh mi
- Không - No
- Thịt – meat
- Cá – fish
- Nước Mắm – fish sauce
- Trứng – eggs
- Sữa – milk
- Hạt nêm - Meat-based seasoning
- Không đậu phộng - peanut
That is almost everything needed notice for vegan before traveling to Vietnam. Wish you have a great and memorable cuisine experience!