Vietnam may seem like a challenging place to find vegetarian food. There is plenty of meat consumed in this country. Even if you manage to substitute the meat and seafood with vegetarian alternatives, hidden ingredients like fish sauce and shrimp paste may spoil your efforts in finding local vegetarian food. However, there is a surprisingly good amount of vegetarian and vegan food available in the most commonly visited cities of Vietnam. With some knowledge beforehand and a list of Vietnamese phrases, you can eat like a local and still be vegetarian. The following is a guide on vegetarian food in Vietnam.
1) Learn to say a few vegetarian phrases in Vietnamese
To say “I am a vegetarian” in Vietnamese, you have to say “tôi là người ăn chay”. If you are vegan then say “tôi là người thuần chay“.
You can then follow up by pointing out the foods that you do not eat. To say “I do not eat ….” in Vietnamese, you have to say “Tôi không ăn ….” and then add the following words as per your dietary preferences:
thịt, which means meat, thịt gà means chicken, thịt lợn means pork, cá which means fish, hải sản which means seafood, and so on.
A complete checklist is provided below. So, if you want to say “I do not eat meat”, just say “Tôi không ăn thịt“.
If you want to say “I do not eat meat, chicken, fish or pork”, then say “Tôi không ăn thịt, thịt gà, cá hoặc thịt lợn“. The word hoặc means or.
You can end with a simple “thank you” or “cảm ơn“.
2) Print the following image and show it to your server while ordering
* if you have trouble printing the image below directly, then you can copy paste the image onto a word document and then print*
Following are phrases that can be used to explain dietary restrictions, and what you can and cannot eat. Tick whatever is applicable. They are written in the local Indonesian language. You can show this to your server while you order or ask the restaurant staff before you get seated.
You can also use this card below to communicate your dietary preferences:
3) Try these local dishes
Phở – This noodle-soup dish is the most iconic food of Vietnam. You cannot go to Vietnam and not have phở. Most of the phở that you will get all over Vietnam will have soup broth, rice noodles, some meat, lots of veggies, and herbs. It is not very easy to find purely vegetarian phở because even if you substitute the meat with tofu or something vegetarian, you still have the meat-based broth to worry about. Some phở joints might also add fish sauce for flavoring. However, it is possible to find vegetarian/vegan pho in select restaurants. “Phở chay” is the word for vegetarian phở.
Bánh mì – Bánh mì is a baguette sandwich that is unique to Vietnam. The word “bánh mì” actually translates to bread. However, it is popularly understood as a sandwich filled with savoury ingredients. Bánh mì represents a fusion of Vietnamese and French cuisines and is a reminder of the country’s colonial past. Bánh mì is usually filled with meat, vegetables, and sauces. The vegetables include cucumber, pickled carrots, and radish. Spicy sauces and sliced chillies add zing to the sandwich.
As a vegetarian, the safest option you can have is the Bánh Mì Chay or the vegetarian baguette. This sandwich will have tofu or seitan as its filling. If you eat eggs, then you could consider ordering the Bánh Mì Trứng Chiên (omelet) or Trứng Luộc (boiled eggs). For breakfast, you might want to go for the Bánh Mì Bơ or the butter baguette. But with the egg and butter options, make sure there is no meat or fish sauce/oyster sauce/shrimp paste in the sandwich.
Bánh xèo chay – This dish is basically a stuffed rice pancake. The rice pancake is made up of rice flour (it is similar to a dosa). It is cooked with sprouts or mushrooms. The rice pancake is served with a side of cucumbers, lettuce, and herbs. You are supposed to wrap the veggies inside the pancake and eat the whole thing like a roll. Alternatively, you can break off a piece of the golden yellow rice pancake and wrap it inside a big piece of lettuce. The bánh xèo is often served with a dipping sauce. Just make sure that the sauce is vegetarian. Also, before your order your bánh xèo chay, clarify that there is no “nước mắm” (fish sauce) or mắm tôm (shrimp paste) in it.
Gỏi cuốn chay – Fresh vegetarian spring rolls are a great appetizer to start off any meal. You can order them vegetarian with a peanut soy dipping sauce as well. Simply ask for “gỏi cuốn chay với tương dậu phộng” which means vegetarian spring rolls with peanut sauce. The spring rolls will most probably be wrapped in a transparent rice paper.
Mì xào chay – Who wouldn’t like a serving of freshly tossed stir-fried noodles? Mì xào chay is the name of vegetarian stir-fried noodles. The Vietnamese word for noodle is bún or mì. They are always freshly prepared and do not take very long to serve either. Just make sure that the noodles have no fish sauce, oyster sauce, or shrimp paste. Use the translation sheets above to communicate these preferences before you order. If you do not eat eggs, then ask your server to leave out the “trứng”. You can ask if the restaurant can add some tofu or “đậu hũ” in your noodles.
Cơm chiên chay – Another easy vegetarian dish to find is vegetarian fried rice. “Cơm” means rice, “chiên” means fried, and “chay” means vegetarian. The translation is quite simple and so is the dish. When you order, follow the same procedure as ordering stir-fried noodles. Make sure there is no fish sauce, oyster sauce, or shrimp paste. Ask the server to leave out the eggs if you don’t eat them. You might try and ask the server to put some tofu or “đậu hũ“.
Chè – If you like sampling desserts, then you must try Chè. This dish is actually a dessert soup. There are plenty of variations of Chè which use ingredients like fruits, mung beans, tapioca, and glutinous rice. In most cases, the common base of every Chè dish is rice, tapioca, and coconut milk.
Some of the Chè dessert dishes are:
Chè đậu xanh bột báng – Mung Bean Sweet Soup with Tapioca Pearl Recipe
Chè táo soạn – Sweet Mung Bean Pudding
Chè đậu đỏ bánh lọt – Red bean, tapioca noodle and coconut sweet soup
Chè đậu trắng -Vietnamese Sweet Rice Coconut Milk Bean Pudding
Chè bưởi – Vietnamese Pomelo Sweet Soup Dessert
Chè khoai môn – Sweet Taro Pudding with Coconut Milk
Chè đậu ngự – Sweet fresh lima bean soup with jasmine
Chè đậu đen – Black Bean Sweet Soup with Coconut Syrup
Chè đậu phộng – Vietnamese Peanuts Sweet Soup Recipe
Chè sâm bổ lượng – Ching bo leung sweet dessert
Bánh da lợn – The literal translation for Bánh da lợn is pig skin cake. However, no pigs are used to make this dessert. Bánh da lợn is a green bean steamed cake made using tapioca starch, rice flour, mashed mung beans, taro or durian, coconut milk and/or water, and sugar. It is not too sweet, yet gooey and chewy.
4) Eat at these places
Vietnamese Buddhists eat meat-free food on the 1st and the 15th of each month. Hence, you will find a decent number of vegetarian options at many restaurants these days. You can also look for a “quán chay” which means vegetarian shop or vegetarian restaurant. Some restaurants might be labelled as “quán cơm chay” (vegetarian rice shop) or “quán bún chay” (vegetarian noodle shop).
Banh Mi Phuong, Hoi An – Anthony Bourdain has made this Bánh Mì place famous by filming here to showcase the French-Vietnamese baguette. The good thing for vegetarians is that this iconic joint has a vegetarian option on the menu. Just ask for the Bánh Mì Chay. Service is quick and the price is very economical.
Minh Hien, Hoi An – Hoi An is known for dishes like White Rose, Cao Lau, fried wontons, and Bánh Xèo. Minh Hien serves all of those classics in a vegetarian format. There is also an entire tofu section in their menu. The grilled tofu stuffed with mushrooms, onions, and other flavorings served on a banana leaf also gets rave reviews. Minh Hien is a restaurant where you can experience the best of Hoi An’s cuisine in a vegetarian version. Prices are mid-level as well.
Karma Waters, Hoi An – Another great vegetarian/vegan option in Hoi An is Karma Waters. They have a completely vegan pho with mushrooms, veggies, and tofu. Even the broth is vegan. Other interesting things on their 100% vegan menu are Indian rotis and curries, a couple of vegan bánh mì choices, and the mushroom and tofu with rice.
Quan Chay Dam, Hoi An – Very reasonably priced local Vietnamese food is available at Quan Chay Dam. You can eat Bánh Bao (steamed buns) here as well. All the regular dishes like Pho, Mi Quang, Cao Lau, and even Com Ga (vegetarian version) are available. Plenty of vegetarian and vegan food is available here and you can’t go wrong with Quan Chay Dam.
Com Pho Chay Tu Bi, Hanoi – Hanoi is known as the birthplace of Pho. So, when you are in Hanoi, you have to try a vegan pho. Com Pho Chay is one of the best places to do just that. They have a highly rated vegan pho with mock meat options. Besides pho, this place is also known for its rice porridge and bún riêu. The fresh spring rolls also get good reviews. Prices are quite reasonable as well with most dishes costing around 25,000 VND.
An Lạc Chay, Hanoi – If you like eating unlimited food for a fixed price, then this place is your fix. For 99,000 Vietnamese Dong, you can eat unlimited vegetarian (mostly vegan) food. You can get soups, pho, noodles, rice, spring rolls, and mock meat dishes. The location is convenient too as this restaurant is right opposite the Hanoi Railway Station.
Given its value-for-money focus, the service level and food taste may not be the best at An Lạc Chay. If you want a slightly more higher-end buffet experience, then Veggie Castle is a good option. However, the variety is not as broad as An Lạc Chay.
Uu Dam Chay, Hanoi – A somewhat upscale restaurant near the Red River. The menu is all vegetarian, so there is plenty of choice unlike other regular joints in Vietnam. You can get Vietnamese salads, soups, hot pots, a variety of rice dishes, tofu, noodles, a range of desserts, and cold beverages. The presentation of all the food is very creative and photogenic. A highly recommended place for experiencing local Vietnamese dishes in a vegetarian format.
Minh Chay, Hanoi – Minh Chay is a top-rated vegan restaurant located centrally in Hanoi. It has a host of Vietnamese dishes on its menu including noodle soups. This place is most well known for its caramel creme. Prices are on the higher side at this restaurant.
Ho Chi Minh City
Hum Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City – A chain of vegetarian restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, Hum Vietnam is a decent option for vegetarians. You can get a wide variety of appetizers, soups, hot pots, and nicely presented rice dishes. Desserts look pretty good too with options like bean curd in ginger caramel sauce and a couple of toddy palm based dishes. The prices are on the expensive side as compared to the average restaurant.
Com Chay Mani, Ho Chi Minh City – An excellent vegetarian restaurant with reasonable prices. It has breakfast items like breakfast soups and rice. Lunch and dinner has multiple rice and noodle dishes as well as pho. Vietnamese vegetarian classics like đậu hũ chiên sả ớt (tofu with shredded lemongrass and chilly) and rau muống xào tỏi (morning glory with garlic) are also on the menu.
Bong Sung Vegetarian Restaurant, Ho Chi Minh City – One of the top-rated vegetarian restaurants in the city, Bong Sung has an extensive menu filled with fried noodles, soups, rice dishes, hot pots, appetizers, and much more. The Mi Quang noodles, the Eggplant in ginger sauce, and the mushroom and tofu dishes are all favorites at this vegetarian restaurant. Finding the place can be a little tricky as it is on the first floor. Prices are a little bit on the higher side as well.
Phuc Quang Chay, Ho Chi Minh City – This restaurant is completely vegan and has a wide variety of local food on its menu. You can choose from various noodle soups, noodle dishes, vermicelli options, appetizers, and rice dishes.
5) Indian food is a safe bet
You can always opt for Indian food. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan items available at Indian restaurants. The food is flavourful and diverse as well. It is a perfect option when you cannot find anything vegetarian or are simply tired of eating rice and noodle dishes. Baba’s Kitchen is a well known Indian restaurant with outlets in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City. Khazaana is a well-known Indian restaurant in Hanoi. All of these restaurants serve North and South Indian food.
A list of top Indian restaurants in Hanoi can be found here.
A list of top Indian restaurants in Hoi An can be found here.
A list of top Indian restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City can be found here.
6) Other options
Italian Restaurants/Pizza Places – A simple pasta, a spaghetti, or a cheese/veggie pizza is a safe bet anywhere in the world, and Vietnam is no different. Just make sure the pasta sauce has no meat and the white sauce has no eggs (if you do not eat eggs). Also, watch out for any non-vegetarian toppings on your pizza.
Other international cuisines – Major hotels and famous restaurants in a city will serve international cuisine. Whether it is a falafel, Chinese, burgers, or anything else, you will probably find one or two vegetarian options in such restaurants.
Supermarkets – Do a shopping run at outlets of Big C/Lotte Mart/Co.Opmart/other neighbourhood supermarkets, as they would stock local produce and western/imported/packaged foods. Look for items that can be identified easily as vegetarian (e.g. fruits, veggies, bread, pasta, snacks, etc)