Exploring the world with dietary restrictions can be tough, but Vietnam has got you covered. Here is a handy vegetarian’s guide to the island country. By Bayar Jain
Vietnam has it all: loving people, beautiful scenery, cosy environment, and even delicious food. A liberal use of fresh vegetables and herbs feature in each dish, while a flavourful, healthy ingredients back them up further. Meat-free versions of local dishes, and vegetarian-friendly restaurants are dotted all over the country. This guide aims to help you navigate through the culinary chaos.
But First, Learn The Lingo!
As you meander your way through restaurants, ensure you include the word chay in your conversations. This implies that you wish your food to be prepared the same way Vietnamese Buddhists eat them, that is without the meat. nước mắm, and trứng, translating to ‘fish sauce’, and ‘eggs’ respectively, are words that would come in handy. Supplement these words with ‘Tôi không ăn’, or ‘I don’t eat’ to get your dietary preferences across to the chefs. If you’re a step ahead and have chosen the vegan life, then Sữa (milk), bơ (butter), and phô mai (cheese) are some of the words you would need to know. Không thịt means you don’t want any meat in your food.
What To Eat?
Vietnamese food is very varied. Each city has its own variations, and each dish is crafted differently across the country. However, the staples–rice, rice noodles, and veggies largely remain the same. Here, steaming noodles, crunchy banh mi sandwiches, thin rice paper rolls made using herbs, pickled vegetables and lettuce find a spot everywhere, while the iconic Vietnamese coffee almost substitutes water. Most Vietnamese restaurants offer salads and cooked vegetables, while others have a dedicated section in their menu catering to vegetarians. Here are some foods you could eat to satiate your hunger.
This rice-based noodle dish is popular even outside the country’s borders, and justifiably so. Although traditional pho is made in a meat-based broth, the phở chay is a delicious veggie counterpart of the same. In this variation, the vegetable stock is accompanied by tofu, a ton of herbs, chillies, and limes. The noodles are themselves made from rice, so the fear of ingesting animal products diminishes.
2. Bánh Mì
Another famous Vietnamese dish, Banh Mi is essentially a savoury baguette stuffed with savoury fillings, fresh cilantro and mint, pickled cucumber, carrots, and daikon radish, paired with a protein of your choosing, topped off with a healthy dose of hot sauce. Although the typical protein filling is usually pork, the bánh mì cháy–a vegetarian variation–is stuffed with seared tofu, or vegetables instead. In some cases, it could even contain eggs, but simply say ‘Tôi không ăn trứng’, or ‘I don’t eat eggs’ for clarifications.
3. Gỏi cuốn
To put it simply, Gỏi cuốn are rice paper rolls stuffed with a combination of meat, seafood, and vegetables. However, the Gỏi cuốn chay is an equally–if not more–veggie-friendly version of it. Paired with a peanut dipping sauce, this delicate dish bursts with flavour the moment it comes in contact with your taste buds.
4. Nộm Đu Đủ
A personal favourite, the Nộm Đu Đủ or the papaya salad is as fresh as Vietnamese food can be. Made using fresh papaya strips, carrots, sesame seeds, basil, coriander, and a ton of peanuts, this dish is not only a vegetarian’s delight but is also packed with tons of flavour and healthy nutrients.
5. Đậu Sốt Cà Chua
A favourite among locals and tourists, the Đậu Sốt Cà Chua roughly translates to beans in tomato sauce. In this dish, fried tofu is doused with a splattering of tomato sauce, teamed up with garlic, spring onions and steamed rice.