Vietnamese cuisine is well known for being healthy and delicious, using plenty of vegetables, fresh herbs and an array of different meat and fish. What is less well known is that finding a meat free meal isn’t as tricky as you might think. In fact Ho Chi Minh City even got voted one of the top ten cities in the world for vegetarians by US website When on Earth. Here are some of the reasons why.
There are tons of vegetarian restaurants
In every city in Vietnam, and even in most small towns, there are dedicated vegetarian restaurants that churn out wonderful meat free versions of all the classic dishes. They are usually scattered around town, although you’re even more likely to find them near a pagoda. Even though most Vietnamese people think of meat as the best part of the meal, many of them are also devout Buddhists, who should traditionally eat no meat and fish on the 1st and 15th days of the month. On these days there are even more options as many of the street vendors also switch to mock meat. A quick search on google before your trip will bring up plenty of options on the map.
It’s easy to make yourself understood
In places where English is not widely spoken, the main problem can be making a special request understood. Luckily in Vietnam there is a simple, easy to pronounce word for all things vegetarian and that word is ‘chay’. Vietnamese is tonal, but don’t worry, just pronounce this in a flat normal voice, a bit like a robot and you should be fine. Most vegetarian street stalls of restaurants will also have this word written somewhere, which makes them very easy to spot. You can also try ‘không thịt’, meaning no meat, although this won’t necessarily communicate that you don’t want fish sauce or meat stock.
It’s fantastically delicious
We’ve already mentioned that Vietnamese food is famed for its excellence, with subtle blends of spices and bunches of fresh herbs used to create a balance of salty, sour, sweet and hot flavours. It is also very diverse, with loads of regional variety and outside influences. Lots of restaurants are heavy on mock meat, and here they take things to the next level, even going so far to re-create the layers of fat in pork from different textured tofu. The most famous dish is pho, the noodle soup that built a nation, and great vegetarian versions can be found in the popular chains Pho 2000 and Pho 24. The delectable Vietnamese take on a savoury pancake, the Banh Xeo can also be made without meat, usually with tofu, mushrooms or bean sprouts. If you’re in need of a snack, find a street stall selling banh mi and ask for ‘trung’, upon which some eggs will be freshly fried and tucked into a fresh baguette with coriander, pickled vegetables and soy sauce.
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It’s incredibly cheap
On the whole, you can get an excellent meal in Vietnam for very little money. At one end of the spectrum you can fine dine in elegant French villas, and at the other, wolf down a bowl of soup seated road side on a tiny plastic stool. The same goes for vegetarian food, which in general is even cheaper than meat and fish dishes. Many of the vegetarian restaurants offer a huge array of dishes, displayed before you canteen-style. You can point and choose as many as you like and you will still probably spend less than $5. A simple banh mi on the street will only set you back about 50 cents, and a bowl of vegetarian pho in a restaurant about $1.50. So, there is no excuse to not do as the Vietnamese do and snack throughout the day.