Vietnamese Food Guide for Vegetarians and Vegans
This is not your usual ‘Vegetarian food guide for Vietnam’. I am not going to talk about the best Vegan and Vegetarian restaurants in Saigon or Hanoi. You can HappyCow that kind of information.
This guide is for the true explorer. Because when you go off the beaten track in Vietnam, you can’t just Google “Vegetarian food near me” and expect results.
I like to explore the local food joints and live like the locals. If you do too, read on!
In this guide, I will not give you the fish, I will teach you how to catch the fish. (Okay, probably not the best analogy pick for vegetarians but here’s what I mean):
With the help of these tips and words, you will be able to navigate your way through the street meat sellers & slaughter shops to find cruelty-free vegan and vegetation means to fulfill your caloric requirements for the day, while enjoying the flavors of the amazing veg options Vietnam has to offer.
Also, this guide is meant for inexpensive and local cuisine — Not for finding the touristy vegetarian options which, you will be able to find on your own anyway!
Let’s start with the Basic information and tips:
Here are the 8 tips which will come handy for any Vegetarian or Vegan in Vietnam.
- Vietnam has a great range of options for veg food — This might be contrary to what your friends tell you but don’t go with popular beliefs about Vietnamese food.
- Due to the big population of Buddhists, there are many local vegetarian restaurants everywhere in Vietnam with monks as their main customers.
- CHAY is the most important word. It simply means Vegetarian when said in a straight tone without any modifications. This is my favorite Vietnamese word and should be yours too! ‘Quan Chay’ means a restaurant where they serve vegan food. Yes, remember that even though ‘chay’ refers to vegetarian, chay restaurants serve VEGAN! And that’s great news 🙂
- You can expect to find more results in any town in Vietnam if you search for ‘Chay restaurants near me’ instead of ‘Vegetarian restaurants near me’. Since these are local and inexpensive places, you cannot expect them to mention ‘Vegetarian’ or ‘Vegan’ on their boards.
- Most of the chay restaurants rely on Tofu and Tofu skin for their creative cuisine options (which we’ll talk about in further detail) so almost all the options in CHAY restaurants are VEGAN.
- There is usually a chay restaurant near every monastery or temple. So even if local chay restaurants may not be listed on Google Maps, you can search for ‘Temples near me’ and 9 times out of 10, you’ll find a chay restaurant just next to the temple.
- You can say CHAY at any restaurant, and they will give you vegetarian options. However, I prefer chay restaurants to be really safe. If you’re particular about a cruelty-free environment, then a chay restaurant is the right option for you too.
- Most chay restaurants will have a lot of “mock” non-veg options. They will even call it the non-veg equivalent but be assured that if you’re in a chay restaurant, then all the options are mock and made of tofu / tofu skin. They will look exactly like meat but don’t worry — they’re 100% veg.
Now, time to expand your vocabulary. Let’s see the words you need to know:
Vietnamese Glossary for Vegetarians
- Chay — Vegetarian
- Mì — Noodles (usually yellow noodles)
- Cơm — Rice
- Cơm Chay — Vegetarian Rice
- Cơm Chiên — Fried Rice
- Bún — Rice Noodles
- Bún Gỏi Cuốn — Rice Noodles with Spring roll
- Miến — Vermicelli
- Bánh Canh — Think noodles made from tapioca flour
- Phở — A type of traditional Vietnamese soup with herbs
- Phở Chay — Vegetarian Phở
- Bánh Mì — Baguette (bread)
- Bún riêu: Bún is noodles and “riêu” is crab meat and the bowl comes with soup and lots of vegetables. In the vegan version of the same dish, you can expect it with tofu skin and vegetables.
- Bún Huế: “Huế” is a city in the central of Vietnam, to tell the origin of the dish. It will still be served with soup in the vegetarian version. Just use ‘Chay Bún Huế’ and you’re sorted
- Bún chả giò: deep-fried spring rolls with noodles. Style of serving will be dry.
- Bún nước lèo: Style of serving will be like a soup
You can find these terms in most menus of chay restaurants. Before you start struggling with this, check if they have an English version of the menu.
Even the most local places do.
P.S. I’ll keep updating these terms from time-to-time during my stay in Vietnam. If you have any specific terms you would like to add to this list, feel free to leave a comment on this post.
Here’s how much you’ll spend:
I’m not going to share menus of restaurants with you but if you go to a local chay restaurant, expect to pay around $1 for a full meal per person.
That’s correct, 22k VND is a good amount for one Bánh canh with a piece of spring roll or one Vegetarian (Chay) Phở.
Footnote for the uninitiated: 1 USD is approximately 22,000 Vietnamese Dong. So remember $1 = 22k VND.
It sounds like a steal — and it is!
So go ahead and enjoy your next Cơm Chay!
- If you’re looking for the best vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Hue, check out this post on the Hue Grit Tour blog.
- Did you know there is a vegan food street in Can Tho? More information on that here.