Vietnam is world-wide known for its delicious and fresh food. The signature dish of the country is Pho, to which Joel already has dedicated an extensive post. A soup being the most famous dish of a country says a lot about the overall healthiness of the cuisine. Of course, western influences have resulted in sugary foods and drinks making their way onto the market but overall, you won’t find massive amounts of sugar in your daily food. But what about fish sauce and animal products? Is it hard to find good food to eat if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet?
In general I found it to be fairly easy to find food that was delicious compared to Cambodia and that did not contain fish sauce. While you often have to go to tourist spots and spend a few more bucks on decent vegetarian food, Vietnam has many so-called chay-eateries (chay – vegetarian) in most cities. The only place where we did not find a chay place was in Tam Coc. Chay eateries are actually vegan and don’t serve dairy- or egg products as far as I have noticed. If you are worried, you can always check with the staff if you go for, let’s say, sweetened soy milk. Soy milk that is sold in supermarkets quite often contains milk. Even if you are gluten intolerant (like Joel) you can find delicious and cheap dishes in many of these places. Just stay away from the mee noodles if there are any on the menu (containing wheat and egg).
In every country so far (I’m in the Philippines right now) it has been a challenge for me to find food that I can and want to eat when eating out with Joel (basically all the time). Breakfast in Vietnam has been provided by many of our homestays and if not we stuck to oatmeal and fruit as oatmeal is the one item Joel can eat. Most egg dishes are served with white bread (and an omelette without bread is simply boring) and muesli contains wheat as well. I love oatmeal and can eat that stuff pretty much every day so I don’t mind but Joel is getting tired of it now and then. Another option is to go for the Asian breakfast if it is provided. Sometimes you can get fried rice or fried noodles with vegetables and an optional egg and Pho Bo or Pho Ga (beef and chicken). As a vegan you would probably have to deal with toast and jam, sometimes sweetened peanut butter if you are lucky or fried rice/fried rice noodles if available. It is difficult to find plant-based kinds of milk (they are expensive af). If you know that you are going to remote places you do better stocking up on dried soy meats that you can find in major cities. In Saigon, we ate at a place in District 1. It was called something with vegetarian healthy food or so, huge place! They have a section selling dried mock meats and other vegan canned goods. In Hoi An we found a store selling lots of soy products, some gluten-free cookies and plant-based milk. Check out Xhan Xhan Shop if you are in the neighborhood.
But what about street food? Vietnam is famous for its street food stalls and markets and you do find some vegan and vegetarian foods but those are mostly deep fried starchy foods or sugary ones such as Xoi (sticky rice) and Bot Chien (fried rice cake). Vietnamese food is traditional and fish sauce essential in many dishes. You could order a papaya salad without fish sauce (nuoc mam). Your best choice would be Banh Mí, another signature dish from Vietnam displaying a part of its French heritage: baguette. I have found some really delicious Banh Mí so far, the best one in Nha Trang of all places. If you learn some basic Vietnamese you should be able to order a vegetarian or vegan Banh Mí here and there but most places just throw in a few (too few) vegetables and that’s it. Sometimes you can get “laughing cow” melted cheese or a fried egg.
I am using Tripadvisor and the app Happy Cow when travelling to a new place and even here those have been helpful so far but sometimes you will have to accept that there is only fried rice or fried noodles with barely any veg available for you. At some point, you might end up with a vegetable soup containing chicken powder or stock even if you have asked over and over again if it is vegetarian. Things like that happen and it is irritating but at the end of the day, you need to eat. In the beginning, I freaked out a little often but I am definitely more chill about it now. So my advice is to stay friendly and return your food politely if you are sure that a mistake has been made with your order. But remember, very few Vietnamese people speak English well so be prepared.