Buddhists in Vietnam eat vegetarian food
Vietnam’s Buddhists represent 15% of the population and eat mostly vegetarian. This is especially true on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month, the Soc (beginning) and Vong (looking ahead), where many eat vegan. These days the veggie restaurants, especially near temples, will be extremely busy.
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The number of vegetarians and vegans is increasing in Vietnam
Vegetarian restaurants were not all that common a few decades ago, but the last 10 years have seen a drastic increase in their numbers.
This increase is fuelled by the younger generations opting out of eating meat and/or completely abstaining from eating animal-origin products. Most go vegetarian/vegan because of the health benefits, and some simply because it’s trendy or because of it being the best diet for a slim body.
In combination with the ever-expanding tourism and booming economy, this has resulted in vegetarian restaurants being found in almost every town, from the far North to the deep South.
How to find vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam
Finding vegetarian/vegan food in Vietnam is just a simple search for the word ‘chay’ away. “Chay” means vegetarian food in Vietnamese, and “Quan Chay” or “Nha Hang Chay” are the literal translations of Vegetarian Restaurant.
Explaining to food vendors that don’t necessarily advertise vegetarian food that you eat vegetarian should also be pretty easy. You might need to repeat “Chay” a few times, as you will most likely fail to pronounce it correctly. Simply saying “tôi ăn chay” read as “toy anh chai” should suffice.
“Tôi ăn chay” – I am vegetarian
Is the vegan and vegetarian food in Vietnam any good?
Even though the sheer number of vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam is surprising, this is not the thing that made us say, “Wow, this is amazing.” It is the FLAVOR and VARIETY of the vegetarian food in the Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants that will blow your mind. From simple amazing soups to numerous vegetarian variations of famous Vietnamese dishes, there is plenty of variety for you never to get bored of the food.
Don’t expect bland food, as this is not something you can commonly find in vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam.
Is vegan and vegetarian food in Vietnam expensive?
Prices in a local chay restaurant in Vietnam will not burn a hole in your pocket. The prices will be between 20.000 and 50.000 VND per dish ($0.80 – $2.20). Expect to pay a bit more in a vegetarian/vegan-oriented, more western restaurant. For example, a burger, wrap, or burrito all start at around 90.000 VND ($4.00). A normal-sized pizza should cost around 130.000 VND ($5.5).
For a really good deal, check out one of the many all-you-can-eat buffet-style veggie restaurants. The prices vary from the really low 40k to around 100k ($1.70 – $4.30) in the more upscale buffet restaurants.
We frequented the Veggie Castle (80k – $3.50) and Peace Vegan (50k – $2.20) while in Hanoi. Both were amazing. Peace Vegan was more local, while Veggie Castle offered a mix of Vietnamese and Western/International food.
Foods you MUST try as a vegan or vegetarian in Vietnam
Here is a short and simple list of all our favorite vegetarian variations of symbolic Vietnamese dishes.
Banh Mi Chay
Banh Mi, a wonderful combination of a french baguette filled with fresh Vietnamese herbs and a selection of tasty fillings. These come in various styles, from the most basic to the newly created recipes inspired by other international foods.
Bánh Xeo Chay
Crispy rice flour pancake, filled with sprouts, mushrooms, and other veggies. You roll your Banh Xeo pancake in salad leaves or rice paper in some places, which results in a huge tasty roll.
Bánh Bao Chay
Inspired by the Cantonese Da Bao, the Banh Bao is a circular steamed bun filled with a combination of vegan ground “meat,” mushrooms, carrot, onion, and peas.
Banana flower salad (nộm hoa chuối)
You heard that right, a salad made of a banana flower! The blossom/flower of the banana is a delicate treat. Together with bean sprouts, onion, some spices, and peanuts, it makes a great salad.
There are also many other wonderful salads that you should try, one of them being the mango salad.
Tofu in tomato sauce (đậu hũ sốt cà chua)
The all-star classic dish that you can’t go wrong with and can find all over Vietnam. This dish saved the day in many remote places, as it’s something that everyone knows how to prepare GOOD.
TIP: Many times it contains fish sauce, so make sure to order without it.
Morning glory with garlic (rau muống xào)
An essential dish served with most Vietnamese meals. It is a simple dish of water spinach, and garlic, but oh so delicious.
Braised tofu, mushroom, or eggplant
Piping hot and simply amazing.
Đậu hũ kho nấm – Braised tofu and mushroom
Cà tím om – Braised eggplant
Bún bò Huế Chay
Originally a soup with beef, this vegetarian version will definitely leave you full and satisfied with its rich ingredients.
Mi Quang Chay
A really complex soup with amazing flavor. A national darling originating from central Vietnam.
Summer rolls – Gỏi cuốn
Fresh rolls loaded with vegetables and sometimes even mock meats.
Sheets of rice batter filled with veggie goodness steamed into a pancake-like dish.
There are far more amazing dishes than we can write about, so please do explore the vegetarian restaurants and go more times if you have the chance. Try the whole menu. We assure you, you won’t be disappointed.
Western vegan and vegetarian food in Vietnam
In addition to local vegetarian restaurants, many western vegan restaurants keep popping up around Vietnam, mostly in the bigger cities and tourist hubs. Because of that, you will have no problem finding international vegetarian/vegan delights and specialties. Many foreign-owned restaurants prepare amazing replicas of classical foods, for example, roasts and Full English Breakfast accompanied by vegan sausages and whatnot.
Phrases and words to know as a vegan or vegetarian in Vietnam
Most restaurants and food stalls in Vietnam have their menus translated to English.
If you find yourself in a situation where some Vietnamese knowledge is needed while ordering vegetarian/vegan food, here are some basic phrases and words that will help you out immensely.
As mentioned above, the basic word to know is “Chay,” which means vegetarian food in Vietnamese, and “Quan Chay” or “Nha Hang Chay” are the literal translations of Vegetarian Restaurant. Whenever you see Chay written on the signs, you can expect at least a few vegetarian dishes, if not the whole menu.
Tôi ăn chay – I am a vegetarian
Khong – No
Combine “Khong” with the ingredients listed below to make sure a dish doesn’t include anything you don’t want while ordering.
Thit – meat (“teet”)
Trứng – egg (“chuhng?”)
Phô mai – cheese
Sữa – milk (“su-ahh” or “sue-ahh”)
Bơ – butter (“buh”)
Hải sản – seafood
Cá – fish (“kah?”)
Nước mắm – fish sauce (“nook mum”)
Before speaking Vietnamese, we advise you to translate the words on Google Translate and play them back to hear how they are actually pronounced, as it’s immensely harder than remembering how it’s written.
Try to practice a bit before using these words on the streets, as you will need to repeat yourself many times for people to understand you. Remember that Vietnamese is a tonal language, and it’s crucial to get the tones and volume right. Otherwise, you might end up saying something completely different from what you thought you’re saying.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the food choice somewhere, opt for a trip to the local market, where you will find tons of fresh fruits, veggies, and nuts.
What is something you can’t wait to try?All these foods you can enjoy even as a meat-eater. Many people swear by vegetarian food while in Vietnam.