Before Noah and I embarked on our Vietnam adventure, a lot of people told us ‘it will probably be hard as a vegan to finding something to eat’. Let me be honest: one reason why I have loved my trips to Asia so far is the fact that being vegan there has been super easy. Yes, the Taiwanese countryside was a little tricky at times and yes, Japanese cuisine contains a lot of fish sauce but with a little bit of prep it’s fairly easy to navigate your way around without major concessions.
One amazing thing is that a lot of Asian and south East Asian countries are home to a lot of people that practice or observe Buddhism in different forms. That means that vegan and vegetarian food are almost always options, anywhere you go. Mock meat, tofu and tempeh are omnipresent and mostly homemade which makes them even tastier. In Vietnam for example, most locals abstain from animal products on full Moon every month, even if they are not traditionally religious. That also means that you can only get vegan options of local dishes at local restaurants.
Secondly, fresh fruit, veggies, herbs and rice (in noodle and roll form!) are part of the culinary culture and everything is grown locally. This means that it is really easy to get a vegan meal without major issues. Snacking on fruit and rice based desserts is an easy thing as well and believe me, I ate pounds of jack fruit and mangoes when I was in Vietnam (and spent a fraction on it compared to NYC prices for fresh produce).
My two major tips for any trips to south east Asia are: learn the word for vegan in the local language (chay in Vietnam) and avoid ‘hidden’ animal products like fish sauce and eggs. You can just ask for soy sauce instead and avoid egg based dishes (sometimes found in dumplings and certain sweets). I also was surprised about how omnipresent dairy was in Vietnam and I assume the French introduced this tradition. Most places make their smoothies with dairy yogurt and add milk to certain foods. Just ask for soy milk instead.
Now let’s talk about the actual food I ate in Vietnam. Our two week trip lead us through Ho Chi Minh city, a major city in the town, as well as Phong Nha, a jungle area in the north where we camped and hiked through the mountains to visit million of years old caves as well as Hue and Hoi An, two smaller former port towns on the central east coast. The food was delicious everywhere but Hoi An had the most amazing vegan restaurants. Just walking through the streets and smelling a mix of herbs, garlic and rice is an enchanting experience. And food is really available all day long, especially sweet and fried street foods.
My favorite street food were the ‘mango cakes’ that don’t contain mango but are sticky rice balls filled with sweet peanuts. Other yummy desserts are the green bean cakes (made of green beans, rice and sugar) as well as this Creme brûlée looking sweet rice and ginger pudding. I love that most desserts are not super sweet and that the ingredients are super simple.
When it comes to restaurants, we hit some great spots:
Hum in Ho Chi Minh City
A little place right by our hotel
Minh Hien in Hoi An
Am in Hoi An
Annen in Hoi An
We also took a vegan cooking class at Karma Waters (Hoi An) – the most amazing cooking class ever!!
All towns have local markets, that are often centered around food, rice and spices. You basically just point at what you want and ask if it’s ‘chay’ to ensure it’s plantivore friendly. Check out some pics of market meals we had:
We really loved our time in Vietnam and even had a mostly vegan feast in the jungle when we camped under the full moon for a night. Vietnamese people love eating and making you feel comfortable. Our host family in Hoi An took us out for a vegan feast and was just so generous. We also learned that you don’t double dip chopsticks unless you are family – instead, you can use the back for serving and the front to eat. Another traditional thing to do is to eat the left over sauce of a dish with rice. Just marinate the rice a little in it and then it’s game time. Often young siblings fight over this part of the meal and who can blame them, because we love using rice as a sauce vehicle too 😉