Best Vegetarian Dishes in Vietnam

By: Robyn Wilson

If there’s one thing Vietnamese cuisine is known for, it’s the meat.

Whether it’s a substantial cơm tấm pork plate for breakfast, a steaming bowl of beef phở for lunch, or a crispy pork belly and fish bún mắm soup for dinner, meat can be found in nearly every dish.

Understandably, this can put off many vegetarians from visiting Vietnam, but they shouldn’t be deterred. There’s an abundance of delicious vegetarian — or “chay” — meals in restaurants and on street corners all across the country, from Hanoi to Hoi An to Saigon.

With so much to choose from, however, it’s easy to miss the highlights. So here’s a list of the top 10 meatless meals you can enjoy in Vietnam.

Bánh mì chay

No trip to Vietnam would be complete without a decent bánh mì — a Viet/French fusion style baguette sandwich. Finding one that isn’t packed full of pork belly and pâté is a challenge, but vegetarian versions are available.

vegetarian foodImage source: vietbuddies.org

A nice veggie option can include tofu, egg or mushrooms, stuffed into a freshly baked baguette with fresh chillies, pickles and herbs and finished with a sprinkling of soy sauce.

Phở chay 

Traditional phở soup is a meat-based broth often eaten for breakfast, with phở noodles, beef and vegetables.

For the vegetarian option look out for the word “chay” and you’ll know it is cooked using a vegetarian stock instead. It’ll be served in the same way: with piles of vegetables, herbs, fresh chillies and limes.

vegetarian foodImage source: lamthenao.com

The meat-free version is particularly popular in central Vietnam in cities such as Hue and Da Nang, which are largely vegetarian due to their majority Buddhist populations.

Nộm đu đủ

A crunchy and fresh Vietnamese salad, made with thinly sliced green papaya, carrots, loads of peanuts, sesame seeds, basil and coriander. It’s then covered in a sweet-and-sour dressing of honey and rice vinegar.

vegetarian foodImage source: baomoi.com

Quick tip: Make sure to ask whether the dressing uses fish sauce — “nước mắm”. If so, see if vegetarian fish sauce (“nước mắm chay”) is available.

Bánh cuốn chay 

This dish is very similar to a crepe. It is made from a rice flour batter, which is spread into a large, thin sheet and stuffed with a variety of ingredients.

vegetarian foodImage source: onegreenplanet.org

Traditionally these are stuffed with ground pork and mushroom, but the vegetarian option can substitute the pork for tofu. It’s then topped with crispy onion and served with herbs and a spicy dipping sauce.

Bún chả giò chay 

This is a light but satisfying meal made with rice bún noodles and vegetarian spring rolls. You tend to see this sold early in the morning on the side of streets — a quick on-the-go breakfast as people are on their way to work.

vegetarian foodImage source: chonnghiem.blogspot.com

The noodles are served cold, on top of which sit chopped-up fried veggie spring rolls, a few pickles, cucumber and herbs. It’s served with chilli dipping sauce.

Xôi gấc

This is a sticky red rice dish, which is often eaten during the Lunar New Year, Tet. It gets its uniquely red and sweet flavour from gac, which is a type of fruit grown primarily in Asia — known also as baby jackfruit.

vegetarian foodImage source: scoop.it

The rice is mixed together with the fruit — which has been pulsed — and, after sitting for a while, is eventually steamed and eaten with either fake meat (savoury option) or desiccated coconut (sweet option).

Bánh ít trần

These traditional bean-filled dumplings can be eaten as a snack or as part of a main meal. The dough, which is made from glutinous rice flour and water, is rolled out and stuffed with a mixture of cooked and mashed mung beans, fried shallots and fresh spring onions.

vegetarian foodImage source: trangnoitro.com

The dumplings are then boiled and served with a chilli dipping sauce and a few pickles.

Cháo đậu xanh chay

Rice porridge is a dish enjoyed all across Asia, and in Vietnam it’s known as “cháo”. Wandering around, you can see a number of people selling bowls of cháo in cafés and on street corners.

vegetarian foodImage source: lozi.vn

A nice vegetarian option is made with mung beans, which are combined with rice in a pot and cooked until they become mushy and start to look a lot like porridge. Various bits can be added when the rice is ready to be served up, including chopped spring onions or fried shallots and garlic.

Đậu sốt cà chua

This is a Vietnamese vegetarian favourite. It’s made by frying off some thickly sliced pieces of tofu, which are then added into a simmering garlic and tomato sauce. Once the sauce has reduced down, the tofu is served up with a sprinkling of spring onions and a portion of steamed rice.

vegetarian foodImage source: dichvunaucotainha.com

Bột chiên

This is a popular vegetarian street food. Vendors will fry little cubes of rice cake on a fiery hotplate until golden brown. Whisked egg is then added and everything is tossed together until the egg is cooked through. This is usually topped with chopped-up spring onions, a few peanuts and a little soy sauce.

vegetarian foodImage source: kenh14.vn

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