There is an abundance of raw vegan ingredients in Vietnam and lots of “vegan” tourists who are willing to turn a blind eye while they are on holiday and mislead followers on social media about being Vegan In Vietnam, particularly when it comes to Street food.
However, if you are like us and would rather skip a meal than eat anything that has bits of fish, meat or a ‘tiny’ bit of egg in it then keep reading.
We lived in and loved Vietnam for 3 months. We also found plenty of vegan options that were unexpected.
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Mislead by YouTubers and IG Influencers
We watched many youtube videos and blog posts before and while we were in Vietnam about what to eat and found many popular ‘vegan’ YouTubers recommending dishes that were not vegan. This level of misleading is not something we’ve come across in other countries and were quite surprised to see. These all were foreign Youtubers being very lazy about what was vegan.
I guess it comes down to how strict you are and how accurate you’d like to be. Removing meat from a meat stir-fry won’t make it suitable for me. It may work for you!
Being vegan in Vietnam has some challenges:
Like anywhere else in the world, locals are not aware of all the ingredients in the food that they don’t make themselves. For example, the person making Bánh mì on the street won’t know how their Bánh mì bread was made in the bakery. Your tour guide and driver can only provide you with their best guess unless their previous job was at a bakery.
Out of sight and out of mind – As we’ve found in other Asian countries, to consume something ‘sinful’ without knowing is considered to be fine. Furthermore, Buddhist monk food excludes meat but includes eggs, as long as eggs are unfertilised.
In many Asian countries, asking about ingredients is not common and considered impolite. There are historical reasons for this.
There is no exact word in Vietnamese for vegan. The word “Chay” is a very close description of vegetarianism.
Fortunately, there are lots of vegan restaurants in the major tourist destinations you won’t go hungry. Vegan food in Vietnam is plentiful, you just need to ask more questions and have patience.
Bánh mì (Banh mi)
Let’s start with the most popular dish – the Vietnamese baguette. The traditional recipe doesn’t require milk, but almost every baker in the country uses milk (in the form of dry milk powder) for the bread. So no matter what the filling is, it won’t be vegan.
As we lived there, we had the opportunity to ask dozens of chains and independent bakers about the 5-hour process of making Banh mi bread. None of their bread was vegan.
Unexpected shrimp powder everywhere!
Shrimp powder and fish sauce are in many food items, including being served with fruit platters. We even had a ‘vegan’ restaurant that had chilli paste on the table with tiny visible shrimp.
Pho is almost always made with beef broth
Sometimes it’s chicken broth.
Your meatless pho will still be made with an animal-based broth unless you get it from a vegan restaurant.
So many people think they are vegan in Vietnam
One of our ‘vegan’ Airbnb hosts ate eggs.
Another ran a ‘vegan’ restaurant but used fish oil in some of their dishes. Fish isn’t meat after all..
They weren’t unique and we came across many others who described themselves as vegans who consume eggs, milk, fish oil and a little bit of “shrimp”.
Most of the ‘vegan’ friends in Vietnam turned out to be pescatarians. Many who didn’t eat eggs were happy to eat cake with eggs in them.
Final thoughts – It’s worth it!
If you are strict about being Vegan it takes a lot of research and a lot of patience which can be a little bit of a challenge. It’s not as easy as the popular Youtubers say it is.
But it’s totally worth the extra effort. Some of the tastiest food we’ve ever tried was in Vietnam.