You will hear my negative tone in this article this is mainly because there is an abundance of raw vegan ingredients and even an abundance of vegan tourists who are willing to turn a blind eye while they are on holiday and misleading on social media which lead me to believe that Vietnam was vegan heaven.
We lived in Vietnam for 3 months, whilst it was possible to stay vegan on our Vietnamese adventure, we found it’s quite challenging to find vegan food easily available. However, if you are a vegetarian there are a plethora of options available to you and they are everywhere you look.
We always thought of Vietnam as the country in abundance of fruits and vegetables, which they do and because of that, there will be plenty of vegan options available, to our surprise it wasn’t the case until we did our research.
Vietnamese Vegan Street Food
Of course, talking about tourist destinations in Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi you will find overpriced but delicious 100% vegan restaurants geared for tourists because they know they can charge the price that tourists are willing to pay. In other tourists destinations such as Da Nang known place for expats, savvy restaurant owners know that they can make money by offering vegan food to expats and have returning customer base.
The bottom line, restaurants are so full of customers as well as demand for street food is so high nobody is concerned about offering vegan options except in high touristic areas.
As being a Buddhist country, by tradition, twice a months on a full moon and on new moon Buddhist’s vegan food is offered on those days. You think for that important reason, there will be plenty of vegan food available everywhere. But to our disappointment, meat and meat-based dishes were sold everywhere. Furthermore, Buddhist vegan food which excludes meat but includes eggs, as long as eggs are unfertilised. – According to our Vietnamese friends, it is based on the Dharmic concept of ahimsa (non-violence).
They love milk as much as they love meat!
You will find dairy milk as the main ingredient in many food items. Also, condensed milk is quite popular and often added in smoothies, bakeries, sweets and drinks.
Don’t get caught to coconut ice-cream as I did once. Because “coconut milk” is mostly “coconut” and is not what you expect from the name. It’s mixed with cow milk although the dairy part won’t be mentioned.
Pan won’t be cleaned for you – Just a warning!
If you are adventures and want to try Vietnamese street food from omnivore food vendor then best of luck! You might end up with fishy or meaty noodles on your plate. The vendor won’t go an extra mile and fry noodles in a separate pan. Your food will be definitely cooked in the pan that has been used to cook fish or meat just a few minutes ago. Similarly, watch out for “vegan” Pho – noodle soup which you may also end up with the beef stock.
Watch out for the most popular street food which is Bánh mì (Banh mi ). A baguette filled with various savoury ingredients veggies and meat. The biggest problem here is that the bread usually contains milk as an ingredient in the baking process. We found out this directly from a bakery. This is the common way of making baguette in Vietnam. Unfortunately at this point we already consumed many of them.
Vietnamese people love to use shrimp powder in many food items including fruit platters. On one occasion a fruit platter was the only vegan option available to us, so we ordered it. To our surprise, the fruit platter arrived with salt on the side mixed with dried shrimp paste.
Likely it was on a side and we simply didn’t have it.
The other major issue we found in Vietnam is that people misuse the word vegan on a regular basis to mean vegetarian.
There is no exact word in Vietnamese for vegan. The word “Chay” is a very close description of vegetarian. When we used to buy something we had to confirm with the vendor first that is definitely Chay and then we had to show the list of ingredients translated to Vietnamese that we can’t have. (butter, milk, eggs, etc). However, if the restaurant has the word Chay written, it is likely to be vegan.
Once, we stayed in one of the eco-friendly places and met an owner who knew that we were vegan. Excited, she told us that she was vegan too and later onwards we found out that her version of vegan means that she eats eggs. And it turned out that she wasn’t unique and there are many people who described themselves as a vegan who consumes eggs, milk, fish oil and a little bit of “shrimp”.
So in conclusion, Vegan doesn’t mean vegan in Vietnam. Unfortunately, there are lots of Social Media influencers who are overly optimistic and take it at face value. In many Asian religions if you consume without knowledge then it is not a “sin” which is one of the reasons why it’s difficult for strict vegan.
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.