Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sat April 02 2016

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | April 2, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    A Quest For the Ultimate Vegetarian Meal in Ho Chi Minh City

    A Quest For the Ultimate Vegetarian Meal in Ho Chi Minh City

    PHOTO: A street vendor selling handmade fresh spring rolls. (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    Everyone had told me how difficult it would be to travel throughout Vietnam as a vegetarian and that my dreams of eating Pho would be crushed, since all broths are meat based.

    But I refused to believe it.

    My first few days in Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City) were devoted to hunting the web and the streets for the ultimate vegetarian meal.

    And I will openly admit, I was defeated in my attempts to find a street stall on my own that I was sure was vegetarian — besides Banh Mi. I did however find an abundance of great vegan/vegetarian restaurants (although touristy).

    As for finding vegetarian street foods, that was a challenge I couldn’t win on my own. So I did what any smart foodie would do: I took a private food tour with Tiger Tours, who were more than happy to search the streets and let me know about their favorite local spots far beyond the tourist trail in District 1 for my perfectly authentic Saigon chay meal!

    READ MORE: Ho Chi Minh City: Energetic Vietnam

    My tour guide had picked me up at my hostel by scooter at 5 p.m. and off we drove throughout the night, stopping at four different establishments and various food stalls over the course of four hours.

    She informed me of all the countless options vegetarians had in Vietnam, how to pronounce the names of each mouthwatering dish I ate, along with a background of information about her beautiful country and their culture. I felt completely relaxed, like I was out with a friend rather than a guide. We ate, we drank and wolfed down fresh mango smoothies as desserts and I felt as happy as a kid in the “Willy Wonka” movie!

    PHOTO: My all time favorite noodle dish on the left, called Bun Rieu Chay.

    Needless to say, after the tour was finished and I was dropped off at my hostel, I was in pure veg-food-bliss (or maybe a food coma) but I felt accomplished in knowing that vegetarian street food is in fact very much available, cheap and delicious here in Saigon and around Vietnam as well!

    By far, the best thing I have eaten in Saigon ended up being at one of my guide’s favorite chay food stalls called Tri Duc in District 5 where we ate Bun Rieu Chay — A Vegetarian “crab” vermicelli with faux soy meat, tofu, mushrooms, tomatoes, chives, carrots, cauliflower, perilla, banana flowers and other greens along with a side order of tofu and lemongrass, pickled African eggplant and a fresh passion-fruit juice.

    For any vegetarian heading to Vietnam, I strongly recommend having a night out on the town with one of the great girls from Tiger Tours who will show you all the great local gems hidden in the many districts of Saigon!

    Vegetarian Street Food:

    The street foods below are a no-hassle vegetarian option. However, most vendors are fine making your meal vegetarian friendly — you just need to ask.

    • Bot Chien: Fried rice flour cakes with an omelet, spring onions, peanuts, green papaya drizzled with hot chili sauce and a side of chili soya sauce

    PHOTO: Bot Chien became my go-to morning meal and costs under $1!

    • Bo Bia: Fresh spring rolls

    • Com Chay: Sticky rice

    • Xoi Ngot: Sweet sticky rice made with peanuts, coconut, salt and sugar

    • Banh Mi Chay: salad, Laughing Cow cheese and an optional fried egg

    • Trung Ga: Boiled or grilled eggs

    • Khoai Lang Tim: Purple sweet potato

    • Che Chuoi: Banana with sago pearls and coconut milk sweet soup

    • Banh Cam: Deep-fried rice sesame balls filled with sweetened mung bean paste

    • Banh Khot: fried rice flour pancakes

    • Banh Kep La Dua: Pandan and coconut flavored waffle

    Helpful Tips:

    • Write down “Ban co the xin vui long giup toi. Toi la an chay va do khong an thit hoac thit ga. Cam on ban” on a piece of paper to show street vendors and restaurant staff who don’t speak English. This will alleviate a lot of hassle and language barriers when trying to order a vegetarian meal!

    READ MORE: 5 Overlooked Cities That Are Worth Visiting

    • You can say “an chay” (meaning “vegetarian”) or “khong thit” (meaning “no meat”)

    • If you are vegan and worried about cross-contamination, eat at restaurants, cafes or stalls titled “chay” which are all vegan/vegetarian meals.

    PHOTO: My very first vegan Pho called “Pho Thap Cam” (mock beef stew noodle soup).

    Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly:

    With over 100 vegetarian/vegan restaurants and cafes, you have plenty of options to choose from. Some of the best are as seen below:

    • Tri Duc

    017 Le Hong Phong, P. 2, District 5

    • Hum Vegetarian Cafe & Restaurant

    32 Vo Van Tan St., Ward 6, District 3

    • Five Boy Number One (Juice Bar)

    84 Bui Vien Phurong Pham, Ngu Lao

    • Huong Vien

    101 Vuon Chuoi St., District 3

    • Com Chay Giac Duc

    492 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St., District 3

    • Tin Nghia

    9 Tran Hung Dao St., District 1 (at Pham Ngu Lao, Saigon)

    • Am Thuc Chay Mani

    291/2 Vo Van Tan St., District 3

    • Bong Sung Vegetarian Food

    86 Nguyen Du, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1

    • Quan Chay (Vegan) Chan Nhu II

    133 De Tham, P. Co Giang, District 1

    • Am Thuc Chay — NGO Vegan Cafe

    31 Dang Tat, Tan Dinh


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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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