A guide to being veggie, vegan, or gluten-free in Vietnam

Vietnam foodie guide for veggie, vegan and gluten-free diets. Source: Holly Patrick.

VIETNAMESE cuisine might seem like a nightmare for those who have dietary requirements.

But between the crispy shredded pork baguettes (bánh mì), steaming bowls of tender beef broth (phó) and shrimp pancakes (bánh xèo), there are plenty of exceptional dishes to suit everyone from veggies and vegans and beyond.

One of the reasons it’s so easy for those with dietary requirements to enjoy Vietnamese food is because the cuisine here is mostly cooked from scratch, using the freshest ingredients.

If you want to eliminate a particular ingredient, it’s as easy as asking your server to take it out.

Firstly, be sure to learn the phrase for “No fish sauce” which is “Không nước mắm”. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in nearly all savory Vietnamese dishes.

Secondly, look out for “quán chay” restaurants meaning “vegetarian shop”. Sometimes, they may have “cơm” or “búnin the middle which means “rice” or “noodle”, respectively.

There are healthy handfuls of these restaurants in each major city, but if you’re going to a small town or village, research your options beforehand.

To try dishes such as pho, you’ll have to visit specialist restaurants as this broth is traditionallbánh mì y made from beef bones.

Veggie bánh mì. Source: Holly Patrick.

However, for snacks such as bánh mì you can ask the vendor not to put any meat or fish sauce (bánh mì chay) but still enjoy the rest of the fresh flavors. Alternatively, ask for a fried egg instead of meat (bánh mì trứng). You can usually do this just by pointing at the ingredients you want and don’t want.

Other common vegetarian dishes include veggie spring rolls (gỏi cuốn với tương dậu phộng), veggie fried rice (cơm chiên chay), and steamed dumplings with mung bean (bánh ít trần voi dau xanh).

Helpful phrases:

I don’t eat meat or fish: Tôi không ăn thịt (meat) /  (fish)

I am vegetarian: Tôi ăn chay

No meat: Không thịt

Vegan

Being vegan in Vietnam follows many of the same rules as being vegetarian. However, there are slightly fewer options and purely vegan food might be harder to come by.

If you’re not fussy about cross contamination with spoons that have touched meat or dairy, head to the street vendors where you can point to the ingredients you want in your dish.

Failing this, keep an eye for “cơm chay” and “quán chay” which translate into “vegetarian rice” and “vegetarian” as the food at these restaurants and vendors will most likely be vegan too.

Veggie Vietnamese tacos. Source: Holly Patrick.

Most vegan dishes have meat substitutes made from tofu or seitan which are absolutely delicious. Then, there’s the garlic-fried Morning Glory that features on almost every Vietnamese menu, vegan or otherwise, which is a must-try.

Ultimately, Google will be your best friend in Vietnam when trying to find vegan restaurants so don’t be afraid of asking for the WiFi password everywhere you go.

Helpful phrases:

I don’t eat meat, fish, eggs or milk: Tôi không ăn thịt (meat) / (fish) / trứng (eggs) / sữa (milk)

I am vegan: Tôi là thuần chay

Gluten-free

Being gluten-free (Celiac) in Vietnam is difficult and takes some research and preparation but is definitely worth it.

Vietnamese cooking uses a lot of rice flour with eliminates the risk of consuming wheat flour. However, recipes change from restaurant to street vendor, so be careful.

A great place to start is by getting a personalized and comprehensive translation card made up. Allergy Translation offers over 175 allergy cards in 43 languages as well as plenty of free resources.

Gluten-free bánh xèo. Source: Holly Patrick.

The most common gluten-free dishes in Vietnam include pork and shrimp savory pancake (bánh xèo), fresh spring rolls (gỏi cuốn tuổi) and rice noodles (mì quảng) which are all made from rice flour.

But do double check this as some restaurants may use wheat flour as a substitute.

Helpful phrases:

No wheat: Không lúa mì

No soy sauce: Không nước tương

We’ve left the accents on translations because they make a crucial difference in the meaning of Vietnamese words. If your best attempt at pronouncing the words and phrases isn’t working, simply show your server the “helpful phrase” you’re trying to say.