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VIETNAMESE cuisine is certainly one of my new-found-favorites! I was super excited to visit Vietnam because I had been told how wonderfully healthy, delicious and fresh the local food is. My first impressions of Vietnam was witnessing how clean and well-maintained the tree-lined roads were. It didn’t seem dusty and dry like other places I have been to in Asia. Witnessing all the wild green grass gently swaying in the breeze, and the lush tropical trees abundant with fruit was so uplifting and pleasant.
The Vietnamese people are also noticeably kind-hearted, friendly and polite. Traits which I have experienced with the native people throughout my travels around South East Asia. It is always calming to be in a country which has such happy vibes and genuine smiles. I traveled from South West Vietnam along the Mekong Delta river, across to the famous Ho Chi Minh city. I then made my way up through the country to Halong Bay and Hanoi city in North Vietnam. Traveling all over Vietnam enabled me to experience different varieties of flavour typical of each region. It was amazing to witness the different cultures of the Vietnamese, especially the contrast between the Northern and Southern parts of Vietnam.
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When I visited Vietnam, the temperature was extremely hot from being at the end of the high season, and it was very humid as the rainy season was just beginning. Therefore my appetite was rather low and I only wanted to eat light but flavourful meals. Luckily I had an array of choices that were not only suitable for vegetarians and vegans but extremely tasty too!It is also so refreshing to find a culture where so much passion, flavour, and thought is put into creating healthy salads and meals.
Although I was only traveling in Vietnam for eleven days, I made sure I tried much of the cuisine there. I have put together a list of my top 10 favourite ‘tried-and-tested’ vegan-friendly Vietnamese dishes:
1. Cha Gio (Fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls)
Chai Giois is the most popular dish in Vietnam and was originally made for royalty, hence the nickname “Imperial Rolls.” During my three-day cruise around Halong Bay, the chef onboard taught me how to cook vegetarian fried Vietnamese spring rolls during a live cooking demonstration. Unlike the western style of deep-fried spring rolls, the Vietnamese version is only lightly sautéed in a pan to give it a slightly crunchy texture on the outside. I absolutely love Vietnamese spring rolls and I have included this delicious appetizer in the free downloadable recipe guide.
2. Banana Flower Salad
This salad is a refreshing dish which complements the hot weather perfectly. Banana flowers are sometimes substituted with peeled and shredded green papaya. Both the South Asians and Southeast Asians use banana flowers as a vegetable. Similar to artichokes, both the fleshy part of the bracts and the heart are edible. For those of you who are not so familiar with banana flowers as a source of food, here are top health benefits of consuming banana flowers:
- Banana flowers are rich in magnesium, which helps to improve your mood and reduce stress levels.
- They contain antioxidants that battle free radicals and prevent them from damaging the body.
- Banana flowers are light and soothing on the digestion system and can be used to fight abdominal pain and bloating caused by acidity
3. Phổ Chay (Vegetarian Noodle Soup)
Traditionally Pho is eaten for breakfast and usually contains either beef or chicken. However, you can order ‘chay‘ which means vegetarian. This dish is an extremely popular Vietnamese breakfast. It is thought that this noodle soup came from Hanoi, in North Vietnam and was influenced by both Chinese and French traditions. I have included this delicious dish in the free downloadable recipe guide.
4. Banh Mi Chay
Vietnam was colonised by the French in 1887 until they gained independence in 1945. Banh Mi is a perfect example of the French influence on the Vietnamese cuisine. This popular snack is a baguette filled with tofu, coriander, cucumber, chilli, and some pickled carrot and daikon. I tried my first Banh Mi during a delicious brunch spread at the Marriot in Hanoi. Traditionally fish paste is also spread inside the baguette and a boiled or scrambled egg is inserted. You can use the free downloadable Vietnamese translation sheet to ask the chef to exclude these ingredients.
5. Xà Lách Xoài (Mango Salad)
Vietnam’s mango season is from March to May where the mangoes are most abundant. They are widely grown in the country’s Southern provinces. Vietnam grows over 400 different varieties of this fruit, of which the Cat mango (Ben Cat mango), Tuong mango (elephant mango) and Xiem mango (Siamese mango) are the most popular. Each variety has a unique flavour, smell, and taste, but all are generally sweet and tasty. Green mangoes, especially the crunchy ones, are used in Vietnam’s famous green mango salad.
6. Xà Lách Bắp Cải Tím (Purple Cabbage Salad)
The salads in South-East Asia encompass just the right balance between salt, sweet, sour, garlic chilli and pungent herb flavours. This is what makes the salads so tasty and refreshing. Purple cabbage salad has a beautiful crunchy texture and is similar to a much heavier version of a western cole slaw.
7. Phổ Tao (Fried Noodle)
This scrumptious fried rice noodles dish comes with bok choy, onions, tofu, and carrot. There are many different varieties of noodles all over Vietnam. Each region boasts its own specialties, utilizing different kinds of noodles and local herbs and spices. Traditionally Phổ tao uses Phở noodles. Although the name seems identical, do not mistake this for the Pho soup listed above. Phở are relatively wide white rice noodles and are very popular for use in stir-fried dishes. I have included the recipe for this tasty dish in the free downloadable recipe guide.
8. Cơm Tấm (Broken Rice)
This is a Vietnamese dish made from rice with fractured rice grains. Tấm refers to the broken rice grains, while cơm refers to cooked rice. Vietnam is the second-largest rice exporter in the world (after Thailand). Although rice is grown all over the country, the majority can be found growing in the Mekong Delta, which can grow enough rice to feed all 87+ million people of Vietnam, and plenty of leftovers beyond that. During our visit to Vietnam, we traveled by riverboat along the Mekong Delta. The floating markets, rice paddies, and rice paper factories were plentiful and it was so fascinating to see the entire rice making process.
9. Crispy Fried Tofu
I generally try to avoid tofu because I’m not a big fan and try to stay away from soy products in my diet. However, the crispy fried tofu in Vietnam is absolutely divine. Its slightly salty and crispy exterior and soft, smooth, melt-in-the-mouth interior are a wonderful combination. I enjoyed it so much the first time I tried this dish that I ordered it several times throughout my travels through Vietnam!
10. Che Kho (Red Mung Bean Pudding)
Unlike in Western cultures, in Vietnam, there is no real concept of an after-dinner dessert as sweets are usually snacks eaten throughout the day. Although served warm, this sweet soup is a lovely refreshing way to end a meal. Mung beans are a rich source of nutrients, as well as being high in protein and dietary fiber. I have included this traditional Vietnamese dessert in the free downloadable recipe guide.
11. Fruit Salad with Chilli Salt Dip
Walking through both riverbanks of the Mekong Delta, and around Cat Ba island in Halong Bay, I saw all kinds of tropical trees; mango, jackfruit, water apples, water coconut, guava, and banana. It is very traditional in Asia to have fruit dipped in chili salt as a snack or dessert.
As mentioned earlier in this blog, I have put together a free translation sheet and a three-course Vietnamese meal recipe book for you to download. Simply become a member of Vibrant Yogini and you can access these freebies straight away:
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Do you have any suggestions for other delicious Vietnamese vegan dishes or delicacies? Write in the comments below!
Have you used the free copy of the recipe e-book already? I would love to see your culinary skills! Feel free to send me an email on the address above. Or, if you are eating Vietnamese cuisine I would love to see! Take a picture and post to the Facebook Group or tag Vibrant Yogini on Instagram or Twitter!
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Wishing you tasty and delicious travels!
P.S. I traveled around Vietnam after having toured around Cambodia. Compare the Vietnamese vegan cuisine in this article with the vegan Cambodian cuisine!