Vietnam Vegan Language Guide
Firstly, learn to say “I don’t eat” which in Vietnamese is “Toi khong an” – then add any of the following words:
Bo – butter
Sua – milk
Trung – eggs
Pho mai – cheese
Nuoc mam – fish sauce
Once you’ve got the language in hand, you’re all set to eat your way around the delights that Vietnam has to offer.
Herbs, spices and condiments
Vietnamese food is packed full of fresh herbs, it’s one of the things that makes the whole cuisine so tasty and full of flavour. Fresh herbs often come as a side, waiting for you to pick leaves of basil, mint, coriander (both of the variety you might be used to but also Chinese Coriander) or maybe even the pungent fish tasting ‘fish mint’, and add them liberally to your food to get the flavour you want. Spice wise, expect garlic, fresh chilli (not huge amounts of it) fresh turmeric and lemongrass to feature alongside each other, you can also find delicious sour tamarind or sweet mango making an appearance, soy sauce and chilli sauce seem to be served with everything, sometimes soy with fresh chilli inside.
But hands down the most interesting condiment we came across was ‘chao’, a fermented tofu which strongly resembles a very strong blue cheese. It divides opinion here at the Vegan Food Quest and with others we have met along the way and its definitely one of those ‘love or hate’ foods. Added to rice porridge in the morning, or to a steaming hotpot soup, it adds a very addictive element to vegan Vietnamese food. We also had an amazing burger made for us with some chao spread on the bun – an inspired piece of cooking and a definitive hit with the half of the Vegan Food Quest team who can’t get enough fermented tofu.
Vietnamese spring rolls aren’t like any other spring rolls we’ve ever eaten; there are a few different varieties and they tend to be really delicious. Think about all those fresh herbs wrapped inside a fresh rice flour pancake, or a light and crispy noodle and tofu filled deep fried spring roll that’s them wrapped inside another rice flour pancake; in short Vietnamese spring rolls are in league of their own.
Our Vegan Guide to Vietnam has to include of the most famous of foods in Vietnam, pho (pronnounced ‘furh’), steaming bowl of vegan pho, packed with noodles, tofu and a powerful flavour kick from the fresh herbs added in after cooking, is one of the most satisfying things to eat (at any time of the day), ou adjust the flavour to your tastes by adding whichever herbs you are more partial too and by throwing in as much chilli as you fancy.
Banh Xeo are little rice flour pancakes that can be veganised by getting the usual shrimp or pork filling replaced with something plant based, at the very least a handful of fresh beansprouts and if you are really lucky (or cooking them yourself) filled with exotic mushrooms. Throw in the herbs you want, some fresh lettuce and cucumber and top with a soy, chilli and garlic sauce or thick soya bean sauce, maybe even wrap it up in another rice flour pancake, Banh Xeo are not to be missed.
Anything with eggplant
Before visiting Vietnam for the Vegan Food Quest, we had never realised how many delicious eggplant dishes they eat. Soft braised eggplant with soy garnished with toasted peanuts, tamarind sauces or huge amounts of fried garlic transform this humble vegetable into the star of the show.
Tofu, mushrooms and other vegan goodies cooked slowly in a claypot resulting in a sizzlingly hot dish with a sweet, spicy and rich, caramel like soy sauce.
A vietnamese hotpot always involves a certain amount of ceremony as its cooked in front of you at your table, flames or coals heating the ingredients to near volcanic temperatures inside to produce a noodle soup in a tasty clear broth that will fill your stomach and warm your heart with it’s loveliness. Spice it up with chilli paste and add a bit of fermented tofu and you’re ready to enter hotpot heaven.
Vietnam is a huge country where the taste of the food changes as you head North or South (spicier in the north, sweeter in the south). There are also dishes that can only be found in certain places like Hoi An’s Cao Lau warm noodle salad. We had an amazing vegan version that was full of tasty mock meat, the special Cau Lao noodles and fried rice crackers, herbs and salad before being tossed in the warm sweet, soy rich dressing. It’s well worth travelling around to taste the local differences in Vietnamese cuisine.
Last but not least in our Vegan Vietnamese Food Guide, the most delicious sandwich you might ever eat; Banh Mi. Thanks to he influence of the French Colonialists, the bread in Vietnam is out of this world. A mix of rice flour and wheat flour; crispy light baguettes are found everywhere, waiting to be stuffed with whatever (usually meat, Laughing Cow cheese or egg) fillings you choose.