A big thanks to Saigon local Rae Oliver, aka @mothercityslicker, for providing this amazing guest post. Read on to find out all about the best, and cheapest, places to find vegetarian and vegan food in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam.
What’s one of the best parts of setting off on a getaway around the globe? The FOOD! But as a vegetarian, I know how difficult it can be finding decent vegetarian food in a new city – especially when you don’t speak the language. Although the Vietnamese love a good piece of meat, they also know how to whip up some tasty vegetarian food – and they make it seriously cheap too!
To help you enjoy the best veggie food that Ho Chi Minh City has to offer, I’ve put together a list of some of the city’s tastiest vegan and vegetarian spots which just happen to be cheap as chard – perfect for the budget backpacker.
Quán Chay Nhà Tôi
This cute little place is located in District 1, just down the road from the English center where I work, which is ideal. I come here so often for lunch that the staff recognize me and welcome me with a warm smile. The friendliness and relaxed atmosphere are fitting of its name – “Nhà Tôi,” which translates into “My Home.”
I’ve tried many dishes on the menu, but my favourites are the hủ tiếu nam vang (Long xuyen noodle) and the bún thịt nướng (BBQ dried noodles). They also have a “help yourself” vegetarian buffet, which is very common in Vietnamese restaurants. Simply tell the waiter you want the buffet, they’ll give you a mountain of rice on a plate, and you pick and choose what veggies you want. The best part? It costs around $1.
Hủ Tíu Chay Giác Tha
This was one of the first vegetarian restaurants I went to, so it holds a special place in my heart. You’ll be able to recognise it from the unmistakable bamboo tables that give the restaurant a tropical vibe.
They don’t have an English menu, but if I were you, I’d pick and choose a bunch of things and go with it. That’s what I did and wasn’t disappointed! Just make sure you point at what you want – in my opinion, it’s pretty useless even trying to pronounce the names of the dishes unless you’re fluent in Vietnamese.
If you’re veggie rather than vegan I highly recommend the bột chiên, which is a plate of eggy deliciousness, mixed with fried rice flour cakes, sprinkled with green onions and served with a special tangy soy sauce on the side.
This restaurant is beloved by locals and internationals alike and it’s easy to see why – the service is fast, the food is seriously fresh, and the menu is 100% vegan. I love how you have to take your shoes off at the door – it adds to the relaxed and clean aura of the place.
The restaurant clearly has a strong Buddhist vibe, with colourful flags hanging around the room and a gorgeous buddha sitting happily atop a bookcase. Many of the vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City have Buddhist roots, due to the significant Buddhist population in Vietnam. And I’m not complaining! That means I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to finding amazing meat-free food.
Pretty much everything on the menu is delicious. If I had to choose a dish, I’d recommend the papaya salad. It’s fresh and light, perfect for a sweltering hot day in Saigon, which is pretty much every day.
Bong Sung Restaurant
I stumbled upon this place when I was walking around the area of the Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Post Office . I saw a sign for a vegan restaurant and my curiosity lead me upstairs to the cutest little spot. This place is definitely more in the upmarket range of Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants, but you can see why – the staff were attentive, the walls were decorated with impressive paintings and the chairs had lush velvet cushions, a big step up from the small plastic stool you can expect at most local Vietnamese restaurants.
Their menu is extensive, so there’s plenty to choose from. I ordered the Cơm trộn Bông Súng, or brown rice plate, which comes with a good helping of authentic brown rice, surrounded by a mixture of vegetables, tofu, and mushrooms.
If you’re looking for a fresh thirst-quenching drink to rehydrate you after being in the relentless sun, you simply have to try a soda chanh. It’s just soda water, lime, and sugar syrup but it tastes oh-so-good. Bong Sung serves the lime and syrup separate so you can make it to your liking, which I appreciate. In general the Vietnamese have a very sweet tooth – they like their drinks very sugary!
Nhà Hàng Chay 3 Lá
This gem of a restaurant is also a bit on the upmarket side as far as vegetarian/vegan restaurants go. What I love about this place, besides the fantastic range of dishes, is the layout of the restaurant. It has a raised eating area where diners take off their shoes and sit on the floor on little round pillows, which happen to look like kiwis.
I was impressed with the wide range of mushrooms dishes available on the menu. Vietnam seems to have a staggering variety of mushrooms available which would cost an arm and a leg back home. Shiitake mushrooms, straw mushrooms, enokitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms – you name it, they’ve got it!
Nhà Hàng Chay Bà Xã
Ever since I stepped into this restaurant, I’ve loved it. Another place where I’ve unashamedly become a regular, the manager always greets me with his big smile and makes sure I’m treated like a queen.
Everything on the menu is 100% vegan. I try my best to order something new every time I eat here, but it’s surprisingly difficult when you have your favourites. One of the tastiest dishes I’ve had is the tofu in peppercorn; the sauce is deliciously rich but not overpowering. I also loved the mushroom noodle soup, the dried noodles with mushrooms, and the deep-fried mushroom with tamarind sauce. Can you tell I love mushrooms?
Though it seems daunting to stick to a veggie lifestyle in Ho Chi Minh City, I can honestly say it’s been one of the easiest, most exciting destinations to do so. I’m still not totally sure how they do it, but the Vietnamese have shown me how vegetables and tofu can be transformed into a hearty dish that won’t make you miss meat for a second!
If there’s one piece of advice I can give you to eating out in Saigon, it’s to just go for it and order something even if you don’t know what it is; more often than not you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
A big thanks again to Rae for writing this great article! Rae is a 20-something digital nomad with a deep dislike for the term ‘digital nomad’. When she’s not galivanting around the world on the hunt for the fastest WiFi, she’s hunched over her laptop, smashing out witty words and sarcastic jokes.
You can connect with her on Instagram: @mothercityslicker
If you’re visiting Vietnam and want some more inspiration on places to go and things to do, check out some of my other Just Can’t Settle Vietnam posts.