White Cloud, one of the best known vegetarian restaurants in Hanoi

Enjoying Vietnamese food while avoiding meat can be a challenge. Especially in the meat-loving north where admitting you’re vegetarian often spurs a similar response to announcing you’ve caught a deadly disease: a mixture of pity and confusion as to how this could have happened. The following is a list of street food and small restaurants where a vegetarian can somewhat integrate one’s self into the wonderful culture and atmosphere that is Vietnamese food.

 

Street Food

 

Bun Dau

Corner of Ngo Tram and Ha Trung near Cho Hang Da, Hoan Kiem

 

Freshly cooked by roving street stalls throughout the day, bun dau is a saviour for vegetarians in search of street food. So long as you like tofu. A plate of cold bun (noodles) is served with an abundance of fresh herbs, lime, chilli and freshly fried tofu that is crispy on the outside and smooth as silk on the inside. Make sure to specify “no meat” otherwise watch out for fried pork masquerading as tofu. Like many Vietnamese dishes, this will come with shrimp or fish-based sauce on the side, easily avoided if you wish. If you don’t fancy the stuff on the street you can try the small, busy ‘restaurant’ on Ha Trung which is open for lunch.

 

Banh Cuon Chay

On the right hand side of Tran Huy Lieu, Dong Da, one block from Kim Ma

 

Banh cuon is a rice paper crepe (of some sort) that is understated and, in my opinion, usually underrated. At the place on Tran Huy Lieu, you can see them making the fresh crepes by rapidly spreading and flipping the thin white sheets over a steamer. The result is a subtly-flavoured, warm slimy dish that tastes much better than it sounds. It is served with herbs, chilli and a steaming bowl of fish-based sauce on the side. The banh cuon chay comes with dried onion (ask for extra) — I strongly recommend taking soy sauce to compensate for the fish sauce.

 

Bia Hoi snacks

Bia Hoi on the southern corner of Tran Phu and Ngo 34A Tran Phu, Hoan Kiem

Bia Hoi near the northern corner of Bat Dan and Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem

 

Bia Hois vary in the amount and quality of food they offer but the majority will at least have a couple of vegetarian options to go with your ice cold beer (or beer with ice). Fried tofu and morning glory with garlic can be found at most places, but for more interesting options these two joints (open most afternoons and evenings) have extensive menus in English.



Banh Trang Nuong

48 Hang Tre, Hoan Kiem, open in the evening

 

If you have a hankering for both pizza and Vietnamese food then banh trang nuong is the dish for you. Often described as Vietnamese pizza, this unique dish from Dalat is a large round sheet of rice paper that is grilled with various toppings. There is a tasty vegetarian option with an egg on top.

 

Fried Rice / Noodles

If you are not too concerned about: a) meat touching your food or b) the occasional sprinkle of fish sauce, then you can usually grab a tasty dish at any of the small places serving fried rice or noodles where they will happily cook you up a plate of something with a few veggies and no meat. The noodles are usually the better option (particularly fresh pho noodles), but avoid ordering my which are just fried instant noodles. Instant noodles have a high salt content.

 


Bun Dau

Bun Dau, one of Hanoi's favourite vegetarian dishes, if you can avoid the shrimp paste that is


 

Restaurants

 

Com Chay Nang Tam

79A Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem

 

This small restaurant is either delicious or slightly off-putting depending on how you feel about fake meat, the staple of many vegetarian or Buddhist restaurants in Hanoi. However, they make nice nem ran chay (fried vegetarian spring rolls) which I am always excited about, and I recommend the lunchtime meal plan if you’re a fan of dishes such as vegan pate. It is generally agreed that faux-meat was created to make carnivores feel welcome when eating Buddhist food and Com Chay Nanh Tam does this well. This place is a particular favourite of my meat-loving dining partner.

 

Loving Hut

192/4 Quan Thanh, Ba Dinh; 18/71 Nguyen Hong, Dong Da

 

Possibly better known for its close association with a spiritual movement rather than its food, the Loving Hut restaurants in Hanoi are part of an international vegan restaurant chain. Offering solid, cheap and tasty vegan meals in a slightly cramped but clean space, Loving Hut is a great place to grab a quick lunch or informal dinner. The menu is extensive and there are many options that don’t involve faux-meat.

 

May Trang (White Cloud)

2 Ngo 12, Dang Thai Mai, Tay Ho

 

Serving up excellent food (and I don’t just mean for vegetarians), May Trang earns its reputation as one of the best vegan places in Hanoi. This small, non-descript place close to the Syrena Centre has a wonderful menu that avoids the two things that are often the downfall of many vegetarian restaurants — too much fake meat and not enough flavour. Order anything — it’s all delicious.

 

Dessert

 

Thankfully dessert is the one Vietnamese food option that does not include fish sauce (as far as I know). Hanoi has many places to try, but my favourites, which are open from around 10am to 10pm, are as follows:

Vegetarian Hanoi

Kem Xoi and Sua Chua Hoa Qua

On the north side of Tran Phu just before the corner with Dien Bien Phu, Ba Dinh

 

Offering a sweet, gooey mix of sticky rice, ice-cream, and desiccated coconut, Kem Xoi always wins in the dessert category. There are places scattered around the city but this particular one also serves good sua chua hoa qua, which is yogurt, ice, small jellies and fresh fruit, usually mit (jack fruit).

 

Che

Near the corner of Hang Da and Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem

 

If you have somehow not yet tried this dessert, which is an odd assortment of jellies covered in coconut cream and served with ice, you are missing out. Be warned that not all che is created equal, but this place is a safe bet. You will recognise it by the table with many coloured bowls laid out containing the jelly — choose which ones look appealing or just go for them all at once.

 

Bo bia ngot

Side of the road, usually along Thanh Nien, Ba Dinh

 

Served on the side of the road from the back of a bike, this incredibly sweet snack of small pancake rolled around honeycomb, coconut and poppy seeds (no, there is no beer involved) makes for a delectable treat with a great texture combination. Don’t be tempted to eat more than one, you will regret it.

 


Useful Points

 

Khong thit literally means no meat and is an essential phrase that usually gets the point across. Make sure to say it a few times or write it down.

 

An chay means to eat vegetarian and although it is a useful word to know, I find “khong thit” to be more effective.

 

Unless you are eating in a vegan restaurant, nuoc mam or fish sauce is served with pretty much everything and dishes without it can seem slightly bland. So I recommend carrying sachets of soy sauce to compensate.

 

On the first and 15th of the lunar month many restaurants will offer more vegetarian options and Buddhist restaurants usually serve vegan buffets.

 

For many more vegetarian options around the city, search for Hanoi on the Happy Cow website: happycow.net

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