When most food writers and celebrities talk about Vietnamese cuisine, they most often mention noodles, meat, and rice dishes, but not the vegetarian food, or com chay.
Thanks to the large Buddhist population, you can find vegetarian eateries pretty much everywhere in Saigon. Practicing Buddhist monks are vegetarian and most often dine in their respective temple on a daily basis.
So why try vegetarian? For one, it’s a cuisine that local Vietnamese know how to prepare well. Vegetarian food can compete perfectly well against the thousands of other restaurants in the city. Also, being a vegetarian is not a big deal in Vietnam unlike many places in the West.
Here are some of my favourite vegetarian restaurants in the city.
An Nhien Quan is a friendly, clean and cosy bistro on a quiet street in District 1. Soybean, tofu, green beans and various vegetables dominate the menu. Banh beo (water fern or steamed rice cake), lotus fried rice, banana flower salad, mushroom spring rolls and hot pot are all flavourful and well worth trying.
94 Nguyen Van Thu, District 1
9.30am to 10pm
Tel: 08 3910 1129
Loving Hut Hoa Dang is one of the most popular vegetarian restaurants in the city. Spacious, bright, very clean and frequently busy. The menu is quite extensive. The Pandan and hoa thien ly (Tonkin Jasmine) fried rice, braised gluten with coconut juice, okra with roasted garlic and deep fried oyster mushrooms are delicious.
38 Huynh Khuong Ninh,
Dakao Ward, District 1
9.30am to 2pm and 4.30pm to 9pm
Tel: 08 3820 9702
Buddha Chay Vegetarian Restaurant is owned by Phi Nhung, a famous Viet Kieu singer. Popular, small and cosy, with warm service and tables packed tightly close to one another, it serves up some amazing vegetarian dishes, especially lau tim thuoc bac (hot pot of stewed sweet herbal soup), with sides of vermicelli, tofu, assorted mushrooms and vegetables.
31 Dang Tat,
Ward Tan Dinh, District 1
11am to 9pm
Tristan Ngo is the chef, patron and owner of Skewers Restaurant and The Elbow Room.