Archive for the 'Vegetarian' Category

Meatless in Saigon

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Mock Meats and Tofu Treats—clockwise from upper left: bean curd with mustard greens, thit heo quay, xoi ga chay, canh chua

One would imagine that in a society where roughly 85% of the people are practicing Buddhists, vegetarian restaurants could be found on every corner. While this may be true in some parts of Asia, it is certainly not the case in Saigon, where eateries specializing in com chay are few and far between.

Exceptions to this general trend appear on the first and fifteenth of each Lunar Calendar month, when all Buddhists shy away from meat. On these particularly auspicious days, nearly all workers’ lunch establishments (com binh dan) serve vegetarian options.

Whereas vegetarian cuisine in the West often means a bland plate of grilled vegetables or strange faux meat products, Vietnamese vegetarian fare sticks to familiar flavors and ingredients. Unlike scientifically derived products such as Tofurkey and Boca Burgers, which tend to leave eaters feeling deprived, the fresh vegetables and soy products employed at com chay restaurants are skillfully transformed into wholly satisfying delights.

One of the best features of vegetarian establishments in town is their extensive menus. From rice entrees to noodle soups, it seems that every Vietnamese dish can be deliciously vegetarian-ized.

For those seeking meatless fare for dietary reasons, religious leanings, or just personal preference, there are a handful of well-run and exciting Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants in the city worth getting to know. Just a warning, there is a good chance that you will be dining next to a group of Buddhist nuns or monks while digging into a hearty plate of meatless goodness.

Quan An Chay
174 Calmette Street, District 1
This vegan-friendly eatery features a casual buffet where diners can pick and choose items that suit their fancy. The buffet selections change daily, which always keeps things interesting. The price of the meal depends on the weight of food.

Huong Vien
101 Vuon Chuoi Street, District 3
Huong Vien’s specialty is vegetarian renditions of Vietnamese classics such as pho, lau (hot pot), and bun rieu. The xoi ga chay (sticky rice with “chicken”) is especially stellar and unbelievably similar to the meaty xoi ga and xoi man sold street-side. A plate of xoi ga chay is priced at VND4,000. Another winning dish is the banh hoi thit nuong (vermicelli noodle cakes topped with grilled “pork”). The meaty mouth-feel and smoky marinade of the soy “pork” is nothing short of excellent. A heaping portion of banh hoi thit nuong is priced at VND10,000.

Lien Hoa
004 C/c Doan Van Bo Street, District 4
Lien Hoa serves Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine at rock-bottom prices. At VND10,000 per dish, one can eat healthily and economically. House specialties include banh beo chay (steamed rice cakes) and banh bao chay (steamed buns).

Giac Duc
492 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 3
A must-try treat at Giac Duc is the thit heo quay (barbecued pork). The dish looks and tastes so ridiculously pork-like, it is hard to believe that no swine were harmed in the process. The true genius of this dish lies in the tapioca film that brilliantly fakes the layer of fat found in real thit heo quay. A portion for two is priced at VND10,000. Giac Duc also makes one of the best canh chua (sweet and sour soup) in town. The VND5,000 bowl of soup is brimming with okra, elephant ears, tomatoes, and bean sprouts.

Tiem Com Chay Phap Hoa I
200 Nguyen Trai Street, District 1
Extremely popular with the local crowd, Phap Hoa prepares a large selection of Vietnamese specialties and dishes employing mock meat. Although the ambiance is bare bones, the friendly staff and solid food more than make up for it.

Thanh Luong
545A Ba Thang Hai Street, District 10
Although Thanh Luong’s menu is slightly limited compared to the others, the quality of the food is first-class. The best way to enjoy Thanh Luong’s offerings is by ordering a variety of dishes and plenty of steamed rice. The dau hu xa (lemongrass tofu) and bean curd with mustard greens are solid choices. “Sardines” wrapped in seaweed, one of the more interesting menu items, taste surprisingly fishy for a creation made entirely inland.

An Lac Chay
175/4 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1
In the heart of the backpacker quarter, An Lac’s main clientele are travelers and local families. The restaurant prepares both Vietnamese and international cuisine and according to locals, An Lac’s pizza is most excellent.

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Two Huong Vien regulars enjoying a meat-free lunch

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Giac Duc

September 18-20, 2007
Cuisine: Vietnamese, Vegetarian

492 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 088356161
Website: none

Boiled Water Spinach (3,000 VND)

Braised Tofu with Vegetables (5,000 VND)

Stuffed Eggplant, Tomato, and Bitter Melon (5,000 VND)

BBQ “Pork” – “Thit” Heo Quay (10,000 VND)

Stir Fried Cabbage (3,000 VND)

Canh Chua (5,000 VND)

Sauteed Green Beans and Carrots (3,000 VND)

I’ve been going to lunch at Giac Duc at least twice a week for the past two weeks. I’m on a vegetarian kick because I need more veggies in my diet and less refined flours and meat. Plus, it’s totally delicious.

My three favorite dishes at Giac Duc are the BBQ “pork,” sauteed green beans, and canh chua.

The BBQ pork is hands-down the best mock meat dish ever! The taste is spot-on and the texture is unbelievably thit heo quay-like. We’re talking mock fatty pork skin! How do they do that? I think it may involve tapioca and science.

The green beans are prepared simply with butter, salt, and plenty of black pepper. With vegetables this fresh, it doesn’t take a lot to make them tasty.

The canh chua is spiced nicely and brimming with tomatoes, bean sprouts, pineapple, bac ha, and okra. I really could (and sometimes do) eat canh chua every day.

My only complaint about the eatery is that the price of the food seems to change every time I dine there. When I ate at Giac Duc with a fellow Viet Kieu, the price of the BBQ pork was 5,000 VND, but when I dined with The Astronomer, the price jumped to 10,000 VND. WTF, right? I don’t mind being gouged a little because I’m a foreigner, but at least be consistent about it.

I’ll keep coming back for the “pork.”

Thanh Lương

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August 20, 2007
Cuisine: Vietnamese, Vegetarian

545A Ba Thang Hai Street
District 10, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 088552286
Website: none

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Mustard Greens with Bean Curd

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Tofu with Lemongrass

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Vegetarian Loaf

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Canh Chua Chay – Sweet and Sour Soup

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“Sardines”

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“Chicken”

I love vegetarian Vietnamese food. My mom got me hooked in high school bringing home vegetarian lunch plates prepared by women at the Buddhist temple every Sunday. I have been on the lookout for vegetarian food in Saigon and am surprised by how uncommon it is, especially considering the large Buddhist population. Eateries that serve workers’ lunches only serve meat-less options during specific days on the Lunar calendar and full-on vegetarian restaurants are few and far between.

I dined at my first vegetarian restaurant the other week when a few vegetarian colleagues from the East Meets West office in Oakland came to town for a visit. Our local colleagues chose Thanh Luong, which is located far enough from our office to warrant a cab ride.

The Astronomer and I left the ordering up to our dining companions, but thoroughly enjoyed their selections. My two favorite dishes were the mustard greens with bean curd and the sweet and sour soup, which contained a plethora of vegetables including okra, tomatoes and mushrooms. The Astronomer fancied the mock chicken and lemongrass tofu.

Although Thanh Luong is a good thirty minute walk from our office, the food is superb so I’ll definitely be returning soon.

Dau Hu Xa Ot

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Deep Fried Tofu with Chilies and Lemongrass

  • 14 ounces tofu
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Chili flakes
  • Vegetable oil

Mince* lemongrass in a food processor. Add salt and chili flakes to the minced lemongrass and combine. For extra spice, add in a generous amount of chili flakes.

Cut tofu into 6 rectangular pieces and butterfly – slice tofu down the middle three-quarters of the way through (see below – left).

Stuff the tofu with lemongrass, salt, and chili flakes mixture (see below – right).

Heat vegetable oil and deep fry stuffed tofu until golden on both sides. After frying is complete, strain the oil and sprinkle the remaining lemongrass on top of the tofu because some lemongrass will fall out of the tofu.

Serve warm with rice.

*Asian grocery stores often sell containers of minced lemongrass in the freezer section, which can be used here. Store lemongrass in freezer to preserve freshness. 

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Canh Chua Chay

Canh Chua

Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup

  • 10 ounces mushroom vegetarian broth or vegetable broth
  • 20 ounces water 
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 leek
  • 1 can pineapple chunks (with juice)
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Firm or extra firm tofu
  • Sugar
  • Soy sauce
  • Mushroom seasoning or salt
  • Black pepper
  • Cilantro

Bring water and broth to a boil.

While waiting for the soup to boil, chop tomatoes into chunks or wedges, cube tofu, and slice leeks thinly (white part only). Once the soup is boiling, add in half a can of pineapple juice—save the pineapple chunks for later. Let the soup continue to boil for 5 minutes with a lid on.

Season the soup with sugar, soy sauce, and mushroom seasoning to suit your palette. The end result should be sour, but not unpleasantly so. My grandma likes to add a dash of vinegar to intensify the soup’s sourness. Once the soup is well-seasoned, add in vegetables, tofu, and pineapples. The exact amount of vegetables, tofu, and pineapples added to the soup is dependent on the prefernce of the cook. 

Serve hot on top of rice and garnish with cilantro and a sprinkling of black pepper.

For Canh Chua Bac Ha, add button mushrooms and slices of bac ha, also known as Upright Elephant Ears, to the above recipe.