Veganism is a relatively new term in Vietnam, but the practice of avoiding animal products is not. Thanks to their large Buddhist population, Vietnam have been championing plant-based food for much longer than we’ve even known about veganism. Therefore, it is quite easy to get by as a vegan when travelling in Vietnam. Personally, it is my favourite country to travel in as a vegan!
They have tonnes of local vegetarian eateries as well as plenty of more modern vegan establishments. You will be able eat all sorts of food, from local Vietnamese dishes to burgers and pizzas. However, if you find yourself in a restaurant which isn’t exclusively vegetarian or vegan, or you are asking a local about food options in the area, then you will find these vegan Vietnamese phrases really handy.
These are phrases I have had since I first visited Vietnam. They were translated for me by a local, so they have always worked a charm!
“Tôi ăn chay” = I am vegan
This is the most useful phrase of them all and one that is relatively easy to remember. It literally translates to ‘I eat vegetarian’.
There is no word for vegan in Vietnamese as such, but considering that dairy is only just growing in popularity across Asia, most chay food is actually vegan. Thankfully, the majority of chay eateries will actually use the word vegan either on their sign or on their menu, so you can trust these are actual vegan restaurants.
If you are out and about you may well stumble across many small local ‘chay’ restaurants, particularly ‘cơm chay’ which means vegetarian rice. These are really cheap and local places to eat, expect hearty vegetables and fake meats with rice.
If you are worried that the food may be vegetarian not vegan, then you can show them the next phrase to be extra sure.
“Tôi không ăn hoặc uống sữa và trứng” = I don’t eat or drink dairy and eggs
As well as being a useful phrase for restaurants, this is also very useful to show to the staff in a coffee shop. Three very famous coffee drinks in Vietnam include dairy and eggs. These are cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk), cà phê trứng (egg coffee), and cà phê dừa (coconut coffee with condensed milk).
There are plenty of coffee options that you can enjoy without dairy and eggs, including a normal cà phê and even a cà phê dừa, just ask for it without the condensed milk (and show them this useful phrase).
“Tôi không ăn thịt, cá và trứng” = I don’t eat meat, fish or eggs
In the unfortunate event that you may get served something that isn’t vegan and you need to explain to someone why you can’t eat it, this phrase may be useful as it provides more information on the food that you don’t eat.
If there is anything else you want to specify in this list you can easily Google Translate a food name and add it to the list. The Vietnamese word ‘và’ means ‘and’, so just add this before the last food item in your list.
“Không nước mắm xin vui lòng” = No fish sauce please
A lot of food in SE Asia is made using fish sauce. So unless you are eating in a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, it is likely you will get served up fish sauce in some dishes.
Some popular dishes that use fish sauce include salads, like a banana blossom salad or a papaya salad. On top of this, many fresh bún (noodle) dishes use fish sauce.
If the dish doesn’t include any other animal products, you can simply show them this phrase so they leave out the fish sauce.
If you are in a vegan eatery, you won’t miss out on trying this tasty sauce as it is very commonly veganised using fermented soy beans.
“Bạn có yến mạch, hạt hoặc sữa đậu nành?” = Do you have oat, nut or soy milk?
If you are from the UK, like me, then you’ll be used to having loads of plant-based milk options, including variations of oat milks, nut milks and more. The options aren’t quite as varied in Vietnam, but they are gradually increasing.
When I first went to Vietnam in 2018 the options were limited to soya milk and it was near impossible finding this actually as an option in a coffee shop, so I would drink a lot of black iced coffees. Fast forward to 2023 and there are now quite a few options in most coffee shops, including almond milk and soya milk.
I am also starting to see oat milk in a few establishments across Vietnam, namely ‘Oatside‘, an oat milk produced in Asia. I believe in Singapore, to be exact.
You can use this handy phrase in coffee shops to check what milk options they have.
It is worth noting that many coffee shops may also have coconut milk which they’ll use for coconut coffee, but this is the coconut milk you get from a tin, not the coconut milk you get in a carton for coffee and tea. That being said, I’ve had it made into a coconut flat white before and it actually works quite well, albeit a little fatty and coconutty.
“Bạn có cà phê rang với bơ không?” = Has your coffee been roasted in butter?
There is always a curveball when it comes to leading a vegan lifestyle in another country, and this was one that caught me out initially. Some local Vietnamese coffee is roasted in clarified butter which can give the coffee an almost buttery taste and mouthfeel. Obviously, this isn’t vegan! Even if you were to order it without their favourite coffee accompaniment, condensed milk.
Now, only some Vietnamese coffee is roasted in this way but you may want to double check with the staff if you can’t be sure. It can be pretty obvious when you look at the beans though.
That being said, most Western style coffee shops don’t use these coffee beans since they’ll be using beans that are more suited to Italian style coffee machines. It has only ever been at small local street stalls that I have found a buttery roasted coffee.