If you’re traveling in Vietnam, there’s a pretty good chance that Ho Chi Minh City (called by its former name, Saigon, by locals) will be your starting off point. And what a way to be introduced to the country- from the never-ending streams of scooters hurtling at you from every direction to the endless aromas wafting from street vendors, Ho Chi Minh City is a LOT to take in.
Many travelers overlook Ho Chi Minh City as simply a springboard for their adventures throughout Vietnam, but, in my opinion, this is a gross oversight. Ho Chi Minh City is a fascinating and rapidly evolving metropolis, with ancient temples interspersed with technology superstores, just begging to be explored. Better yet, Saigon has a solid (and ever growing!) vegan scene, due to its young population (over half the population is under 30 years old!); the prevalence of Buddhism; and Vietnam’s rapidly rising star as a tourist destination,. From street vendors to hole-in-the-wall storefronts serving steaming bowls of pho (savory noodle-based soups), there are endless options to find out-of-this-world plant-based eats in the streets of Saigon. Here’s my guide of where to eat in Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s not as uncommon as you might think to find vegan food in Vietnam. There is a high portion of the Vietnamese population that are practicing Buddhists, who often eat a vegan diet on certain days of the Lunar New Year. The word for “vegetarian” in Vietnamese is the straightforward “chay”, which you’ll see splashed across pho shops and street stalls. Buddhist vegetarianism essentially follows the same restrictions as veganism (no meat, milk, eggs, fish, etc.), in addition to avoiding root vegetables (say goodbye to garlic and onion). However, in our experience, there were sometimes that things were listed as “chay”, but upon further questioning, contained egg or milk products. So, it’s always a best practice to confirm with the vendor whether certain ingredients are used in the dish.
Banh Mi Tuy Duyen (street stall)
Q22 Nguyen Huu Hao, Phuong 6, Quan 4, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; 06:00-11:00
Banh mi is one of Vietnam’s staple breakfast foods, consisting of a single serving baguette, stuffed with an assortment of delicious savory things. Banh Mi Tuy Duyen, a tiny food stall in the midst of a bustling local market, is debatably the best banh mi that my husband, Justin, and I had in all of Vietnam (and we had a LOT of banh mi). Stuffed with various types of mock meat (pork, chicken, or beef), noodles, and a hefty dose of chili sauce, you can tell that a lot of love goes into making this sandwich. As of February 2019, the mayonnaise used on the banh mi here was reportedly vegan, but be sure to double check!
Beyond banh mi, this stall also served banh gio, a pillowy pyramid-shaped dumpling originating from Northern Vietnam, made from rice flour and stuffed with mushrooms and Vietnamese rice. The dumpling is then steamed while wrapped in banana leaves (it tastes just like American Thanksgiving in dumpling form!). So. Unbelievably. Good.
While Banh Mi Tuy Duyen was oh so right, there was so much delicious-smelling food and crazy fresh produce (hello, most delicious pineapple I’ve ever had!) in the market surrounding the stall. On the west side of Nguyen Huu Hao, close to the intersection with Hoàng Diệu, we found a woman dishing up chuối nướng (bananas, wrapped in sticky rice and banana leaves, grilled over hot coal, and then drizzled in a sticky-sweet coconut milk sauce). Just sinfully delicious.
4 Đỗ Quang, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam; 07:00-23:00
Located in the heart of the Bui Vien District (the “backpacker” nightlife district of Saigon), Bookworm’s appears to primarily cater to tourists, but it drew me in with one truly unique thing- vegan cà phê sữa đá or iced Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk. After scouring the internet for hours trying to find places that serve a vegan version of this classic Saigonese drink, this is the only one of two places I could find that does it. And it was worth the search- sweet, velvety, and totally refreshing amidst Saigon’s blazing heat.
In addition to the coffee, Bookworm’s has a crazy long menu of vegan options (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), including a full English breakfast, as well as more traditional Vietnamese options, like banh khot (savory mini pancakes) or pho. We ate here on our first morning in Vietnam and felt like it was basically a requirement to order banh mi- we ordered the sausage and ham varieties, which came stuffed with flavorful veggies, like spring onion and tomato. It was a perfectly light way to start off a morning of exploring Ho Chi Minh City.
Phở Chay Như
54 Trương Quyền, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam; 06:00-22:00
Tucked away in an inconspicuous, open-air stall in a tiny alleyway awaits some of the best pho you’ll ever have, lovingly cooked over a charcoal fire. Although there were plenty of options to choose from, Justin and I both ordered up a bowl of their famous pho chay. While we waited for our meals, we snacked on the vegan samosas that were awaiting us on the table, which were crispy and full of savory deliciousness (note that although the samosas are placed on every table, we were charged at the end of the meal for them; that being said, our entire meal for two people was less than 50,000 dongs or about $2.15 USD). Within a few minutes, our pho arrived, piled high with noodles, mushrooms, and my newly-discovered favorite ingredient, fried rolled tofu skins. With a spicy, complex broth and packed with juicy veggies, I finished our meal resisting the urge to lick the bottom of my bowl.
Protip- In my homeland of the United States, pho is typically considered a lunch or dinner-time meal. In Vietnam, on the other hand, pho is eaten at all meals, but is actually most commonly eaten at breakfast. So if you have a hankering, you’ll definitely be able to hunt down a bowl of pho chay as soon as the sun rises!
Chan Nhu II
131-133 Đường Đề Thám, Phường Cô Giang, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam; 06:00-22:00
Chan Nhu is a small eatery, dishing up almost exclusively (if not totally?) vegan dishes, close to the backpacking district and frequented by locals and travelers alike. With a lengthy a la carte menu, featuring dishes made of mock meats and fresh veggies and a drool-worthy buffet, this place is the perfect place to grab a quick lunch while exploring the city. We ordered off the a la carte menu and can highly recommend súp rong biển (an umami-bomb soup, stuffed with mushroom and seaweed) and bún thịt nướng (vermicelli noodles with grilled pork, topped with zesty cilantro and carrots). Consistent with most of our experiences in Vietnam, the food here is super cheap- a big bowl of pho will run you about 25,000 VND or a little over $1 USD.
Au Lac Healthy Farm
171 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, District 1; 10:30-22:30
We had intended to go to this all vegan restaurant on our second night in Ho Chi Minh City, but honestly, were so stuffed from our Mekong Delta tour earlier that day that we couldn’t muster up the stomach real estate to stop in. However, the concept at this restaurant seems really neat- you pick the type of noodle, protein (with fun options like squid and a VEGAN EGG), and veggies to build your own hot pot or bowl (and are charged for each ingredient). Besides the build-your-own option, you can order off an a la carte menu, although, per Happy Cow, some of these options, specifically the burger, leave something to be desired (but also, why are you ordering a burger when you’re in Vietnam?!). As this is right off the Bui Vien District, this would be a great place to stop in for dinner before heading out for a night on the town.
Chuối Chiên (street stall)
286 Co Bac Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; 9:00-12:00;13:15-19:00
As the Mekong Delta, just south of Ho Chi Minh, is full of banana farms, it should come as no surprise that bananas are ALL over Saigonese street markets. Grilled bananas, things wrapped in banana leaves, and perhaps, my favorite, fried bananas (or chuối Chiên)! While the most common type of banana-centric dessert is the grilled and smothered in coconut milk variety, this street stall dishes it up in a unique way, deep-frying a battered banana and sprinkling a healthy dose of sesame seeds on the top, creating a piping-hot, crunchy stick of pure caramelized magic.
Non-honey eating vegans beware, though- I generally do not eat honey and noticed, while looking through our photos, that the wrapper indicates that these unfortunately include this ingredient
Tàu Hủ Nước Đường
Vietnam has a wide variety of tofu-based desserts, often made with hot silken tofu and some sort of sugary syrup. We first tried to get some hot tofu pudding from a widely-acclaimed, longstanding street vendor on Bui Vien Street (located at 171 Bui Vien St, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam). After waiting for about 15 minutes by the stall and being purposefully ignored by the elderly woman manning it, we tried to get her attention and were told, via translation by a fellow patron, that the stall was “all out of food” for us (even though they were clearly serving everyone around us). It was a truly bizarre experience and the only time I can recall being what appeared to be “discriminated” against for being American during my travels.
While walking home, we stumbled across a cart (located around 181 Đường Đề Thám, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam) selling tàu hủ nước dường, a cup piled high with silken tofu and ginger syrup and topped with coconut milk, red beans, and white grass jelly. It’s a super interesting mix of textures and flavors (the spicy ginger, sugary red beans) and a sweet way to cap off a meal.
Protip- Ask for the price of everything before you buy it. I was so disappointed about being scorned by the hot tofu lady that I immediately just ordered a cup at the next vendor we saw. She charged us around $4 USD for a cup, which would be relatively reasonable the United States, but a completely absurd price in Vietnam (…but, still, worth it).
Vegan Friendly Tours
Hands down, our Vespa Adventures tour of the Mekong Delta was my ABSOLUTE favorite part of our time in Ho Chi Minh City and definitely a highlight of our whole time in Vietnam. Based on a recommendation from one of my favorite New York Times series, 36 Hours in Ho Chi Minh City, I contacted to see if their tours could accomodate a vegan diet (several tour companies’ websites clearly indicate they cannot accommodate vegetarian, let alone vegan, guests) and was over-the-moon when they said yes (note that you have to specifically request this ahead of time; tours are generally not marketed towards vegan guests)!
After our first stop on the tour was a shrimp farm, I was pretty nervous about how “veganized” our experience was going to be. However, it seemed like our tour guide, Sunny, caught on pretty quickly that Justin and I were not into any kind of animal products business- for example, we went to Chợ Cần Giuộc, a rural, traditional Vietnamese market where she focused on the availability of a plethora of exotic, unique fruits, hustled past rather graphic parts of the market, and even secretly purchased a huge bags of live frogs for us to release back into the wild. As a morning “snack”, we stopped at an entire chay buffet in another market close to Chợ Cần Giuộc, called Phương Thảo. We had SO much food there- sweet soup and all sorts of interesting fruits we picked up at the market; tofu-based and rice dishes from the buffet, beer, fresh young coconuts. I’m talking a feast, y’all. Then, for lunch, we stopped at restaurant called Vườn Thư Giãn, where we had comically large portions of two dishes- one ramen style noodles with stir-fried veggies on top and another spicy green bean dish. The restaurant is literally built over a huge pond and with its open-air interior, palm-thatched roof, and Vietnamese countryside vibes, I definitely thought it was located in the Mekong Delta. It turns out, however, that it’s located in Saigon’s District 7, at the southeastern edge of the city- definitely worth a stop even if you skip the Mekong Delta tour, especially if you’re with omnivore friends!
For what it’s worth, our experience with Vespa Adventures was amazing, in part, because, although we did not specifically book a private tour, it was only Justin and I with Sunny and our two scooter guides. Sunny indicated that tour groups typically have around 8 guests and can even have up to 20- assuming that the other guests on your tour are omnivores, I’d think it’s pretty likely you’d have a somewhat different experience than ours. If that’s a concern to you, I’d recommend looking into booking a private tour with them.
Although my primary goal with a scooter tour was to see the Mekong Delta, if you’re wanting that scooter life experience in Ho Chi Minh City, note that there are quite a few vegan tours focusing on the city itself, including Saigon Adventures, Saigon Food Tours, and Boneappetour, to name a few.
Other places I wanted to check out but didn’t have the time/stomach capacity for:
Ba Kiem xoi (street stall)
144 Pasteur, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 70000, Vietnam; 06:00-10:00
A Hanoian woman has been running this street stall for over 60 years, hand-wrapping sticky rice in banana leaves and bringing a taste of Northern Vietnam to Saigon.
46/9 Tran Quang Dieu, Phuong 14, Quan 3, Ho Chi Minh City; 09:00-22:00
This coffee shop is the only other spot I could find that seemingly serves up vegan Saigonese-style coffee, in addition to nut-milk based smoothies and a wide variety of teas.
Che Mam Khanh Vy (street stall)
25 Su Van Hanh Street, Quan 10, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (2:30 pm - 10:00 pm)
A street stall specializing in wide variety of sweet soups, with flavors like taro, lotus seed, and mung bean for $5,000 VND or .25 USD a pop.
My Banh Mi
57 Nguyễn Du, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; 08:00-21:00
Can you ever have enough banh mi? Allegedly, the sandwiches here are on the pricier side for Vietnam standards, but the tofu banh mi is supposed to be out of this world.
I’m dying to go back and try all the things we missed- next time, Saigon! Any places you’ve tried in Ho Chi Minh City that you would recommend? Let me know below!