Not-Actually-Meat in Vietnam: Vegetarian cuisine of Indochina

notmeat5For such a pork-obsessed country, the Vietnamese do a remarkably good job with vegetarian food. Especially vegetarian food that cleverly simulates meat.

I’ve heard that vegetarian restaurants used to be fairly uncommon in Vietnam, and were often run by nuns as a side-business. However, as the Vietnamese become more health (and obesity) conscious, vegetarian restaurants have begun to crop up, especially in places where young people congregate—like Can Tho, in Vietnam’s South.

notmeat2Unlike the righteous vegetarian establishments of the West, Vietnamese veggie joints do their damnedest to simulate meat, right down to the appropriate shape and texture. What is surprising is how successful they are. When you walk into these places and peer into the hot case, it seems only natural that you’re looking at fried pork, chicken wings, and roasted duck.

But—surprise—it’s not that at all. It’s largely tofu, TVP, and other vegetarian-friendly proteins molded into familiar shapes. Strangest of all? It tastes great.

notmeat1How to order at these places? As is the norm when you don’t speak Vietnamese: see something palatable, and point at it. The ladies behind the counter will get the message soon enough. Point at various things and they’ll all come to you in due time, including goi cuon (fresh spring rolls), stir-fried bitter melon, surprisingly delicious simulated BBQ pork, and simple sauteed vegetables.


Our meals came with clear soup for no perceptible reason – but it was good. You can also usually order simple noodle soups at these places, with vegetables substituted for the usual meat. Vegetarian bun bo hue or pho? It’s eminently possible.

Best of all? They’re usually dirt cheap. The frugal eater is well-provided for in Vietnam.

One thought on “Not-Actually-Meat in Vietnam: Vegetarian cuisine of Indochina

  1. Looks mostly deep-fried though? Don’t see how this is healthier than eating meat (sayeth this person who strives to eat mostly veggies).

    Great blog btw! I’ve been following you for a while. Your insights to Southeast Asia are pretty interesting.

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