More and more people are choosing vegetarian food as a healthy alternative to their normal meat-laden diet
Goi cuon chay (vegetarian spring rolls) served at a vegetarian food buffet in Van Canh Restaurant, 184 Calmette Street, Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward, District 1, HCMC
There is no dearth of plants in a Vietnamese meal - salads, steamed or fried vegetables, not to mention clear soups with vegetables and fruits like pineapple are staples of the national diet.
However, until a few years ago, an exclusively vegetarian meal was not just unheard of (except in monasteries and other exotic countries), it was also an incomprehensible choice unless you were extremely poor.
In Ho Chi Minh City, vegetarian restaurants and stalls began to appear a little more than a decade ago. However, they were largely unnoticed, frequented only by Buddhist monks and devout followers, and that too, only on a few auspicious days. And until recently, those wishing to have a vegetarian meal on these days had to visit pagodas that served them, for instance on the Vu Lan Festival that falls on the fifteenth day of the seventh Lunar month.
However, today, as the devout around the nation commemorate that most holy day of all the Buddha's birthday (15th day of the fourth Lunar month), which falls on this Friday, piety is not the only reason for city residents opt to have vegetarian food.
Increasing income levels and living standards have given residents the time and inclination to explore multiple lifestyle choices, and vegetarian food has become part of a health fad.
Many health conscious people are looking to benefit from a plant-based diet that carries the least amount of health risks and provides the greatest benefits.
Hence vegetarianism is increasing its presence in the city, and is even encouraged as a safer option than meat, which is seen as being more susceptible to dangerous diseases, like blue-ear and mad cow.
But clinching evidence that vegetarian food is here to say comes when people choose it for pleasure.
Now buffet spreads with hundreds of attractive and delicious plant-based dishes are offered by many restaurants.
Vegetarian food in Vietnam is vegan, with no animal products like milk or yogurt added. The use of MSG (monosodium glutamate), bone stock or wine is also prohibited.
In fact, vegetarian dishes are sometimes more expensive than meat dishes, but nutritional and safety factors make them a popular choice.
Now, the diet has been refined and the menu of high-quality food impresses the pickiest of gourmets.
Depending on who runs the establishments, most vegetarian food served in Vietnam are named according to the whims of the establishment owner.
There are those who have straightforward names, but the inexperienced visitor or customer can be surprised by the items listed on the menu: com chien dui ga (fried-rice with chicken leg), ca thu kho (simmered king mackerel) and muc xao sa te (stir-fried squid with chili paste sauce).
These are prepared with fake meat but designed to taste and look like the real one. With the increasing popularity of vegetarian food, the choice of dishes and establishments in the city has also risen, and a new cuisine has well and truly arrived.
SOME POPULAR VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS IN HCMC
339 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, Ward 7, District 3
Tel: (08) 3 526 5859
170 Tran Quang Khai Street, Tan Dinh Ward, District 1
Tel: (08) 3 846 9685
38 Huynh Khuong Ninh Street, Da Kao Ward, District 1
Tel: (08) 3 820 9702
TINH TAM TRAI
170 Vo Thi Sau Street, District 3
Tel: (08) 3 820 2230
171 B Cong Quynh Street,
Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward, District 1
Tel: (08) 3 836 7715
492 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, Ward 4, District 3
Tel: (08) 3 835 6161