Sure, traveling as a vegetarian in Southeast Asia can be challenging, but every country in the region has plenty of vegetarian options. Except maybe the Philippines… the Philippines is tough. But trust me when I say traveling as a vegetarian in Vietnam is relatively simple and an absolute joy.
So if you’re a strict vegetarian (like me) or if you just prefer to eat vegetarian while traveling, Vietnam is a great country to be in. From their mint-stuffed spring rolls to their anise-spiced noodle soups, the food in Vietnam is something special. And there’s no need for vegetarians to miss out on all the fun.
Thanks to the country’s sizable Buddhist population big cities and tourist hubs like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang are all chock full of vegetarian restaurants.
Since I recently spent two months in the coastal city of Nha Trang, I became kind of an expert in Nha Trang’s vegetarian food scene. What can I say… I ate a lot! During my time there I was able to scour the city for the best vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants. While this guide is specific to Nha Trang, there are plenty of tips that vegetarians can apply to their travels in Vietnam.
Helpful tips for vegetarians traveling in Vietnam:
As a vegetarian traveler, Happy Cow is my number one resource. The app is free, so download it now. You can use Happy Cow pretty much anywhere you’re traveling, including Nha Trang. It basically has information about (and reviews of) all the closest vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants near you. There are quite a few pure-vegetarian restaurants in Nha Trang listed on Happy Cow.
Mock meats are common in Vietnam. I absolutely LOVE mock meat – trust me it features prominently in this blog – but I understand that many vegetarians absolutely detest it. While fake meat is common in Vietnam, vegetarian restaurants will have plenty of options that don’t include those delicious morsels of gluten.
Look for “Chay” Signs
Chay is a key word for vegetarians traveling in Vietnam. It means vegetarian in Vietnamese. If you spot a restaurant with a “chay” sign you can rest assured that everything on the menu is 100 percent vegetarian.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Nha Trang
Long Son Pagoda is definitely a must-see attraction if you’re visiting Nha Trang. There’s a cool Buddhist temple, a couple giant Buddha statues, an interesting cemetery and epic views of Nha Trang. But after you’re finished exploring the area definitely stop by the modest vegetarian restaurant located at the bottom of the hill to the left of the temple entrance.
This place has an excellent selection of traditional Vietnamese noodle soups, spring rolls, mock meat dishes and more. I ordered the vegetarian bun bo hue. It was delicious and cost under a dollar. There is also free iced tea on all tables to help you cool off.
Phật Học, Phương Sơn, Tp. Nha Trang, Khánh Hòa 650000, Vietnam
And if you’re interested in other cool things to do in Nha Trang, check out my full guide.
It might be nothing more than a food cart, but this is literally my favorite restaurant in all of Vietnam. The Buddhist lady who runs the stall is super friendly. She makes a selection of four mock meats with her husband every morning. And at her food stall, she packs each banh mi (basically a baguette sandwich) with fake meat, cucumber, cilantro and a couple of sauces.
If you ask, she’ll also add a spicy sauce and sliced tomato for free. A banh mi costs 12,000 VND or 17,000 VND with cheese (that’s less than $1). This is also the cheapest place in town to buy plain baguettes, which cost 3,000 VND. Her times do vary, but she seems to get things going in the afternoon and stays open well into the evening.
Near 49, QL1C, Vinh Tho (at Ton That Tung), Nha Trang, Vietnam
OK, this might also be my favorite restaurant in Vietnam. I ate at Bo De pretty much every other day during my two months in Nha Trang. I got to know this place very well, so I do have a couple of tips.
When you walk into the restaurant the first thing you’ll see is an area of prepared foods on your left. You can basically stand there and the guy behind the booth will load a plate up with rice, veggies and mock meat dishes. You can either eat the food in the restaurant or take it to go.
A lot of foreigners think that’s the only food available in the restaurant, but there’s actually an extensive menu. The other option is to just sit down. A waiter will eventually bring you a mug of cold tea and a menu. As of February 2017 the restaurant put together menus in English and Russian, so it makes it really easy to order if you don’t speak Vietnamese. The menu has everything from goat with coconut curry to hot pot to pho. My favorite dishes were the papaya salad and the pho bò kho (a flavorful and hearty noodle soup).
I can attest to the fact that Bo De serves up some of the best (and cheapest!) Vietnamese noodle soups in Nha Trang. There is also a little cart at the entrance of the restaurant that serves vegetarian bahn mi and veggie burgers for take away. Everything is super affordable. Expect to pay roughly 50,000 VND (a little over $2) for two bowls of pho and an appetizer.
60 Huynh Thuc Khang, Nha Trang, Vietnam (Mon-Sun, 8am-9pm)
Yen Chay & Yoga
Not to be confused with popular tourist restaurant Yen’s, Yen is a rad little vegetarian restaurant and yoga center. I’m so bummed it took me so long to discover it because the two meals I had here were two of the best I had in Nha Trang.
Unlike the majority of other vegetarian restaurants in Nha Trang, Yen’s menu is much more Chinese influenced than Vietnamese. They have a selection of soups, salads and spring rolls as well as curries, hot pots and rice dishes. To give you an idea, we ordered a sweet potato curry, mock chicken braised with a coconut sauce, basil and peanut mango salad, and tofu-squash soup and it only put us back $9 (roughly 200,000 VND).
This place is awesome, but it is located smack in the middle of an enormous construction site so it’s best to go around noon, when all the workers are on lunch, or after 5pm.
May’s was located about a 10-minute walk from my little studio apartment in Nha Trang, so I was a frequent customer. This place was super popular with foreigners. It doubles as a bakery and they make some damn good-looking croissants and desserts (though I never tried them).
They also have a full vegetarian menu featuring vegetarian versions of Vietnamese food as well as Western dishes from salads to pizza. I will say that people, including myself, were disappointed with the Western dishes. Portions were small and prices were a bit high. But the local dishes were superb.
The noodle soups are massive and cost roughly 25,000 VND (about $1), the fried spring rolls are addictive, and make sure to try the lemongrass and coconut goat dish. So. Good.
95 Nguyen Thien Thuat (at Nguyen Thi Minh Khai), Nha Trang, Vietnam (Mon-Sun 9:00am-10:00pm)
Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurants in Nha Trang
Clearly there are quite a few pure vegetarian restaurants peppered around Nha Trang, but there are also plenty of other options for vegetarians.
There are a handful of Indian restaurants located in Nha Trang, mainly on Nguyen Thien Thuat (one of the city’s main drags). They were all good but Ganesh and Omar’s were my favorites. Both have extensive vegetarian menus. I liked that Ganesh had really unique vegetarian options that aren’t always featured on Indian menus, like super-spicy vindaloo curry. But the Indian food at both is superb. A meal for two (including two dishes, rice, naan and two drinks) cost roughly $10-12. Not too bad.
This place serves up cheap fast food, but they actually a have a small vegetarian menu featuring falafel wraps, hummus, cheese paninis, cheese sticks and fries. It’s not the healthiest but it’s cheap and tasty.
There are smoothie stands all over town, but my favorite was located right down the street from A & M (see above). I would go there on a near daily basis and order a fresh smoothie made from anything from dragon fruit to passion fruit to mango. They cost 20,000 VND for a small smoothie and 30,000 VND for a big one. One thing I’d suggest is bringing your own portable cup in order to cut down on plastic use.
Useful words and phrases for vegetarians in Vietnam:
Bahn – bread
Bo – butter
Bò – beef
Cá – fish
Chay – vegetarian
Com – rice
Gà – chicken
Mam tom – shrimp paste
Nuoc mam – fish sauce
Pho mai – cheese
Rau – vegetables
Sua – milk
Thịt heo – pork
Trung – eggs
Have you ever traveled to Vietnam as a vegetarian? Do you have any useful tips you’d like to add?