The seventh lunar month has come. It’s time to go vegan.
This month is colloquially known as the month of lonely spirits, and believed to be haunted and particularly unlucky.
Influenced by Buddhism, this holiday also coincides with Ullambana, or Vu Lan, seen as Mother’s Day in modern Vietnam.
Vietnamese show their respect to their parents in the Vu Lan festival by wearing roses and going vegan or vegetarian.
People with living parents want to do good deeds in exchange for good health for their parents. Those with deceased parents wish to commemorate the departed spirits.
As vegan cuisine plays an important role in the festival, Saigon’s vegan restaurants are pulling out all the stops.
In the past, vegetarian eateries are mostly located near pagodas, and the nuns and monks are usually in charge of cooking.
Sensing the huge demand for vegetarian food, many started opening vegan restaurants several years ago.
It is not an exaggeration to say that vegan and vegetarian restaurants are growing like mushrooms in Ho Chi Minh City.
What to eat
No-meat menus are quite abundant in the city. As vegan eateries compete to win customers, they offer a wide range of choices.
A budget restaurant has at least 10 dishes, a mid-range one has at least 30 while some more upscale restaurants have at least 50 choices.
These restaurants serve vegetarian versions of meaty Vietnamese dishes and also creative vegetarian dishes with appealing names.
For those who still miss the look and flavor of meat, they can choose the mock meat, faux fowl and fake fish.
Some restaurants can make tofu look and taste like anything but tofu. It can look like shredded chicken or skewered beef. It’s all very tasty.
Someone will ask how any kitchen can be truly Vietnamese without nước mắm (fish sauce)? The answer is soy sauce.
The most popular (and also cheap) vegan dishes include steamed rice served with deep-fried tofu and soy sauce, boiled vegetables, noodle soups, stir-fried rice noodles with bean sprouts or with mushrooms, curry, bánh xèo (sizzling pancakes), and spring rolls.
More fancy vegan restaurants offer creative dishes using mushrooms, tofu, rice noodles and all kinds of vegetables and herbs as ingredients.
Where to eat
If visitors see the word “chay” in the name of a restaurant, it means the restaurant is all vegan or vegetarian.
But many general restaurants are also willing to make vegetarian dishes if one just orders “chay” food.
According to Lonely Planet, the largest concentration of vegetarian restaurants is around the Pham Ngu Lao Street, dubbed as the backpackers’ area, and you’ll usually ﬁnd one in the vicinity of a Buddhist pagoda.
The city’s vegetarian restaurants range from budget ones like Phap Hoa, Thien Y, Giac Duc to middle ones such as Saigon Vegan, Prem, ROU, An Nhien, San May, Thien Chay, Vajra, and The Organic. Hoa Dang (Loving Hut) on Huynh Khuong Ninh Street and Hum, which has two restaurants on Vo Van Tan and Thi Sach, offer a bit more fancy options.
Metropole Hotel on Ly Chinh Thang Street also serves vegetarian buffets during the Lunar New Year and the seventh lunar month.
Hotel Majestic is serving vegetarian dishes with attractive discounts from August 14 to September 13.