There was just so much choice when it came to eating out in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) – it was difficult to know where to begin. Luckily, we had some top tips from a friend. We absolutely agreed with her recommendations. The food was fresh and flavoursome – we just wanted to eat more!
Being a vegetarian or vegan in Vietnam can be difficult, but it is do-able. I sometimes eat fish, so I wasn’t bothered by the fish sauce (that’s in almost everything). However, my friend, with whom we were staying, is a vegan and still manages to get by.
Here’s a list of my top 5 places to eat in Saigon for vegetarians:
1. S H Garden: this rooftop hideaway was one of the recommendations from our friend. S H Garden is located in Nguyễn Huệ Square and up a few flights of stairs. Or you can take the old-fashioned, wooden lift. An attendant will meet you at either end to open the roller door. At the top, you’ll not only be treated to delicious fresh food, but you’ll get to look out over the Square as you eat.
They offer a vegetarian menu. I particularly enjoyed their vegetarian version of Vietnamese pancakes with a big, cold coconut to drink on the side. My dad thoroughly enjoyed his pumpkin flowers in garlic and my partner went for mushrooms and tofu with a LaRue beer. And we shared a plate of stir-fried vermicelli noodles.
2. L’Usine: this café was another recommendation from our friend (in case we were craving Western food). L’Usine is located above a shop with the same name, selling local designer lifestyle products and clothes. You can’t even tell there’s a café upstairs from the street. The entire place has a French-colonial chic vibe, and when we visited, it seemed to be full of locals with their laptops, drinking coffee and using the wifi.
The café offers salads, sandwiches and pastas, as well as coffee, cakes and a breakfast menu. They also sell local craft draught beer from Pasteur Street Brewery Beer. We arrived just in time for ‘happy hour’ and decided to trial the half price beers. It’s safe to say, they were pretty good, as were our meals!
3. The Secret Garden: not to be confused with S H Garden (above), although this is also a rooftop restaurant. Secret Garden is a cosy place to get a fresh bite to eat after a visit to the Reunification Palace. We took our vegan friend and she was able to order loads of yummy vegan homestyle cuisine. She also brought her two little dogs along with her and they sat under the table as we feasted (that is, until a cat meandered by and sat atop a cupboard, and stared gloatingly at the dogs below).
The restaurant is down a little alleyway and it looks like you’re entering into someone’s apartment, but you’re actually climbing the stairs to this little oasis with bright lanterns and an interesting view into suburban life. The food is very well priced and super scrumptious.
4. Your local corner bakery: we enjoyed delicious fresh bread from various unnamed bakeries around town. You can also order Banh Mi from almost any street stall. Banh Mi is a fresh Vietnamese white roll (i.e. small baguette) filled with salad, herbs and chillies. If you’re a vegetarian, be sure they don’t fill your sandwich with chicken!
We stocked up on supplies for our upcoming overnight train journey at Tous Les Jours. We bought all sorts of Asian delights to snack on. The Tous Les Jours chain is not local. You can also find it in Cambodia and many other Asian countries. If all else fails, it’s a good enough place to fall back on if you need a few snacks.
5. Street or market food: you can’t go to Saigon, or Vietnam for that matter, and not try the street food. And you simply must head to the local market to check out their food section. It can be a little tricky to get vegetarian food, especially if you don’t speak any Vietnamese, but I’ve always found pointing to the ingredients helps.
While we were waiting for our overnight train from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang, we ate Phở (a Vietnamese noodle soup) by the station, on the side of the road. The flavours exploded in my mouth and I left the city a very happy lady.
Photo: Bén Thénh Market in Ho Chi Minh City.