There is an anecdote that tells of a competition between two travellers to Nha Trang. One of the travellers had to find a bracelet buried in the sand along Nha Trang’s 7km beach. The other had to find a stall or restaurant selling genuine vegetarian food. It was, we are told, a pretty close thing. But it needn’t have been. For sure, Nha Trang is a meat and fish lover’s paradise. Seafood restaurants abound and the vast majority of street food favourites include fish or meat in some form or other. Even non-meat or fish-based dishes are likely to include a splash of the ubiquitous fish sauce. But veggies need not despair. If you know where to go and what to ask for, you can eat a varied and tasty vegetarian diet. So, let’s start with the humble bánh mì. Vendors of this French baguette sandwich can be found on just about every street corner. Most baguettes contain a variety of salads and herbs topped with pork, chicken or canned fish. But look a little more carefully at what is on offer and you will notice egg, processed cheese or tofu sitting alongside the meaty offerings. Just indicate to the vendor that you want any or all of these options and no meat and you have a quick and tasty vegetarian lunch.
Even better, take the time to seek out a vendor selling baùnh mì chay (vegetarian baguette). Don’t be fooled by the ham on display. This is in fact a soya product and, with an accompaniment of rich tomato relish, cilantro and a variety of salad ingredients, it is a favourite of locals who are taking the day off from eating meat.
For those who prefer their food in more comfortable surroundings, there is plenty on offer in the restaurants of Nha Trang’s tourist hub. Most of the restaurants serving Vietnamese food have vegetarian options, more often than not featuring tofu and vegetables in a tasty sauce. Also look out for rau muoáng xaøo toûi (water spinach with garlic) and caûi xaøo naám (fried bok choy with shitake mushrooms). Restaurants serving international cuisine such as Italian or Indian usually have a wide selection of vegetarian options. For a genuine Vietnamese vegetarian experience though, the highlight is the 1st and 15th of each lunar month. On these days, many of the population head to the markets to buy aên chay or go to eat in one of the dedicated aên chay restaurants. AÊn chay literally means ‘eat vegetarian’ and is mainly practised by Vietnam’s Buddhist majority. It is a twice-monthly opportunity for some spiritual cleansing which, for most participants, includes foregoing fish and meat for a day. The aên chay restaurants serve up a huge range of cheap and cheerful vegetable dishes as well as tofu and soya alternatives for just about every cut of meat you can imagine. Served with a variety of sauces, this is vegetarian food that leaves even hardened carnivores more than satisfied. These restaurants are open every day so if you want the experience without the lunar month bustle just avoid the dates above. For a more tranquil experience still, Sen Thien Quan restaurant on the outskirts of town serves only vegetarian food in a beautiful rice paddies and lakes setting.
So, with all this on offer, forget digging up the beach in search of a bracelet. Instead, head into town and dig into some tasty, filling and varied vegetarian cuisine.
VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS IN TOWN
Add: 79 Yersin, Nha Trang
Tel: 058 3813 285
Open 6h30am – 13h30pm ; 16pm – 21pm
Add: Ky Vien Pagoda
160 Sinh Trung Nha Trang
Tel: 0968 133 127
Add: 5 Lac Long Quan
Tel: 058 3878 236
Open: 7am – 13pm ; 16h30pm – 21pm
THIEN TAM BAVICO
Add: 2 Phan Boi Chau
Tel: 0120 614 98 36 (Mr Châu) – 0903 549 153 (Mr Lợi)
Add: 62 – 64 Huynh Thuc Khang
Tel: 0937 00 3071