Vegan Ho Chi Minh: Survive a Day for Under £5
£5 ($6.60) may seem like a pitiful amount of money in the UK, probably just about affording you a small meal deal from a fast-food chain restaurant. However, this same amount can last you the whole day as a vegan in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.
Vietnamese Street Culture
Now you may be wondering, how is this possible? Well, there is a great street food culture in Vietnam and you’ll find most locals eat and drink out in the streets on a daily basis. The street food is typically extremely cheap, as is the beer, which is great for travellers on a budget, especially if you don’t mind sitting on tiny plastic seats that are precariously lined up on narrow steps and pavements.
Unfortunately for vegans, most of the street food vendors are meat-based. However, that doesn’t mean vegans can’t eat cheap food too. You will find the occasional plant-based banh mi stall dotted around and there are also many local eating establishments that provide cheap food.
Ho Chi Minh City’s Restaurants
Whilst it is super cheap to eat in Vietnam, without skimping on flavour, Ho Chi Minh City is developing very quickly and now has a wide variety of establishments where you can go to have a more classy meal. So if eating cheap isn’t your thing, don’t fret, there will be a post coming soon to recommend some of the swankier restaurants.
Ho Chi Minh City is home to many vegan/vegetarian restaurants, due to the large Buddhist population – just look out for the word ‘chay’. It is in the local chay restaurants that you will find the cheaper meals. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t also eat chay at meat-based restaurants. Take my 11 Handy Vietnamese Phrases for Travelling Vegans (coming soon!) with you and show them to your server – they may be able to rustle up some fried rice or noodles.
Eating and Drinking Vegan on a Budget in HCMC
There are many reasons why you may be looking to eat cheaply in Vietnam, but you don’t really need a reason. The food I have suggested below is super tasty and you don’t need to be broke to try it. The locals know how to make good food, so make sure to give them a go.
Where: Nature Coffee, 9A Đường số 11, Thảo Điền, Quận 2, Hồ Chí Minh
What: Banh Mi Chay
How much: 23,000VND (£0.75)
Inside the banh mi you will find cucumber, pickled carrot and radish, coriander (which I ask to be left out), fake meat fluff (strange I know…) and one other fake meat. It is very simple, but extremely tasty. I also love adding chilli sauce to mine.
Nature Coffee is a great coffee shop. If you are just visiting Ho Chi Minh City, you may not make it out to Thảo Điền in District 2, but if you are in the area it is a very chilled spot. It is not a vegan cafe, but they have delicious banh mi chay and fresh juice. Everything is advertised as costing $1.
This is considered a somewhat expensive banh mi for many locals and you can pick up a much cheaper version at a random street food stall. There is a great place in District 4 – Bánh mì chay Tùy Duyên, Q22 Nguyễn Hữu Hào, Phường 6, Quận 4, Hồ Chí Minh – but they often sell out quite quickly, so if you aren’t an early riser, Nature Coffee is your best bet.
Where: Phở Chay Như, 54 Trương Quyền, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh
What: Noodle Soups (Phở, Mì Quảng, etc.)
How much: 30,000 – 35,000VND (£1.15)
Phở Chay Như is situated down a back alley in the bustling District 3, close to a lot of the tourist attractions. Their speciality is vegan phở, but they have a long list of alternative noodle soups. My personal favourite is mì quảng with the turmeric broth, the yellow flat noodles and a scattering of peanuts.
This is an extremely filling and nutritious meal, as it is full of vegetables, mushrooms, noodles and broth. Although this makes for a perfect lunch, many Vietnamese traditionally eat a noodle soup for breakfast and this is something I have got into the habit of doing as well. It leaves you feeling satisfied and helps keep nasty illnesses and those horrible hangovers at bay.
Where: Quán Chay A Di Đà Phật, 114D Trần Quang Khải, Tân Định, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
What: Buffet food with rice
How much: 25,000VND (£0.80)
If you are not already feeling too full at this point, Quán Chay A Di Đà Phật will surely finish you off. This establishment mainly focuses on cơm chay (vegan rice). 25,000VND will get you a plate of rice with toppings and a side of soup. At A Di Đà Phật they give you 4 toppings (3 main and 1 veg) and you can pay extra for further additions, but I think 4 is more than enough!
This is a very popular establishment at lunch time, so I have picked this as a dinner spot. Make sure you go before the closing time of 7pm.
You are probably thinking that we have only spent about £2.80, so what do we do with the rest? Well, you can’t have a cheap day around HCMC without trying some Vietnamese beer.
If you find a local spot, you can get a single Saigon beer for about 20,000VND (£0.65). This means you could have about 3 beers with the leftover cash. I recommend The Gangs Bar, 32 Mạc Đĩnh Chi, Đa Kao, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh for cheap drinks, great atmosphere and comfortable seating. Be warned though, this is also a BBQ restaurant so there will be meat around, but unfortunately that is quite common here.
Not a big drinker? There are plenty of other options for you. Get a fresh coconut (dừa) from a local street vendor, try some fresh sugarcane juice (nước mía), eat a deep fried banana or get yourself a local coffee (just watch out for coffee that’s been roasted in butter or fish sauce).