Common food allergies
Milk and other dairy products
You will miss coffee with condensed milk – the most famous drink in Vietnam. Stay away from some sweets such as Flan cake, Baozi, baked cakes, sponge cakes, which may contain a small amount of milk.
They may use milk, butter or both of them to make plain bread smelling and tasty. So it is a little risky to buy a Vietnamese sandwich in Vietnam. You can buy bread with an ingredients list on the label.
They may apply some butter when filling your Vietnamese sandwich, tell them to not put butter into your food. In addition, some chefs apply butter on grilled foods and you may eat without knowing about it.
The Fried quail with butter is very famous in Vietnam, so that ask them if the quail is fried with butter in case you are served a fried quail.
Similar to many cakes in other countries, Vietnamese cakes contain eggs. Egg is the key ingredient for Flan cakes, Pan-fried scrambled egg cake (Bột chiên), Sponge cakes with pork floss and duck egg yolk. Bread in Vietnam may contain eggs. Some Vietnamese chefs love to add eggs to the batter of Vietnamese pancake (Bánh xèo) and Vietnamese mini pancake (Bánh khọt) in order to make the cakes crispy, smelling and greasy.
Baozi with sweet fillings and savory baozi also contain eggs (or salted duck egg). Vietnamese mooncakes can contain salted duck egg yolk. Vietnamese people have some amazing recipes such as Shrimp (or snail) with salted duck egg yolk sauce.
Fish sauce (nước mắm) – a liquid condiment made from krill or fish coated in salt and fermented for at least a few months. It is one of the most popular seasonings and bases in dipping sauces. Most of the traditional Vietnamese braised dishes contain fish sauce.
If they serve you a dipping fish sauce, you can recognize easily it. You can ask them to serve you another dip to eat if you can not eat fish sauce dip. However, they season hundreds of Vietnamese foods with fish sauce. It is not easy for you to know if there is fish sauce in the Pho noodle soup’s broth you are served at a restaurant in Vietnam. Dressings of many salads and stir-fried dishes may contain fish sauce.
The broth of Fermented fish noodle soup (Bún mắm) is cooked from fermented fish (mắm) so it may be not suitable for you.
Good news for you, the well-known Vietnamese sandwich does not contain fish sauce but soy sauce, pâté, butter. However, they may season a little fish sauce to meat fillings.
A person having a peanut allergy should not eat any kind of nut (walnut, pecan, almond, hazelnut, pistachio, cashew, Brazil nut, macadamia nut), even artificial.
As a result, you should stay away from peanut oil. If you are served Stir-fried dishes or Fried dishes including pancakes in Vietnam, ask them if they use peanut oil.
Some vegetarian food products advertised as meat substitutes can contain peanuts.
The dipping sauce for the famous Vietnamese spring roll contains peanuts. So ask them to serve you another dipping sauce such as fish sauce dip.
Many of the Vietnamese salads such as Banana blossom (or lotus stem) salad with shrimp and/or meat, Green mango salad, smoothies, grilled scallops and clams are topped with peanuts. Remember to let the waiters know you can not eat peanuts.
The most popular sources of gluten include wheat, spelled, black wheat, barley, bread, many baked cakes, pasta, noodles, beer. Other foods containing gluten include alcoholic beverages, prepared meat products (smoked meat, sausages), sauce and thickeners, soups, soy sauce, maltose.
In Vietnam, it is easy to find gluten-free foods because Vietnamese food is heavily rice-based. To make sure your food does not contain gluten, you simply order steamed rice, fried rice or sticky rice dishes. Broken rice (Cơm tấm) – a famous Vietnamese food is a great choice. As a result, organ meat (or chicken, duck) congee are great for people who are allergic to gluten.
Savory and sweet steamed sticky rice, steamed cassava are gluten-free. Baozi contains wheat flour. Some steamed sticky rice cakes such as Square sticky rice (Bánh chưng), Sticky rice dumplings in ginger syrup (Chè xôi nước) are safe.
Boiled corn, cornbread, Steamed corn (Xôi bắp).
Certainly, you should stay away from egg noodles which are made from wheat flour and eggs, pasta. How about rice noodles (Pho, Hue beef noodle soup, soup cake noodles, hu tieu noodles, Hoi An Cao lau noodle and Quang noodle), rice macaroni, rice vermicelli, cellophane noodles? Most of them are made from rice flour, tapioca starch, mung bean starch, arrowroot. So that you should not worry about them.
Vietnamese traditional cakes such as Vietnamese pancake (Bánh xèo), Vietnamese mini pancake (Bánh khọt) may contain wheat flour. Bloating fern cake (Bánh bèo) made from rice flour, Tapioca starch dumpling are gluten-free. Sometimes, Bloating fern cake is topped with toasted bread cubes.
How about wraps such as rice paper and Bo pia wraps? Rice paper for wrapping Vietnamese spring roll (Gỏi cuốn), Fried roll (Chả giò) usually made from rice flour, tapioca starch. So famous snacks from rice paper such as Vietnamese rice paper salad (Bánh tráng trộn), Vietnamese pizza (Bánh tráng nướng), Rice paper roll (Bánh tráng cuốn) are gluten-free.
Bo pia wrap is made from wheat flour. Bo pia roll and Fried roll (Chả giò) wrapped in Bo pia wraps are not for a Celiac.
Wonton dishes including wonton soup, fried wonton are not choices for you.
However, be aware of some Vietnamese sausages such as Vietnamese pork roll (giò lụa), Vietnamese beef roll (chả bò), fish cake (chả cá) may contain gluten. Rice noodle soups and rice noodle salads are usually topped with “chả”. Tell them not to top your foods with “chả”.
Pâté may also contain gluten. Savory sticky rice (Xôi mặn) is sometimes topped with Pâté so that do not forget to note with the vendor or waiter when you order Xôi mặn.
Some foods may be seasoned with sauces (soy sauce, tomato sauces, chili sauces, hoisin sauce) containing gluten. Especially, soy sauce is as common as a fish sauce in Vietnam. It is used to marinate meat, seafood, chickens and a favorite base of dipping sauces. A large number of Vietnamese vegetarian foods contain soy sauce. Grilled duck, pork and beef can contain this kind of seasoning. Fortunately, there are lots of delicious Vietnamese foods are served with fish sauce.
Shrimps can be steamed with beer in Vietnam. So that do not forget to ask them if your steamed shrimps are steamed with beer or other alcoholic drinks.
Besides some common sweets, some Vietnamese candies are sources of gluten. They include coconut candies, peanut candies which are popularly served and introducing in Mekong Delta. Flan cake is made from milk, egg and usually served with coffee and is gluten-free.
An Nam Gourmet Market supermarkets sell lots of foods for Celiac.
Vietnamese traditional cakes such as Vietnamese pancake (Bánh xèo), Vietnamese mini pancake (Bánh khọt) may contain wheat flour. Maltose is contained in some Vietnamese candies such as Coconut candy (kẹo dừa), Peanut candy (Kẹo đậu phộng), Banana candy (Kẹo chuối).
People who are allergic to soy will be sick if they eat foods made from soybeans. Tofu pudding desserts and soy milk (or lotus seed soy milk) are not suitable for them. Some meat substitutes in Vietnam are made from soybeans.
The soybean sauce (tương đen) is served with Pho noodle soup, Spring roll (gỏi cuốn), fried balls and tofu. Do not dip your food with any black or brown sauce if you are not sure about the ingredients for it. Black and brown sauces may be made from soybean sauce.
Soy sauce is the most difficult to recognize if it is used to marinate meats, poultry, seafood or season fried dishes, stir-fried dishes, soups.
Do not forget to tell them not to add soy sauce when filling your Vietnamese sandwich (Bánh mì) – a must eat food in Vietnam.
They use Fermented acetes paste (Mắm ruốc) to cook the broth of Hue beef noodle soup (Bún bò Huế). An amazing pipe hot bowl of Bun bo Hue is not worth a risk. Sometimes, they serve you fruits with a dip mix which can be salt, black pepper salt mix, chili and salt mix, prawn salt. Stay away from prawn salt. Some vendors use this kind of salt to mix rice paper salad.
Vegan: eat mostly plants, no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products.
Ovo-vegetarian: eat mostly plants, eggs, no meat, fish, or dairy products.
Lacto-vegetarian: eat mostly plants, dairy products, no meat, fish, or eggs.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: eat mostly plants, eggs, dairy products, no meat, or fish.
Pescetarians: vegetarian but also eat fish, no meat.
Note that bread, sponge cake, pancakes (Bánh xèo, bánh khọt) may contain egg, butter or other dairy products. They may stir-fry morning glory with pork lard or season it with fish sauce.
You should not dip fruits in prawn salt in case they serve you.
Where to eat as a vegan in Vietnam?
You should not eat vegetarian foods at non-vegetarian foods because they may use cook your foods in vessels used to cook non-vegetarian foods. Certainly, the chefs at restaurants will not add meat into your dishes if you order a vegetarian dish. But they may accidentally add fish sauce to your “vegetarian foods”, or fry your foods in oil which was used to fry non-vegetarian foods.
A large number of Vietnamese people, including Buddhist followers eat as vegans for their whole life or for a few days a month. Vegetarian restaurants are found easily in Vietnam. There is at least one vegetarian restaurant around a pagoda in the country. Searching for and visiting Buddhist pagodas, eating at restaurants near the pagodas is worth doing.
However, the menu is usually written in Vietnamese at restaurants for local people. The staff or vendors speak limited English. If you go to some backpacker areas such as Bui Vien (Ho Chi Minh City), Ta Hien (Hanoi), tourist hotspots, areas near top tourist attractions, you will find vegetarian restaurants specialized in foods for foreign vegans. Menus are written in both English and Vietnamese. The staff speaks English well and advises you about suitable foods. The chefs and waiters have experience with foods for different dietary restrictions. Certainly, prices at these restaurants are higher than local restaurants out of the city centers.
At supermarkets, they also sell prepared plant-based meals. Although the foods are not very delicious, completely hot and served right after cooking, the prices are cheap and they are safe to eat.
Forbidden: Pork, lard or any pork substance, gelatin from animal source that is not halal, meat that is not slaughtered in the prescribed Islamic way, meat coming from a lawful animal which died before slaughter, blood, all carnivorous animals and birds of prey and some non-halal additives, any food or drink with alcohol.
Fast: Voluntary fasting is common on Mondays and Thursdays. Muslims are encouraged to fast on the 10th day of Muharram, 6 days during the month of Shawwal, and the 9th day of Zul Hijjah. Ramadan is a mandatory fasting period.
There are many Halal restaurants and Halal tours in Vietnam so that Islamists do not worry about their trip to Vietnam. I see that many of them book Halal package tours.
The 240-m2 Satrafoods convenience store at 15-17 Phan Chu Trinh Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City was inaugurated on December 2019. This is the first store certificated as Halal by representatives of Islamist Community in Ho Chi Minh City. Satrafoods sell a wide range of Halal foods including fruits, fast foods, lunches, processed foods, etc.
Besides, there are many other Halal stores and restaurants on the 100-m-long Nguyen An Ninh Street at the opposite of the West gate of Ben Thanh Market. They call this area Saigon Halal Street.
Forbidden: Meat, fish, poultry and eggs. Some do not eat garlic, onions, drink alcohol, tea and coffee. They can still eat seafood dishes that are abundant in Vietnam. Vietnamese people love to eat foods, marinated with garlic. They fry minced garlic until crispy and smelling, then add raw foods to the pan, stir fry them until well-done or used the fried foods to cook stews, soups, broths, congees, fried rice, etc. Crispy fried onions are usually used to top lots of noodle soups, grilled foods, steamed sticky rice, congee, traditional cakes, etc.
Fast: Sundays, day of the new moon, the full moon, the 9th day of the month of Cheltra, the 8th day of Sravana, 10th and 11th of each month, the feast of Slvaratri, and days of equinoxes, solstices, eclipses, and conjunction of the planets.
Eat as vegans for some months or a few days a month (1st, 15th, 30th days of the lunar months). On “vegetarian” days, some non-vegetarian restaurants also serve vegetarian foods. For example, a rice noodle grilled pork salad also serves rice noodle and vegetarian fried roll salad on 1st, 15th and 30 days of the lunar months. Restaurants around pagodas are packed with customers. Pagodas also serve free vegetarian meals but you should donate after eating.
Fast: refrain from consuming meat on Fridays of Lent and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Lots of great Vietnamese meals with no meat foods for Catholics to eat.
Fast: from 2nd to 20th March, abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
Check if shrimp/squid is steamed with beer, beef is stewed with wine before eating.