A Vegetarian And Vegan’s Guide To Hoi An
Travelling as a vegetarian throughout countries in Asia can be a challenge. Most countries’ dishes are meat-based, most places do not accommodate vegetarian diets, and when they do, there’s always the language barrier to contend with. Despite this, travelling in Vietnam as a vegetarian isn’t as challenging as you would think. Buddhist monks follow a vegetarian diet, thereby creating the need for vegetarian food stalls which are scattered throughout Vietnamese cities.
For many who have had trouble ordering vegetarian options at restaurants, simply using the word “chay,” which means vegetarian in Vietnamese, or “Toi an chay” to say “I am a vegetarian,” can alleviate the confusion (just make sure to remember that Vietnamese is tonal). In fact, the movement of vegetarianism is spreading worldwide, and with Vietnamese store owners relying on these trends for business, there are more options now than ever before as Hoi An is abundant with vegetarian and vegan restaurants alike.
- 1 Vegetarian history in Vietnam
- 2 Best Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant Options in Hoi An
- 3 Hidden Hoi An’s thoughts
Vegetarian history in Vietnam
Hoi An was always a place of cultural fusion. Many Japanese, Europeans, Chinese, and Indians in the 16th and 17th centuries lived in Hoi An at this time because it was the commercial epicentre of the Spice Trade. This history is important from a culinary perspective, as many of Hoi An’s unique dishes are a direct result of the diverse cultural influences over the years. Another interesting facet of Hoi An’s food developed during the French Colonial period. At this time, exclusive foreign trade rights were gifted to the French in the city of Da Nang, causing Hoi An to lose its status as the primary port city of central Vietnam. As a result of Hoi An’s diminished importance in the region, it was unaffected by many of the changes throughout Vietnam over the next few hundred years, causing many of its culinary dishes to become unique to Hoi An.
Primarily influenced by Buddhism, many Vietnamese turn to a vegan diet on the 1st and 15th day of the lunar calendar or whenever a full moon is present.
Hidden Hint: Some restaurants will close for the day following these busy dates.
Enter 21st-century Vegetarianism, with its emphasis on creative exploration. In the last two decades, Hoi An has witnessed many vegetarian versions of traditional dishes sprout up throughout the town. With the expansion of vegetarian and vegan popularity, Hoi An now has at least 40 restaurant options within it, and this trend only continues to grow. Listed here are a few of our top picks to satiate your veggie desires.
Best Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant Options in Hoi An
The range of choices is vast, with not only dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants, but also the non-vegetarian and vegan joints will often have those options on the menu to satisfy the demand from their western traveller clientele. When eating at vegetarian or vegan restaurants, you can generally relax and order what you like, secure in the knowledge that the people (almost always ex-pats) who run these places really understand your food requirements. However, if you are eating at a locally-run establishment, just make sure you explain to the restaurant staff what you mean by vegan or vegetarian. Mostly, the locals understand “Chay eating,” which is the local Buddhist style of plant-based eating. This, however, can contain some animal products, and animal-produced products that you may not want showing up in your vegetarian or vegan meal.
Sometimes, fish, shellfish, and fish or chicken broth will be included in Chay meals, so make sure you check with your server before ordering. This is not deliberate troublemaking or willful misunderstanding on behalf of the locals; it’s just that the Southeast Asian versions of plant-based eating are mostly rooted in religious dogma and local traditions, rather than the ethics-based philosophies of western folks. Listed below are some great little places to get either your vegetarian or vegan munching underway.
Am Vegetarian Restaurant
Ranked No. 1 on TripAdvisor, Am, which means “warm” in Vietnamese, will give you just that feeling when you walk in. The ambient environment lit with gorgeous lanterns and bohemian decor will immediately give you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Am provides a classy and artistic environment that is soothing for the soul, and if you’re lucky enough to meet the owners, they will make you feel immediately at home. The food choices are phenomenal and quite reasonably priced. Some dishes worth mentioning: the ‘Am special spring rolls’ are possibly the best fried spring rolls in town, their version of Banh Xeo (with a Japanese twist), Pad Thai (not found at many places in Hoi An), and their vegetarian hot pots spiced to perfection! To satisfy that sweet tooth, they offer homemade ice cream and sorbet options for dessert.
Minh Hien Vegetarian Restaurant
This local Vietnamese vegetarian spot stands out for having fabulous food and prices, with some people even claiming it’s the best in Vietnam. A little bit outside of the Old Town, away from the crowds, its patrons are normally a combination of locals, expats, and travellers. The restaurant’s interior is lined with books and has plenty of available seating. The menu itself is rather extensive, and even without any meat dishes, there remain multiple pages of food options. Some of the more notable dishes are the White Rose (Banh Bao Vac) which is a Hoi An speciality dumpling, the Ban Xeo (Vietnamese pancake), and many of the noodle specialities (including a version of Cau Lao, Hoi An’s famous noodle dish).
Aside from offering fresh fruit juices and smoothies, they also have an exceptional offer of mugs of beer for 4,000 VND (0.20 USD). They brew this beer in-house, like many Vietnamese households, and offer it nice and cold. Minh Hien now has a second location as well and even offers a vegetarian cooking class that includes visiting organic vegetable farms and how to cook a variety of local dishes. This place indeed offers a fantastic bang for your buck.
Quan Chay Ba Dam –
Address: 71/20 Phan Chu Trinh – Business hours: 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily
This is a lovely, family-run, vegan eatery where you “create your own plate” from a variety of different veggies, soy-meat variations, rice, and noodle soup. These buffet-style plates are offered at an extremely reasonable price of 20,000 to 30,000 VND (1 to 1.15 USD) and are also heaping portions. As a bonus, they even offer complimentary soup with the buffet plate. It can be a little tricky to find as it is located in a small alley in the town centre, but this also means it is hidden from most tourists which gives it a much more local vibe.
Another family-founded vegan restaurant in Hoi An is Karma Waters. It was established in Hoi An in 2005 and serves 100 per cent organic, vegan Vietnamese, Indian, and International food and drink options. They never use MSG or refined sugar and provide a smoke- and alcohol-free environment. The restaurant itself is almost always bustling and only has a few tables, so try to avoid busy meal times or expect a small wait. Karma Waters is also committed to being environmentally sustainable. They do not promote single-use plastic and charge a 10,000 VND (.40 USD) deposit for takeaway containers that are returned to customers after containers are brought back to the restaurant.
These guys are the really polished operators in the Hoi An vegan scene. They are not only vegan—they are acutely health-conscious too with housemade juices and smoothies, and sugar-free and gluten-free options galore. There are satisfying roti meals, bean curries, raw salads, soups, burgers and banh mi, noodle dishes, and snack foods. They are not really much more expensive than some of the other vegetarian places. Juices, smoothies and “green cures” cost around 35,000 to 55,000 VND (1.50 to 2.40 USD), whilst mains and salads’ prices range from 45,000 to 90,000 VND (2 to 4 USD).
Not only does Karma Waters offer healthy vegan meals in their restaurant, but they also promote sustainable communities by running multiple charitable programs. To name a few, their Nutritional Lunch Program serves daily vegan lunches at a reduced rate to needy people, and their Vegan Food Program feeds sick, disabled, and needy people in Central Vietnam hospitals.
Hidden Hint: If you still need one more reason to visit Karma Waters, they also offer vegan cooking classes in both Hoi An and their other location in Da Nang.
The Fisherman Vegan Restaurant
The food is proper and conscientious, the atmosphere is chill, the beanbags are comfy, and the prices are nice. The menu has a touch of a hipster to it as the brunch offerings range from vegan pancakes with house coconut yoghurt to tofu scramble or a crispy potato dish with chickpeas and cherry tomatoes. Sink into a beanbag with an ocean view, and sip on a green juice and grab a vegan burger for lunch or dinner, or some noodles, falafels, or brown rice bowls. There’s also a nice cocktail menu and some decent wine to wash it all down with. There is nothing much over 100,000 VND (4 USD) on the food menu.
Jack’s Cat Cafe
If you’re a cat lover as well as a vegetarian food lover, then you will find heaven at Jack’s Cat Cafe. This cat sanctuary, named after their first shelter cat Jack, offers an outdoor seating oasis complete with a beautiful garden, Japanese pagoda, koi pond, and of course, cats galore. This cafe started as a foster project by Emma Bolton and Phong Nguyen who run the Vietnam Cat Welfare program. They began rescuing abused and abandoned cats in 2009, providing medical treatment, shelter, and finding new homes for each animal. Not only do they seek to educate the public on the inhumane treatment of these amazing creatures, but they also aim to raise awareness about the dark realities of the cat and dog meat trade throughout much of Asia. Sadly, here in Vietnam, it is still common for family pets to go missing due to abductions by meat traders.
Jack’s Cat Cafe offers a wonderful opportunity to help protect these animals and enjoy their energy and presence while feasting on some delicious vegan cuisine. To help care for the cats, the cafe asks for an admission fee of 100,000 VND (2 USD) per person which comes with a complimentary drink of your choice. Make sure to make a reservation online beforehand because spots are not guaranteed unless they are booked ahead. Their menu changes regularly and offers fresh vegetarian and vegan options, including juices and smoothies. If you’re staying in Hoi An a little longer and want to support their cause further, there are often volunteer opportunities available—just check at the cafe.
Nomad Yoga & Cafe
Nomad Yoga not only offers a multitude of yoga classes but also offers a healthy, vegetarian breakfast and lunch menu at their cafe. Their menu changes weekly, depending on what is fresh in the market, and is dedicated to offering healthy food options. For breakfast, they are known to offer overnight oatmeal bowls or delicious “Nice Cream” bowls topped with fresh fruit and house-made granola. Lunch offers a daily quiche and salad option, or an all-encompassing Buddha bowl.
If you need some organic house-made food items such as peanut butter or sauerkraut, you can buy them by the jar, as well as delicious home-brewed kombucha. Another thing that sets Nomad apart are their DIY Juice Cleanse packages to help cleanse the digestive system and lose weight. They have a variety of juice choices with different prices based on your individual needs. Nomad Yoga makes it so easy to eat healthily!
Annen Vegetarian & Yoga
Another great yoga and cafe option in town is Annen. Their mantra is “Eat Healthy, Live Healthy,” and they live up to it. They offer farm-to-table vegetarian and vegan fare in an outdoor patio setting, set away from the loud, disruptive streets. They even offer a vegetarian Banh Mi, in case you haven’t been able to find a meat-free variation. While sitting, you might enjoy the company of two purring felines that prowl around the dinner tables, eagerly waiting for some rubs or a lap to sit on.
In addition to their yoga options, which you may view on their Facebook page, they also support local art and music by holding monthly “starving artist” gallery shows where artists can display and sell their work, and also host open mic nights on Fridays and Saturdays. For large events, Annen offers event catering, event planning services (in their space or your own), and delivery options.
Tam Quang Minh
Address: 33 Ly Thai To Street
This is a kind of budget vegetarian buffet, mostly patronized by locals. They are an every day, cost-effective option but, due to the style of food storage and general lack of refrigeration, we would advise going at normal mealtimes when the food is freshly cooked and sells out fast to ensure that food safety requirements are met. Pretty much everything costs 20,000 VND (1 USD).
Banh MI Chay (Vegan Banh Mi)
Address: Phan Chau Trinh and Nguyen Hue – Business Hours: 7 a.m. until 10 a.m. approx.
This place is totally amazing! 12,000 VND (.50 USD) for the best vegan sandwich that exists in this town. Think Chinese five-spiced tofu, chilli relish and fresh, crunchy vegetables. Read our article all about this and other banh mi in Hoi An.
A few houses down from the more established Karma Waters, is one of the newer kids on the block – Vegan Zone. Vegan Zone have quickly established themselves on Hoi An’s vegan scene and are considered a ‘home away from home’ for many. This friendly, local, environmentally-conscious restaurant (no plastic straws here!), is furnished with dark wood furniture. Its upcycled decor, such as soup cans used as napkins holders and pots with plants, decorate the windows. The restaurant has a mezzanine making it one and a half floors. There are mandalas painted on the walls, along with lights housed in weaved baskets giving this restaurant a rustic feel.
The menu is printed on brown paper and bound with twine. The staff tell us that the most popular items are the lemongrass tofu, tempeh roll, vegan curry, and eggplant crepe (55,000 VND / 2.40 USD). We have it on good authority that they also have the best vegan hot pot in town!
Hidden Hint” To make choosing your meal easier, ask the waitress to show you their beautiful menu pictures on the restaurant’s tablet.
With every dish beautifully plated, it’s a feast for the eyes as well. The food is tasty and has a very homemade feel to it. Dishes are not heavily seasoned (they’re proudly MSG free), and condiments are provided to allow you to adjust the taste. We tried the eggplant crepe which was very hearty and warm. The pan seared mushrooms (85,000 VND / 4 USD) were a delight to look at and devour. For dessert, they offer chocolate banana crepes and fruit bowls. They also serve a variety of smoothies, juices, coffee and tea.
Tucked away in the rice fields of Hoi An, Nourish is a Western-run vegetarian eatery. Paying homage to Western vegetarian/vegan brunch places, Nourish provides fresh food that is not only pleasing to the eye but filling for the stomach.
The small walkway leading to Nourish is cobbled attractively and houses a lotus pond, palm tree and colourful flowers. They invitingly lead you through to the eatery that is held up by yellow pillars – it makes walking into Nourish feel like a fairytale unravelling. Besides the delicious food, the quietness of the eatery has a very local charm due to it’s tucked away location in the countryside of Hoi An. There’s no noise pollution from motorbikes or traffic here – the only things you’ll hear are the rustling of leaves in the wind, it’s a very relaxing atmosphere.
Hidden Hint: They have a loyalty program – after nine meals, you get the tenth for free!
Popular dishes here are the mango chutney burger, granola heaven and scrambled tofu toast. Colourful dishes are plentiful at this little eatery; rainbow granola bowls, colourful burgers and purple yam fries make all the dishes here visually pleasing as well as appetizing. Their mango chutney burger (110k / 4.75 USD) is divine, ‘meaty’ and filling. They pay attention to every single ingredient that goes into the burger, going as far as dehydrating the tomatoes so the burger does not get soggy. They also offer a variety of juices and smoothies.
If you want to take a break from the traffic, motorbikes, and honking in Hoi An, this is the place to go to relax. Breakfast is served all day and lunch is served at 11:00 a.m.
Hidden Hoi An’s thoughts
When it comes to the ample amount of vegetarian options in Hoi An, this is just the tip of the iceberg, so don’t hesitate to explore all the town has to offer in cuisine. Don’t forget that there are also numerous fruit and juice stands, as well as plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits available at local street markets, most of which were just picked from a garden nearby right before purchase. Because Hoi An’s culinary identity has a fascinating history and has been influenced by many diverse cultural contributions over the years, you are guaranteed to have a unique and tasty adventure on your visit to Hoi An.