Eating Like Buddhist Grandmothers

I’ve been trying to schedule cooking classes at the beginning of our month-long stays to give me more time to practice. Last month, I booked a slot in a vegetarian cooking class at Hanoi Cooking Centre for the week of our arrival. When I arrived, I discovered that I was the only one enrolled. (It was super nice of them to run the class for just one person.)

My instructor was also super nice, but definitely skeptical of vegetarian food. He told me that his grandmother was ‘very Buddhist,’ so she ate food like we’d be preparing, but that this was not the type of food that he would ever choose for himself. When he was showing me the rice at the market, he said that the brown rice was also for grandmothers, rather than young people. Since then, Brian and I have been joking that we eat like Buddhist grandmothers.

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The cooking class was fun, though the most of the recipes were labor intensive enough that they didn’t make it into our daily repertoire of meals.

More broadly, I’ve had trouble deciding if we found Vietnam vegetarian friendly or not. I stayed pretty content with the options but Brian, towards the end, became kind of fed up with Vietnamese food.

It’s true that at most of the restaurants nearby where we lived, there were absolutely no vegetarian options on the menu. However, when I would show this message to the wait staff in a restaurant, they’d consult with the chefs and something vegetarian would generally appear.


Hanoi City, about 30 minutes away by shuttle bus, definitely had more vegetarian options. We enjoyed a meal at Aummee (entirely vegetarian) and saw various signs for other chay (vegetarian) restaurants. Most restaurants more aimed at tourists and Western expats would have something vegetarian on the menu. Plus, on the 1st and 15th of every month, many Buddhists eat as vegetarians, so vegetarian buffets would pop up in some ‘regular’ restaurants.  So, I think that it would be fair to say that it’s not hard to eat as a vegetarian in Hanoi… but a lot harder if you’re staying outside of the city, as we were.

For our last five nights in Vietnam, we stayed in Ho Chi Minh city, in the southern part of Vietnam. It was definitely easier for us to be vegetarian there. More restaurants, even standard Vietnamese ones, had at least a few vegetarian options and there were several highly rated entirely vegetarian restaurants. (We loved Hum!) Ho Chi Minh city also had lots of international food options  – so, we were able to do exciting things like have good Turkish and Indian food delivered to our apartment.

As a sort of cap on our Vietnamese food experience, we went out a food tour with Saigon Street Eats and ate some of our favorite vegetarian Vietnamese food, from pho to curry to various mock meats.

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