While there are halal establishments in Vietnam, they are few and far between and they don’t usually serve local flavours. Luckily for those of you who want to get a taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine, there are plenty of Muslim-friendly seafood and vegetarian dishes to choose from. We’ve chosen some local favourites for you to try out next time you’re in town. Don’t forget to note down the name of the dishes as well the addresses of our recommended shops as they’ll come in handy when you have to deal with vendors and taxi drivers who don’t speak English.
A few house rules…
• We don’t pick dishes that contain pork or its by-product.
• We don’t pick dishes that contain any type of meat from animals that were not slaughtered according to Islamic law (ذَبِيْحَة; dhabīḥah).
• We avoid establishments that also serve pork.
1. BÁNH KHỌT
To make this popular savoury pancake, vendors fry batter of rice flour, corn starch, and coconut milk in a cast iron until it’s crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, then top it with shrimp and sprinkling of dried prawns. Good for breakfast or in-between-meal, this delicious bite-sized treat is eaten with fragrant herbs, fresh greens, and sweet and spicy dipping sauce.
Bánh Khọt Thanh Phương, 606/14, 3 Tháng 2 Street, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City
“They exclusively sell only bánh khọt, so you don’t have to worry about compromised ingredients.”
Trần Thị Thanh Thảo, 21yo, student
“Ốc” is a generic term for molluscs, and there are many restaurants in Vietnam specializing in them. Choose the snails you want to eat and have the staff to prepare them in your preferred style of cooking. The most popular one is ốc len xào dừa or mud creeper snail in coconut milk, packed with intense flavours from the mix of lemongrass, garlic, chilli, and rau răm (Vietnamese coriander, Persicaria odorata).
Ốc Thảo, 231 Hoàng Diệu Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City
“This is my favourite spot for eating snails while catching up with friends, a popular pastime in Saigon!”
Cao Dương Hương Trà, 23yo, teacher
Whenever it’s pouring and it gets too chilly, it’s always good to know that you can seek comfort from a bowl of cháo (rice porridge or congee). Keep on the lookout for cháo cá (fish porridge) or cháo hàu (oyster porridge). The plain rice porridge is accented by the soulful flavours courtesy of the broth and “warm” spices such as garlic, pepper, ginger, and the obligatory fish sauce.
Cháo Hàng Xanh, 283 Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh, Bình Thạnh District, Ho Chi Minh City
“This shop offers porridge with vegetables, shrimps, eggs, fish, and even kimchi, but you won’t find any other kind of meat whatsoever. Ideal for those who don’t consider themselves carnivores.”
Hoàng Sỹ Luân, 22yo, barista
4. CƠM CHAY
Although you can get cơm from shops, try to get it from the ladies who peddle the sweet and savoury treats on their bikes to get to feel how the locals actually buy the crispy crackers on their way to their offices or schools. Cơm chay is made to order, so you can add chickpeas, sugar, and desiccated coconut to your liking.
Cơm Chay Giác Duyên, 22 Nguyễn Huy Tự, Đa Kao Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
“I usually get my cơm chay to go and enjoy it the soonest I arrive at the office. It has become some kind of a morning ritual for me.”
Phan Hữu Tài, 27yo, business analyst
When a Vietnamese say “chè” it can mean any desserts ranging from iced beverage to hot pudding served in a bowl. There’s chè sen nhãn, dried lotus seeds and longans in rock sugar syrup, usually served in wintertime. Corn kernels and tapioca pearls in coconut milk is called chè bắp in South Vietnam and chè ngô in the North. You can also go healthy with chè sâm bổ lượng, believed to have healing attributes of dried jujube and ginseng roots.
Chè Mâm Khánh Vy, 242B Sư Vạn Hạnh, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City
“As they serve each dessert in a very small bowl, I recommend for you to go crazy and get a sampling of everything on the menu!”
Lê Quốc Trung, 24yo, banker
SEE ALSO: Top 5 Vegetarian Dishes in Indonesia
While your requirement of “halal” might be a difficult subject to communicate, you can seek for vegetarian food instead. The term for “vegetarian” is “chay” in Vietnamese and it’s said in a neutral tone. You can use this in many ways. For example, you can point at yourself to convey that you are a vegetarian. You can also point at the food you want to get vegetarian version of. Always wanted to try that mouth-watering bánh mì nearby your hostel but wary of the meat they use? Tell the vendor that you want bánh mì chay and he or she will be happy to give you a baguette with cheese, vegetables, and two sunny-side-ups sans the usual meat and pâté. Alternatively, you can also use không thịt (no meat), but since the tones are trickier to pull off, you’re better off writing it on a piece of paper.
*Special thanks to Lê Quốc Trung and his friends for their suggestions! Cảm ơn bạn rất nhiều!