Friday, 1 May 2015

Vegan on the Road: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City was to be our final stop in Vietnam and it was a little bittersweet. Nick and I were both excited about heading back to Thailand but sad that we'd missed out on visiting some of the places we wanted to check out in Vietnam (Sapa, Dalat) because my getting sick for 10 days followed by Nick spending two days throwing up kinda threw off our plans. The heat was also getting to me (totally my fault for visiting at a silly time of year!) and whilst I understand that people are probably staring at me and pointing and grabbing me because they find me interesting it was definitely taking it's toll. It even made me miss Brighton where nobody even looks twice at me. Still we hopped off the sleeper train with a positive mindset ready to explore. As always when I know I'll be arriving in a new city with no way of getting online (or so I thought, it turns out that Ho Chi Minh station has surprisingly fast free wifi) I'd screen shotted the locations and details of a few vegan friendly spots within walking distance so off we went.


Quan 85 is about a 20 minute walk from the station and there's no menu to speak of, not one that we could find / read anyway. Confusingly I also couldn't spot the name Quan 85 anywhere despite definitely being in the right spot - here's what you're looking for.


After consulting with a clever translation app on his phone the guy in charge told us that it's a vegan restaurant and asked if we'd like to eat rice. Asking if you'd like to eat rice / soup seems to be a common theme in casual Vietnamese cafe's and I like it! We were presented with a plate of rice, veggies, mock meat and tofu with a side of purple soup.


Of course my clever translation app explaining that I can't eat chilli did not get the message across and Nick and I had to move things back and forth so that I ended up with a plate of rice, potatoes and green beans and he ended up with a plate of rice spicy tofu, spicy mock meat and intensely spicy cabbage. I also took one for the team and drank both cold purple soups (that reminded me of the scene with the blue soup in Bridget Jones' Diary) because I know Nick does't love a spice onslaught at breakfast and he hates weird coloured soup more than I do.


Our meal was ridiculously cheap and the guy there was lovely. If you're looking for a super authentic Vietnamese dining experience in Ho Chi Minh city this is definitely somewhere you should swing by.

Another great local spot was Pho Chay Nhu which was located down an alleyway around the corner from our hotel. We both had the Pho after confirming that we like soup and it was delicious enough that we are there more than once.


To take a break from exploring in the heat we stopped at Starbucks. I hate Starbucks but I will patronise them when I'm in countries where vegan soy milk is hard to find. So, I basically boycott S'bux in Europe and the US but I will go there in Asia if I can't find another option. My ethics confuse me too but I think it's a fair stance and I'm sticking by it. This was without a shadow of a doubt the worst matcha soy latte I've ever had which is weird because I thought that the whole point of Starbucks is that they're consistent and they have wifi. The guy who made it loved my hair and wrote Ms Pink on my cup though so I'll let him off.


Of course we managed a spot of sightseeing. This is Saigon Notre Dame... It's not as impressive as the one in Paris but quite fun anyway. It's also opposite the Saigon Central Post Office which, as well as being a famous landmark, is also a working post office.




More Pho was soon in order and we went to Dieu Phap Chay, another simple noodle spot, where we were looked after by the owner who, upon spotting two clueless westerners, jumped up and explained all of the different soup / noodle / veggie combos we could go for in perfect English. I went for a more Chinese influenced bowl of Pho with thick noodles and tofu whilst Nick went for something more traditionally southern with mock meat.


Whilst we were eating I spotted a steamer full of buns and jumped all over that as soon as I was done with my Pho. They were filled with peppery veggies and mushrooms and were pretty darn delicious despite being a touch over-steamed.



Nick insisted that we check out the Bitexo Tower because he has some kinda weird obsession with going up the tallest building in every city never mind whether it's actually important or famous or not. I particularly enjoyed the display suggesting that this is one of the ten most iconic buildings in the world. Oddly the Eiffel Tower was nowhere to be seen on that list! I amused myself taking mirrored roof selfies whilst Nick gazed out of the dirty windows.


To cleanse myself from this boring (but totes iconic obvs) building I chose the next spot and we visited a museum of propaganda posters. It's really a shop of course and everything is for sale. I was sad that there weren't any postcard sized images because I obviously can't justify buying art right now but I can always justify postcards.


That night we hit the jackpot restaurant wise when we discovered the biggest shiniest Loving Hut in the whole entire world. Located on Huynh Khuong Ninh right by the park and down the street from their previous (smaller) location I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. This place has a chandelier FFS! We were greeted by the loveliest people who spoke amazing English and I knew immediately that I would be able to communicate my allergies and end up with a meal I could definitely eat. I was ravenous so this was exciting! We started with fancy juices and me explaining to Nick that no the stirrers were not upside down they were just decorative, something he still can't wrap his head around today.


We'd just been talking about how we hadn't had a sit down meal with more than one course for a suuuper long time and this Loving Hut had an extra bonus - air con! We went to town with the ordering and grabbed some Spring Rolls and the Deep Fried Chicken to start.


The deep fried chicken turned out to be chicken nuggets which I was excited and nervous about. I haven't eaten a chicken nugget (a vegan chicken nugget, that should go without saying really!) since I got gastro on the same day I'd eaten a whole box of Fry's nuggets sometime in early 2014 but these were differently textured and I was pleased to be back ontop of my nugget game - they're definitely one of my favourite comfort foods so it's nice to have them back in my life. I was enamoured with the spring rolls too especially becuase they came with lettuce to wrap around them and a fun non-spicy dipping sauce.

I went for the Pak Choi with Black Mushrooms as my main course and Nick opted for the Braised Gluten with Coconut Juice and we shared a side of steamed rice.


Normally I'm anti anything coconut water related and coconut juice sounded suspicious to me but apparently if you mix coconut juice / water with deep fry it becomes acceptable again. Nick had made a great ordering decision and suddenly I was up for sharing! My main was pretty great too and it complimented Nick's mock meaty choice perfectly.

I'd chosen a small main course because it looked like there were a lot of desserts to choose from including both chocolate and matcha ice creams and flan so I wanted to make sure I left space given that I hadn't eaten a dessert since Hanoi. As it turned out they were out of every single dessert except for coconut ice cream (why dont people tell you what they've run out of when they give you the menu? Total pet peeve!) so we skipped it and decided to see if there was anything delicious and sweet to nibble on in their store upstairs.

We weren't expecting much, shelves of dried mock meats and maybe some cake slices but the store turned out to be a place of joy and wonder! We hadn't seen any imported vegan treats (except for the accidental kind) since England. I tried super hard to restrain myself (for budget reasons, if I had all of the cash I would have bought all of the sugar treats) and I think I did okay given that I was faced with all of this and more!






They also had Daiya, Tofurky roasts, things from the Whole Foods 365 range and staples like canned tomatoes and olive oil. In the end we picked up a slice of cake, a couple of Sjaak's Almond Butter Bites and an Eli's Earth Bar.


I love Eli's Earth Bars, which I totally didn't realise were made by Sjaak's until right this second, and grab one whenever I get the chance. I'm not quite familiar enough with the range yet to have a favourite but the Treasure Bar sure is amazing. It's full of peanut butter crunchy stuff and caramel and it reminded me a little of the PB Sea Salt Caramel Gelato from Boho in Brighton but less sweet and with chocolate. Perfect. I've been a big fan of Sjaack's, despite having no idea how to pronounce the brand name, since I first picked up some of their PB Bites at the fantastic Vegan Haven in Seattle. The Almond Butter bites didn't seem as delicious as I remembered the peanut butter ones being but I am 100% sure it was because they were being stored in a bowl with the Sjaack's Mint Chocolates. Mint ruins everything. Never store anything with mint! The cake was, to be polte, peculiar. It was cheesecake-esque which made me take a pass after one bite but after eating the whole thing Nick couldn't tell me what flavour it was, he just described it as not unpleasant but not something to re-purchase. Do try it for yourself if you swing by, I'd love your opinion!

We enjoyed our meal at Loving Hut so much that we went back the next day so that we could try more of their vast menu. This time we started with some Deep Fried Fish and followed that with some stir fried greens, the Braised Vegan Chicken with Ginger and the Barbecue Chicken with Steamed Rice.




The deep fried fish was obviously a win because I love faux fish so freaking much and if you batter something in a crisp batter and deep fry it perfectly so that it's not dripping in oil I will rave about it. The braised vegan chicken with ginger was a solid choice and I was pleased that there was mock meat mixed into my stir fried greens. It was super tasty too and I wondered if it might be the same stuff that went into the braised gluten we'd tried the day before but cooked differently. The barbecue chicken was flavoured with five spice and whilst I really enjoyed it because the mock meat was really tender and juicy I wished that it'd been a little saucier.

After taking a LH break and re-visiting the place with the great Pho and steamed buns a couple of times we hit up Loving Hut for our last meal in Vietnam because I just had to eat the braised gluten in coconut juice one more time. We also got some Fried Okra with Roasted Garlic and a plate of mock meat intriguingly titled Veggie Scrap Salty.



Obviously the gluten was amazing again and I was so glad that I tried the garlicky okra because it was definitely my fave out of the three veggie dishes I tried there. I'd highly recommend it if you're a fellow garlic lover. The Veggie Scrap Salty wasn't that salty but it was a huge plate of crisp fried mock meat scraps which was ridiculously moorish. Despite being full about halfway through the plate neither of us could stop nibbling.

This Loving Hut is definitely more expensive than any of the other places we checked out in Ho Chi Minh City or, to be honest, most of the places we ate in Vietnam but it has a more high end feel (in a kind of amazingly tacky but brilliant way) and the food was great so I think it's totally worth the extra expense. Also the shop located just above it is brilliant, we grabbed a couple more Eli's Earth Bars for our flight to Bangkok and they were the perfect thing to nibble on when everyone else around us was enjoying their in flight meal.

Ho Chi Minh City is amazingly vegan friendly, the list of all vegan places on Happy Cow is epic so you're guaranteed some great eats wherever you base yourself in the city.

7 comments:

  1. OMG! Vegan jellybeans! I miss jellybeans so much :-(

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    1. The pack says veganstore.com so maybe you can mail order them?!

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  2. I would have been so happy and amazed to spy those Eli's Earth Bars. They are ridiculously hard to find anywhere. I always look for them when I'm traveling, and 9/10 I don't find them. The Dream Big bar is my favorite. By the way, it's pronounced like the plural possessive form of Jacques.

    Random fact: After reading your blog, I always get The Little Mermaid stuck in my head, specifically "Daughters of Triton." Except I sing (you guessed it), "We are the vegans of Brighton…" Anyway, if you are unfamiliar with that song, this will make no sense at all.

    Loved your Vietnam coverage!

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  3. wow, I am not usually much of a Loving Hut fan, but I'm sure I would have had a total freak out and ordered everything and then bought all the Sjaaks Earth Bars. I have to say, I have a similar Starbucks policy as yours. I had such a wonderful soy latte in Suzhou, China -- unlike your experience, it was quite consistent and I was STOKED.

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  4. I love the Eli's Earth Bars. I swing between the Treasure and Dream Big bars being my favourite, both involve peanuts. So good!

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  5. Ah, the cheap, tasty food of Vietnam! It all looks and sounds amazing.

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  6. I've never tried Eli's Earth Bars! I'll have to get on it. Air conditioning can feel like such a godsend when you've been in nonstop heat for weeks.

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