Vietnam’s Fake Meat Phenomenon

Darling Man and I have been hard at work eating our way through Ho Chi Minh City’s vegetarian options.

We wanted to include a vegetarian street food tour in our new business, Saigon Street Eats, because we have met so many travellers who don’t eat meat.

Vietnam, as a predominantly Buddhist country, does cater for vegetarians. Many people forgo meat on one day a month, a habit that is as much for health reasons as it is for religious regions.

The problem for visitors is that vegetarian food can be difficult to spot. The words you need to look out for are cơm chay or simply chay.

If you are vegetarian, don’t think you can swan into any old restaurant in Vietnam and order tofu. You are likely to find it garnished with prawns or stuffed with pork – tofu is not strictly for vegetarians here!

One of Saigon’s best vegetarian restaurants is Hoa Dang, also known as Loving Hut, which serves vegan food.

(Because Hoa Dang is so popular and so well known, we decided not to include it in our vegetarian food tour. It is fabulous, but it’s also easy for people to find on their own and our tours are designed to show people the local side of Ho Chi Minh City that’s off the tourist trail.)

Hoa Dang and many of the other vegetarian places we’ve researched all serve a range of fake meat dishes. I find it very funny and it tickled me enormously to feed fake stewed pork to my Muslim friend. (Thank goodness she’s a good sport with a similarly warped sense of humour!)

Darling Man, who, like me, was a vegetarian for a while when he was younger, says the fake meat phenomenon is relatively new in Vietnam. He says fake meat corrupts the concept of forgoing meat.

The fake meat can look very real, like the fake stewed pork dish.

Or it can look ridiculously fake, like these quail-shaped lumps of tofu.

I felt so sorry for the fake quail with the broken neck.

And then there’s the times that you’re better of not knowing what is being faked.

Things like the sliced up brownish lump that I was enjoying until Darling Man told me it was fake kidney.

And the ear-like things in a vinegar-y sauce that he told me was fake intestines. The words he used, though, was “large gut”. Ewww.

Our conclusion after trying all kinds of weird and whacky fake meats: some are way better than meat and some are a bit meh. The good fake meat includes the fake Peking duck, fake stewed pork and fake fermented pork. And the quail-shaped tofu was definitely in the meh category, even though they were so cute!

It’s been heaps of fun sorting the good from the meh.

However, I now think I need a treadmill.  I need to do my writing while walking because all this food research is having consequences. If you know what I mean.

10 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. As long as the consequences are a fat bum and not 200 visits to the toilet within an hour then continue on I say!! Love the look of that fake pork. And the poor tofu quails – complete with broken necks – are hysterically funny to me for some reason!
    Tracey – Life Changing Year recently posted..Hello Egypt! I Think I Love You! And Your Menfolk!

    • Barbara says:

      Tracey, in five years in Asia I’ve only had the 200-toilet-visits problem once or twice and I don’t think it was what I ate, rather it was what I touched and then touched my mouth. Darling Man is much more prone to what he calls “dancing stomach” and that’s because he can’t handle dairy.

      We follow basic common sense when it comes to eating street food. We only eat at popular places where the turnover is high and there are many (happy-looking) customers. 🙂

  2. i’m grossed out by that last one!!!

    do they use chicken broth or anything, in their veggie dishes?
    wandering educators recently posted..Why Teach Internationally?

  3. Ayngelina says:

    Hey if it tastes good who cares if it`s not meat!
    Ayngelina recently posted..Food Friday: Farm to table

  4. Revathy says:

    Extremely happy to see a post on vegetarian options in Saigon and waiting to try some through Saigon Street Eats! Have a great Tet, will be in touch for a veggie chow out after the holidays.

  5. […] eat at Hoa Dang vegetarian restaurant for Vietnamese-style vegan food, including a range of mock meats, in an upscale cafeteria […]

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