It is often said that Vietnamese food is some of the best in the world and it is also generally healthy and fresh. However, in Vietnam food allergies are not very common and therefore you will not usually find warning signs on food packaging, or on menus in eateries like you do in Western countries.
This doesn’t mean that you will not be able to accommodate for any food allergies you suffer. Vietnamese food is quite versatile and therefore if you learn to communicate what you can and cannot eat, you should get by just fine.
Below are some tips to help you work around any restrictions that you may have and allow you to still enjoy the great food that this country has to offer!
No Dairy or Nuts
If you have an intolerance to dairy products you should find it quite simple avoiding these. Avoid condensed milk which will likely be used in coffee, sweet treats which often contain milk, and some white breads may also contain small amounts of dairy.
Nuts on the other hand will be harder to avoid because they are often a staple ingredient in many Vietnamese dishes. Peanuts and cashew nuts are popular and are often used as a garnish, ground in condiments or sauces, or used as an oil for cooking.
If you are eating out at a restaurant you will have to rely solely on your ability to communicate to the waiter/waitress and then put your trust into the chefs! You need to also take into account that even if a dish is nut free, it may still have come into contact with nuts in the kitchen.
Soup-like dishes are usually the safest bet as they do not usually contain nuts or nut oil.
Because Vietnamese food is largely rice based, eating gluten-free is not as difficult as it might seem. You do need to be aware of some things though. The majority of rice paper products and rice sheets are made of rice, but they may contain tapioca flour or wheat flour. The same goes for noodles.
If you are at a restaurant and not sure what to eat, try to go for dishes that contain the word “com” because this translates to steamed rice.
You should also try and avoid all dishes that are prepared with soy sauce as this particular sauce contains wheat. There are some Vietnamese sausages and patés that may have been mixed with soy or wheat products and it is likely that you would not detect the flavour of these in the food. Many dishes will use fish sauce as this is the primary condiment in Vietnamese food and this contains no gluten.
Vegetarian and vegan food can be found quite easily in Vietnam. Due to the largely Buddhist influence, many people will eat vegetarian food once per week or on special holidays, even though most of the country are meat eaters. According to Buddhist tradition, followers should eat vegetarian foods on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month.
In the main cities such as Ho Chi Minh you will find that many of the tourist restaurants will have a whole page in the menu of just vegetarian dishes. It may be harder for vegans though as many of the vegetarian dishes may contain fish sauce. Breads may have also been made using egg yolk.
One thing that can help you when residing in the country is to print out some translation cards relating to the foods that you cannot eat. This allows you to show the translations to the waiters or waitresses in any restaurant you may visit.
Although it might seem like a challenge at first, it is entirely possible to enjoy a complete culinary experience while living in Vietnam.