One of the best things (out of many, many best things!) about eating in Vietnam is the incredible variety. While it may be occasionally difficult to find street food that is truly vegetarian (for example, fish is not considered a meat), a huge chunk of the population is Mahayana Buddhist, and one of the traditions is eating vegetarian on the 1st and 15th days of the lunar month. As a result, there are a fair amount of prominent vegetarian restaurants, from cheap to expensive, that serve exclusively veg food any time of the month. Sometimes you just can’t with the pork again, you know?
Slightly off the beaten path, Tib Chay revels in the royal traditions of Central Vietnamese food. Central Vietnamese cuisine is distinct from the Northern or Southern traditions, and centered around Hue. This ancient city was the home of the last Vietnamese royal dynasty, and the food reflects the court: sophisticated and colorful. Dishes are often defined by their small size and elaborate preparation.
Our main dish (seen above) was the house rice, served with veggies and lotus seeds. I’m not usually a fan of anything culled from the lotus plant, but these seeds are an exception to the rule. The vegetables were juicy and well seasoned.
This was a dish I’d never tried (or seen) before, but it was fantastic! This is Roasted Bean Curd Paper, or Phu Chuc Quay, filled with mushrooms.
No Vietnamese meal is complete without a savory bowl of canh, or clear broth, soup. This delightfully arranged bowl featured lotus stem, okra, chili, tofu, and spring onions was a lot… and it was beginning to be too much. Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomach.
OK SERIOUSLY THOUGH – should have checked ourselves before we… Nope, nope, nope, just say yes to this stewed tofu with mushrooms. One singular thing about Central cuisine, compared to the northern or southern, is that the surrounding mountainous region produces many, many spices which make their way into the dishes. Chilis, garlic, lemongrass – central food is spicy food, healthy and eye-popping in it’s complexity.
All in all, a very tasty and affordable entry in HCMC’s already-excellent Vegetarian scene. Some people online (TripAdvisor, specifically) have complained about the prices, but in my experience they’re actually a little bit less expensive than comparable restaurants (ahem, HUM… I’m looking at you).
I recommend going with a group and buying many dishes to share – the better to experience the depth of variety that’s front and center of Central Vietnamese vegetarian.
Got a veg restaurant that’s higher on my list? Drop me a note, and I can’t wait to hear!