Edging the South China Sea is a little country where bowls of mouth-watering broth and fresh rice noodles are served from the crack of dawn to late at night. There’s fresh fruit, meats and noodles everywhere you turn. Vietnam is a haven for coeliacs, with the risk of getting accidentally ‘glutened’ very low in comparison to some of the world’s other popular travel destinations in both Europe and Asia.
This is because Vietnamese food is heavily rice-based, with rice used to bulk up breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most foods that you come across, whether in an upmarket hotel or on the street, will naturally be gluten free! Vietnam is one destination where you don’t have to fear being bored with your gluten-free ‘safe food’ options while you travel. That being said, carrying a translation card explaining you are allergic to wheat as well as gluten is always a good idea, as awareness of celiac disease is actually relatively low. Remember also to get travel insurance which can provide you with assistance in various emergencies as well as provide cover for unexpected emergencies, such as needing to see a doctor. There are various companies that automatically cover coeliac disease, such as Fast Cover. That means if you get glutened or experience any other medical emergency you have cover.
So what can you eat?
Deliciously spiced, flavourful dishes can be found throughout Vietnam, though the south including Saigon and Hoi An seem to be more naturally gluten-free then further north. Of course there is a small risk of contamination at any restaurant you’re not familiar with, but at street stalls you can see how your food is being made and a quick check with staff in restaurants will reduce this risk to nearly zero.
Something worth noting is that soy sauce can be gluten-free in Vietnam! It is worth checking to find out where the soy sauce you’ll be using comes from and its list of ingredients, you might not have to rule it out completely!
And even if you choose to avoid soy sauce, the primary Vietnamese condiment is gluten-free fish sauce. That with fresh lime and chilli heightens the flavours of fresh Vietnamese food (be warned though, their chilli is hot!)
The Best Dishes
Pho is one of the most delicious meals you can have at any time of day. The dish is traditionally made with a broth which has been cooking for at least an hour, long and thick rice noodles, slices of fresh meat (beef or chicken, vegetarians will have difficulty strictly avoiding meat in their food) bean sprouts and onion, flavoured with mint, coriander, chilli and fresh lime. Think that doesn’t sound like something you’d want for breakfast? Try it once and you’ll likely change your mind. It would be easy to subsist on pho for the entirety of a Vietnamese trip.
Goi cuon are fresh spring rolls made with rice paper. Delicious when dipped in sweet chilli sauce or fish sauce!
Cha gio, also known as ‘nem’ are rice paper spring rolls that are fried. Be wary as nem made in northern Vietnam might be dipped in bread crumbs before they are fried, so it is best to ask!
Hu Tieu. There are various kinds of Hu Tieu to try. Hu Tieu is made from a pork bone broth and usually has no fish sauce. The noodles can be either flat rice noodles, egg noodles (not gluten free, so avoid this option!) or chewy tapioca ones. There’s a variety of topping on offer, from shrimp, squid, pork and vegetables.
Com means rice. So ‘com’ anything is likely an option!
Banh xeo is a delicious Vietnamese crepe made with rice flour and coconut milk. They are fried and filled with pork, shrimp, onion, bean sprouts and mung beans.
Banh Khot are miniature versions of Banh xeo, made delicious with herbs and vegetables and fish sauce.
Be Careful Around…
- Egg noodles which are called mi or my in Vietnam.
- Hu Tieu with egg noodles
- Banh which means bread
- Processed meats as these can contain soy sauce which in turn might contain traces of gluten. Better to be safe!
- Deep fried meats and fish as they may be battered with flour. This is called tam bot
- Quay is a fried fritter dough
Vietnam is an eclectic country with beautiful natural sights, friendly people and delicious foods to keep you fuelled while you travel. With a cuisine that is largely gluten-free naturally, you will have various options wherever you visit.