Vietnamese food is having a moment, and for good reason. Naturally offering a variety of fragrant and flavorful vegetarian, vegan, paleo, and dairy- or gluten-free dishes, it’s the perfect cuisine for people who are health-conscious but don’t want to compromise on taste.
So, what should you look for when ordering in a Vietnamese restaurant? If healthy options are what you’re after, you’re in luck.
One of Vietnamese cuisine’s most well-known dishes is also one of its healthiest, and it can be eaten for breakfast or at any time in the day. Traditionally served with beef tenderloin but with the option of substituting that for beef brisket or chicken, Pho is gluten and dairy free. It’s made with bone broth, which is known to have a host of health benefits. Good, traditional recipes require full-bodied broth that tastes smoky and sweet without being too beefy, soft noodles, thin slices of meat, plenty of fresh bean sprouts and basil leaves, and a splash of lime. For the healthiest version of this dish, opt to have it sugar-free without the hoisin and sriracha sauces that are usually added to top it off.
If you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, you can also make Pho with vegetable stock, lotus root, and tofu.
The natural choice for a healthy starter when eating Vietnamese would be Goi Cuon, which are rice-paper rolls filled with vegetables and herbs. You can choose to add shrimp, chicken, tofu, or to stick to vegetables. Naturally dairy- and gluten-free, this dish can also be vegan or vegetarian depending on what you choose.
For those following a Paleo diet, Xien Nuong, or charcoal-grilled skewers, are a great choice. Duck-sausage skewers with betel leaves are one of my top picks, but chicken and shrimp are also delicious. They’re usually served with green papaya and carrot pickle, sweet basil, and Nuoc Cham, a sauce that contains sugar, so feel free to sit this one out if you’re avoiding the sweet stuff.
Goi, or salads, are also a great option. Try something traditional, like Goi Ga Bap Cai (chicken, cabbage, and coriander) or Goi Ngo Sen Tom (lotus rootlet, sweet basil, and prawns), both of which are naturally dairy- and gluten-free.
This curry is a favorite amongst vegans. It’s made with tofu and vegetables braised in a mild yellow curry gravy with coconut milk and topped with spring onions and sliced peppers. It’s traditionally served with jasmine steamed rice, but you can also just have it as a stew.
Bun are fresh, cold rice noodles served with Nuoc Cham sauce, mint, basil, coriander, green papaya, and pickled carrots. This dish usually comes with a side of chicken satay, duck-sausage satay, or chicken spring rolls – the healthier option being the chicken. It’s a light and refreshing meal, especially on a hot day, but don’t forget that the Nuoc Cham sauce contains sugar.
Ca Tim Om Dau Phu
This tofu and eggplant clay-pot stir-fry is perfect for vegetarians or vegans. The tofu and eggplant are braised in a special house sauce with long beans and shimeji mushrooms until tender and flavorful. This dish is cooked through braising, simmering on the stove, and can be made gluten-free upon request.
Ca Chem Nuong La Chuoi
This fresh, light, and flavorful dish features baked seabass with shimeji mushrooms in banana leaves, making it a great option for those eating Paleo.
Shaking Soya Pudding
The Shaking Soya Pudding is just that, and it’s also vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free. You can also choose to have it topped with fresh mango or strawberries.
Lemongrass and Pandan-Leave Detox Water
This drink is both refreshing and healthy. Made from fresh lemongrass, which is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, the drink’s fresh pandan leaves also help to boost nerve health and can help reduce headaches.
Lily Hoa Nguyen is the Executive Chef and Owner of Vietnamese Foodies, which offers authentic, fresh, healthy, and affordable Southern Vietnamese dishes. Vietnamese Foodies is located Lake Level, Lake Terrace Tower, Cluster D, in JLT, Dubai.
Lily Hoa Nguyen will also be hosting regular cooking classes. Click here for regular updates.