You’d think that the humble salad, in all its luscious, leafy glory, is the most likely of all dishes to be vegan. But many salads rely on some kind of animal product to lift them from basic, lettuce-ey nothingness to a dish that stands out, and it can be difficult to find something tasty that was designed for a vegan diet. Especially in such a meat-based culinary culture as that of Ho Chi Minh City. But with diversity in demand comes diversity in supply, and our city now has an increasing number of vegan options to enjoy. It’s a matter of looking for them.
Ingredients: lentils, roast pumpkin, bulgur, lettuce, parsley, cucumber and pumpkin seeds, with pomegranate dressing and optional herb labneh.
Au Parc is one of Saigon’s favourite lunch spots, and for a reason — it’s the kind of place you could spend all afternoon in, reading a book or talking with friends. Facing the deep-green 30/4 park, this restaurant manages to capture an essence of style and delicacy in our roaring, rowdy city.
Much of the menu here either is vegan or can be made into a delicious vegan hybrid. The Au Parc manager, Cindy, happens to eat mostly vegan herself.
“Yes, we have a lot of vegan food here,” she says. “If a dish is not vegan we can usually concoct something slightly different that caters to a vegan diet.”
Looking through the menu, there are a number of salads to choose from. The Beirut salad is a mix of lentils, crisp vegetables, lettuce and roasted pumpkin, with a delicate, tangy dressing that lightens the whole dish. The pumpkin reminds us of Christmas pudding, tasting sweet and slightly fragrant, as though the kitchen had roasted it in honey and cinnamon. The cucumber is cut small, shaped like a half moon, and it adds a crunch to the soft lentils. The dressing is served on the side and the dish can be requested without the labneh, which is not a vegan element.
This salad was recommended to us by a friend, and for good reason. It is a big serving and leaves us satisfied, without feeling heavy. A perfect light lunch, the Beirut is the kind of salad you would order with a crisp glass of white, or one of Au Parc’s fresh, cleansing fruit juices.
Salad: In Love With the Coconut
Ingredients: bean sprouts, tomatoes, shredded carrots, cucumber, lettuce and citrus ricotta, in a chilli toasted coconut and lime dressing.
This salad and juice bar sits like an oasis of health in the middle of downtown District 1. It’s known around the city for its juices and smoothies, and given the coconut kale smoothie on its menu this is not surprising. Put cashews, coconut and honey together, and you guarantee business. But the salads here are less well-known, and perhaps that is because of the range.
One of four salads, In Love With the Coconut is a simple blend of colourful, raw vegetables and fresh citrus ricotta. None of the salads at Guanabana are 100 percent vegan but they manage to stand alone without their non-vegan ingredient. If you ask for a veganized version at the bar, the staff will create an altered salad from scratch.
This salad is a bundle of vitamins. It is artistically arranged in its clear, plastic container with the dressing on the side. As you take a bite, you notice that each ingredient to the salad complements the next. The subtle crunch of red bell pepper next to fresh, green lettuce and the burst of a cherry tomato all provide a rich texture to the hero of the dish — the toasted coconut and lime dressing.
The dressing itself could even be drunk, if not as a smoothie then as a strange sort of soup. In fact, we find it hard not to down it in one and restrict ourselves to dipping our forks into it at intervals. The salad may not fill you up for a long time, being mainly vegetables and dressing, but it does satisfy the taste buds.
Salad: Artichoke Salad
Ingredients: baby carrots, sundried tomatoes, artichoke heart, and red, green and yellow bell pepper, with vinaigrette, lemongrass and ginger on the side.
This island of peace and quiet is one of Saigon’s more up-market dining experiences. It caters to a range of dietary preferences, with a number of vegan dishes on its menu. Set back from the street behind a high-walled walkway, Hum is all about top service in attractive, harmonious surroundings. Little private puddles of water lilies line its entrance, with bright red fish darting between the fronds.
There are a number of salads to choose from on the Hum menu and our personal favourite is the Artichoke Salad. This unusual mix of artichoke heart, bell pepper, baby carrots and sundried tomatoes sits in the middle of a ring of artichoke leaves. They lie around the salad like petals to a flower, and look good enough to eat.
The salad tastes slightly smokey. The artichoke heart works well with the tangy sundried tomatoes and the delicate crunch of the bell pepper. Three types of pepper are used — yellow, green and red — creating a colourful base to the otherwise monochrome dish. This salad is not raw, but seems to have been lightly stir-fried before serving.
The plate is served with a sweet, citrusy dressing on the side, which changes the flavour base of the salad from subtle and wholesome to tangy and light. The ginger and lemongrass both appear to have been stored in some kind of neutralising liquid. They have a rounder, more palatable taste, and they bring an extra fragrance to the dish.
Salad: Quinoa Salad
Ingredients: quinoa, coriander, mango, black beans, corn kernels, bell pepper and turmeric, with a honey vinaigrette.
Walking into Prem is like stepping into a Nepali guesthouse. It lies at the end of a quiet hem, tucked behind lush pot plants and opening right onto the concrete with doors wide open. The lighting here is soft and the general vibe is peaceful, near meditative. The Prem menu is a mix of Indian, Nepali, Vietnamese and fusion cuisine, written on yellowed paper inside a handmade book. Each menu cover is different.
The Prem Quinoa Salad has a sweet taste, based as it is on ripe, fruity mango, dotted with sweet corn kernels and tiny pieces of bell pepper. The flavours blend well together, but without the tart, honey dressing this salad would be too sugary to our taste. A careful, homemade concoction of oil, balsamic vinegar and honey, balanced to create a slightly fragrant tang, the honey vinaigrette is served in a small bowl on the side and can be added to taste.
This salad is not too heavy, making it ideal for a light and yet wholesome lunch. Served in a beautiful bowl next to a handmade cutlery container and on a light, hessian table runner, it is lovely to look at and delicious to taste.
Salad: Vegan Broccoli Raisin Salad
Ingredients: Romaine lettuce, broccolini, red onion, raisin and vegan cheese, served with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
GreenS gets most of its business as a takeaway service, sending fresh-packed salads around the city. It has two outlets, one in a quiet District 1 back alley and the other in the centre of Thao Dien, District 2. Their District 2 outlet is to be renovated this November as GreenS develops the sit-down side of their business model. At the moment, the key appeal of this salad bar is their food not their location. They keep it simple and rustic, prices are low and the ingredients used are well balanced.
There are three vegan salads on offer, but most other dishes can be veganized by removing a single ingredient. Like Guanabana, GreenS bases its salads on a lot of fresh, crisp lettuce and other vegetables. The Broccoli Raisin Salad is a simple, light mix of greens and red onion, lifted by the star ingredients — vegan cheese and raisins. It is not the kind of dish that would stay with you for long, based as it is on lettuce, but it would be a great option for a light lunch or a snack.
The raisins work well with the red onion and add a slight sweetness to the salad, while the cheese provides a bit of a tang, balancing the palate. The dressing is oily, but it has been arranged with the balsamic at the bottom so you can choose how much oil you want before mixing the two together. Perhaps some pine nuts would be a positive addition to this otherwise tasty salad.
Salad: Black Bean Tostada
Ingredients: Black beans, lettuce, corn, jalapeno, black olives and guacamole, with a homemade salsa of tomato, onion, cilantro and lime, dressed in a citrusy vinaigrette and served in a homemade tortilla bowl.
Sitting on the Saigon River with the kind of view that would make you want to set up home right where you sit, The Boat House takes gold for location. The restaurant has added three new vegan salad items to what was already a vegan-friendly menu, developing fresh ideas and altering some of their house favourites.
Of all the options on the menu, the Black Bean Tostada is the most exciting — more like a Mexican feast than a light, healthy salad, despite its lettuce base. Served with three bottled hot sauces and a bowl of delicious chipotle salsa made on site, this salad sits cupped by a freshly baked tortilla, on a base of homemade Mexican black beans.
A mound of lightly dressed iceberg lettuce is lain on top of the beans, bouncy and fresh, and a cluster of diced tomato, red onion, corn kernels, black olives and spicy jalapeno is scattered over it. The hot sauces bring spice to the salad, while the homemade salsa is more sweet than spicy. It tastes fresh, thirst-quenching even, and works well with the crisp tortilla bread.
On top of the salad lies a garnish of homemade guacamole, which adds a creamy texture to the otherwise light, crunchy salad. Jeff, Boat House’s manager, says that this garnish and the salad dressing were designed with vegan customers in mind.