The new Uu Dam Chay restaurant, however, will meet the wishes of even the most pure-minded vegans. Everything is 100 percent animal product-free, offering a slice of reprieve for the non-meat inclined.
Located in an airy French-era colonial mansion with a post-modern makeover, the restaurant hopes to spearhead a trend toward veganism in Vietnam, according to owner Do Thu Ha.
“With these home-raised vegetables and ingredients, maybe I can make them into great vegan cuisine,” she said.
Ha said she was drawn towards vegetarianism after spending time in the nation’s Buddhist pagodas.
“When I was there, I discovered that the food in the pagodas among the monks is quite delicious,” she said, referring to the vegetarianism observed in the monkhood.
While it’s a misnomer to equate Buddhism with vegetarianism — most Buddhists around the world do eat meat — the Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Vietnam forbids meat for monks (the same can’t be said elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where Theravada Buddhist monks may be obliged to eat meat offered as alms).
Using the monks’ recipes as a starting point, Ha took their vegetarianism one step further and created a 100 percent vegan menu.
Food with Flair
The menu walks a tightrope between offering vegan dishes while also appealing to the aesthetics of meat lovers.
“I appreciated the deliciousness of some of the meat,” says Ha of her meat-eating days, adding that she tried to adapt meat dishes without copying them.
The Uu Dam Hot Pot (VND325,000), for instance, provides a plate of tofu in place of beef or chicken to be cooked in a veggie broth. The guso seaweed salad (VND135,000) provides mineral rich, multi-coloured strains of seaweed that invokes sashimi on the plate. And the pine nut soup (VND95,000), served with freshly baked bread, somehow invokes the creamy wholesomeness of tomato soup with cream.
The prize for most innovative item on the menu ought to be the durian pizza (VND185,000). While it won’t win over the king of fruit’s most avid haters, the meat-like consistency and pungent flavour lends itself well to high-temperature baking.
A New Trend?
Ha says that veganism isn’t taking off in Vietnam just yet. She even still eats meat herself for social functions despite an otherwise meatless lifestyle, she admits.
But in a country where consumers are becoming wary of chemical-laced meat and fish in the wake of high-profile news stories of contamination, she has hopes that her brand of organic meatlessness will catch on.
“We are one of the trendsetters,” she says.
Uu Dam Chay is at 34 Hang Bai, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Photos by Julie Vola