Vietnam is paradise for coeliacs as almost everything is made from rice! If you haven’t tried Vietnamese food before, you are in for a treat.
I have been a coeliac since birth so have to keep to a strict gluten-free diet. Vietnam was one of the best countries I have visited to find naturally gluten-free dishes. Even the spring rolls are made from rice paper!
But, as always, better safe than sorry, so check with the chef first before ordering any of these dishes as recipes vary and it’s always best to alert them to a food intolerance.
Here are some of the delicious meals that I tried while travelling around Vietnam.
Gỏi Cuốn (Spring Rolls) – main picture
Fresh spring (or summer) rolls contain vermicelli noodles, shrimp or chicken, mouth-watering herbs and lettuce. Served cold with a thin honey sauce, they make a great appetiser or lunch.
In Vietnam, unlike a lot of South-East Asian countries, fried spring rolls are made from rice paper and are therefore a safe(-ish) option for coeliacs. Of course, you can’t prevent cross contamination from the fryer so proceed with caution. Fresh spring rolls (which aren’t fried) are a safer option.
Phô Bo or Phô Ga
Slivers of beef (bo) or chicken (ga) and rice noodles nestle in a large bowl of broth, flavoured with chilli, fresh coriander, mint and spring onions. Phô is the ultimate comfort food and can be found all over Hanoi. It is also pretty cheap and filling, making it ideal for travellers on a budget.
Traditionally, phô is a breakfast dish and although you can usually find it still being served at dinner time in tourist areas, it’s better to eat it earlier in the day.
Xôi đùi gà nưóʾng
Steamed glutinous rice with grilled chicken thighs. Mine was served with pickled cucumber.
A speciality of Hanoi, but found elsewhere in the country as well, Bun Cha comprises grilled and minced pork served in a flavoursome broth with rice noodles and salad leaves. The broth – a delightful blend of sweet and sour – gently cooks the noodles.
A speciality of Huế. Barbequed pork served on lemongrass skewers and served with rice papers and salad and a peanut sauce. You wrap the pork and salad into a roll and then dip into the peanut sauce.
Bánh Khoai (also called Bánh Xèo)
Rice flour crepe stuffed with shrimp, pork and beansprouts, served with a hoisin-based dipping sauce, lettuce, cucumber and various herbs and salad leaves.
Another speciality of Huế. The crepe is extra crispy due to sugar and carbonated water in the batter.
A similar dish can be found elsewhere – called ‘Country Pancake’. In Hoi An, they serve it with rice paper to roll up the pancakes (and will stand over you until you do it correctly!).
A speciality of Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, these are rice flour dumplings (similar to dim sum) with shrimp and pork.
Chicken rice. As simple as it comes. The rice is boiled in chicken stock to add flavour. Shredded chicken is then placed on top. The result is a little dry and bland but not a bad option for days when you want something plain and simple.
Fried rice and stir fries
You can find fried rice and stir fries on every menu. You can’t always guarantee it won’t contain soy sauce, unless you specify first, but it used less in Vietnam than elsewhere in South-East Asia, and usually just served as an accompaniment. You will find the fried rice and stir fries are quite bland with herbs adding some flavour if you’re lucky.
Around the coastal areas you will find delicious seafood, often cooked on a BBQ in front of you (in some places you can even cook it yourself). There is a relatively low risk of cross-contamination from the barbeque and, served with rice and a bit of salad, it is deliciously gluten-free! Watch out for any sauces. This red snapper came with a delicious passionfruit sauce.
A less spicy version than its Thai counterpart, Vietnamese curry still uses coconut milk and is a relatively safe option for coeliacs. Often served with chillies on the side so you can heat it to your liking.
Bánh ống lá dứa
We found this tasty snack in the night market in Da Lat. Rice, coconut and sugar is steamed and wrapped around salty peanuts for a pleasant sweet and salty combination. The roll is wrapped in rice paper and served warm. At 7,000 VND per roll (23p), they were a bargain!
Cà Phê Trung (Egg Coffee)
So rich and sweet, it may as well be a dessert, egg coffee is a must try. Don’t be put off by the idea of eggs in coffee, it’s nothing like the scrambled eggs curdled in coffee that you might be imagining. Egg yolks are whipped with sugar and condensed milk to make a thick foam which sits on the top of the coffee. The result is a gorgeous drink with a combined sugar and caffeine hit which will sustain you as you pound the city streets. Coconut coffee (made with coconut milk) is also delicious (just don’t think about the calories!).