It’s quite difficult being vegetarian out here. Not because there isn’t vegetarian food available, there is plenty of it. It’s just knowing where to find it and how to ask for it. Even if you find someone that understands ‘no meat’, you’ll be offered seafood. Another reason is that we don’t really know what half the food is, you have to guess by looking and it’s difficult to question. Now, this is entirely my fault, because I haven’t learn how to say ‘vegetarian’ yet. But generally if you say ‘only vegetables’ people understand.
Up until this week I’d been living on rice and vegetables, combined with the daily ‘bahn mi’. These are essentially baguettes sold from little carts on the street sides. I always have egg and cheese. The lady whips out a portable gas stove, makes an omelette, spreads some dairyleigh cheese on the roll and bungs it together with soy sauce and then sprinkles some unknown peppery looking stuff on it, which I’m pretty sure is MSG. This tasty food chemical is banned in the UK, it’s one of the most delicious additives and the food here is full of it. Probably the reason it tastes so damn good!
This week however my Vietnamese friend took me to a restaurant just around the corner from my house. It’s a messy looking place, full of cheap metal benches and the usual tiny plastic chairs. The food was arranged in metal trays like a school canteen. “What do you want?” my friend asked. I glanced over the meaty trays, feeling a bit queasy. “Err I’ll just have some tofu”. “You always have tofu” she exclaimed, “try something different! There’s beijing Duck, chicken, fish!” I turned to her, frustrated and slightly annoyed she’d bought me here and forgotten “I’m vegetarian remember, I can’t eat half of this”. “Err I know” she replied “everything here is vegetarian!”. I looked at the food again, more closely this time, and sure enough upon closer inspection I realised it was all ‘fake’. Fake sausages, fish, chicken, an endless variety of different shapes, colours and flavours. I think it’s all made with soya, vegetables and flavourings. We got a huge selection and sat down to eat, her forcing me as usual to use chopsticks. It genuinely tasted delicious, like a better, Asian style quorn! It was so good, so chewy and flavoursome that there was a part of me worried that she was tricking me into eating meat. These fears were dispelled however when a group of monks came in to eat. They wouldn’t eat meat so it must be ok!
Since this fateful afternoon, I have been back every single day. They do take away too so I can get my dinner there after work. Each huge meal, including rice, a variety of different things and a drink cost me 30,000 dong which is £1. I never know what I’m eating, I just point and she puts it on my plate. The meals are so tasty and filling. I’m usually the only westerner in there which I also like (despite the pointing and giggling). I really hate feeling like another tourist!
I went back today with four friends who aren’t vegetarian but agreed to try it. Even they loved it. The best part was, at the end when we came to pay, she pointed to the other three and said ‘3o thousand for you’ and then pointed to me and said ‘ but 25,00 for you!’ and smiled at me. I think she recognised that I’d been in every day and was rewarding my loyalty and thanking me for bringing my friends! Veggie friends!