I was a bit nervous if I would be able to find gluten free in Vietnam. I did not find too many resources on-line, because I always do my homework. Nonetheless, I saw and I conquered Vietnam and I was successful. I will tell you how to navigate the food scene in Vietnam, so you can do it too.
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I am making a list of awesome gluten free restaurants as I travel the globe. For my list, see my resources page.
Common Mistakes When Travelling
When the western style restaurants offer burgers, fries and pizza, they will not be the best option for you. You can imagine the cross contamination nightmare in these kitchens. Getting outside of your comfort zone and trying the local cuisine is the best thing you can do. A big mistake I see is that people are drawn to places that they recognize.
Where Did I Look I Went to Vietnam
Based on my research of Vietnamese cuisine before I went, it was possible to find some food from traditional restaurants as they tended to use rice noodles and soy sauces which were naturally gluten free in the south of Vietnam. The north of Vietnam may use soy sauce with wheat in it but the south used a mix of sauces, some naturally gluten free and some not.
As I mentioned above, another problem is that many places try to appeal to Westerners and as such, have added bread, burgers, and other gluten filled products onto their menus. Ultimately this adds to the possibility of cross-contact in their kitchens. Not to mention that some areas like the northern parts are influenced by China where the wheat filled soy sauce is prevalent.
As always, you should always travel with your celiac card in the other language. The one I downloaded and printed was this celiac gluten free restaurant card for Vietnam. It is a good idea to have multiple print outs just in case one gets left at a restaurant or so you can have them in different bags for all different scenarios.
Vietnamese Gluten Food Phrases
Wheat – lúa mì
Barley – lúa mạch
Rye- lúa mạch đen
Hydrolyzed wheat protein – protein lua mi
Egg noodles with wheat – nui
Bread – banh mi
It is great to know these Vietnamese phrases because they are what you need to avoid. Wi-fi is literally everywhere in Vietnam and most restaurants have free Wi-fi. All you need to do, is use google translate and you should be able to communicate with the servers at the local restaurants.
As mentioned above, you should also have your Celiac card with you at all times. We were in Vietnam for a month and since we did not have a data plan from back home, we found a tourist SIM card. We paid $32 CAD for 5 gigabytes of 4G and unlimited data at the lower level. This was not bad at all and it might even be worth it to just use the tourist SIM card if your package at home is going to be more expensive than this.
The currency used in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong. Looking at the recent exchange rate you will receive 100,000 VND for $5.81 CAD or $4.38 USD. It always feels good to have such big bills in your wallet.
There were plenty of times I mistook a 10,000 VND bill for a 100,000 VND bill and almost overpaid for things. While I was lucky and the person told me right away, you may not be so lucky.
Funny story for you about us not being able to get any other currency at Vietnam banks. We tried at three banks and they told us they do not give other currencies. We were needing to get some USD for our next lag and we had to get it at a gold store. You heard me right, we took VND to gold stores and exchanged it for USD. It was super entertaining, and we had never heard of this prior to going. The first gold store employees told us they did not provide an exchange and then when we were leaving tried to get us to exchange our money with them.
Map of Vietnam
How to Travel Gluten Free in Vietnam
1.) Keeping Your Surroundings in Mind
The understanding of celiac disease is not very high in the country. I did not find people understood what it was in general or in the service industry. You will have to get comfortable with not being able to have an in-depth conversation with people at restaurants about celiac disease.
This is where your good old cooking skills come in handy. Once you can make quite meals at home and make big batches of your favourite foods you will be set. You can spend less time in the kitchen and eat healthy food.
While there is less prevalence of celiac in the Vietnamese population, there are some benefits to their traditional cuisine, for more, keep reading to find out.
2.) Packing Your Celiac Suitcase
Like I mentioned, you should print out the celiac card in Vietnamese so that you can show it at any restaurants.
You should also pack some snacks in your suitcase. It might be a few loaves of bread, some crackers or granola bars. Having those extra items will help you out, especially on shorter trips. If you are spending more time in one spot like me, then you will have to explore the supermarkets. I am always surprised at the different products that I find.
There are a ton of other things that you may want to consider packing for a big adventure. For a list of packing items, check out this Vietnam Packing List of Essential items.
3.) Travelling to Vietnam
We flew from Thailand to Vietnam on Air Asia. I packed a meal for the flight and happily ate it on the flight even though there were signs everywhere stating that I could not bring outside food onto the plane.
Check out this post for my experience with Gluten Free on Air Asia.
Finding the best flight option will be your next item to complete. Use Kiwi.com to see what flights are going to be the best fit for you.
Always confirm a gluten free meal and pack a back-up meal.
The driving in Vietnam is crazy! Cross walks mean nothing and you will have to strategically get across the streets in Vietnam. Our first night in Da Nang, we almost gave up getting across a busy street. Then, two Russian ladies helped us get across. You have to enter and dodge the cars and scooters. We did get better at this and have learned how to get across the busiest of streets and learned a new skill!
4.) Be a Cook in Your Own Kitchen
After your flight is booked then you can start figuring out where you are going to stay. Like I mentioned, the driving is pretty hectic, so we did not want to drive much. We chose a central spot that was close to our daily activities.
It will be a great find if you can actually find a place with an oven, because they don’t use it much in Vietnam. Although, having a stove top and microwave are typically included in the kitchen. Find something in the area you want to be in and message the hosts to double check all the kitchen appliances included if it is not clear from the website.
We even had success with asking them to add a few extra pots and pans. They are people pleasers, so they wil do their best to accomodate you.
5.) Shopping for Food From Locals
We were a 10 minute walk from a huge local market where they sold everything you can imagine. Every city will offer extensive fresh fruits and vegetables in their local markets.
You can really explore the local culture by shopping where locals shop. I think we were over-charged a little bit compared to others. We still thought the prices were fairly low for the amount of fresh produce that we were getting.
The different fruits were amazing and I tried everything that I had never seen before. The one caution would be the bamboo shoots. They have high levels of arsenic, so stay away from trying that.
For meats, I only purchased fresh fish, because I was a little scared about the hygiene of the other meat counters. Maybe you will be more adventurous than me.
They even had seamstresses there to make you clothing. You could walk away with custom pieces of clothing and your food for the next few days. I always loved our market adventures.
What Kind of Gluten Free Food is in Vietnam?
Shopping at Vietnam Supermarkets
We purchased meat at the supermarkets because I was not adventurous enough to buy it at the local markets. I also like to snack on junk food and I am a coffee addict, so we would frequent the supermarket to get these basic items. I used my trusty Nima Gluten Sensor to test food products to see if there was gluten in them. See below for the products that I tested that you can eat while you are there.
Do Rice Noodles have Gluten?
Rice noodles, as indicated in the name are made from rice, not anything else. If you are eating gluten free you can safely eat rice noodles. Back home, I was eating rice noodles all the time and they have a lot of these noodles in Vietnam, so you can definitely indulge while you are here.
Get the Best Gluten Free Travel Guide and More….
- Whether you are newly diagnosed or just need travel tips from someone who has done it before, Discover the Best Way to Travel Gluten Free.
- 55 colored pages packed with personal recommendations and tips.
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Get the Best Gluten Free Travel Guide and More….
- Discover the Best Way to Travel Gluten Free.
- 55 colored pages.
- Invaluable resources.
- Fillable worksheets.
- Spanish AND French celiac restaurant cards.
Is Pho Gluten Free?
You will see ‘pho’ everywhere in Vietnam and you will wonder – does pho have gluten? The answer is no, it is purely made from rice. Pho will arrive to you in a soup and you will have the option to add sauces to add flavour. While the pho itself you will be able to eat, you will obviously have to pay attention to the sauces.
I had pho all the time while I was in Vietnam, it was literally one of my favourites. Some foodies would say that Vietnamese food is quite bland, and it is lacking in huge amounts of flavour. Vietnamese allow each person to add the flavour through sauces. This is a good thing for people with celiac, because it is usually the sauces that are the culprit.
Gluten Free Fish Sauce
Is fish sauce gluten free? It can be annoying, but if depends. You will always have to read the ingredient lists, because you never know what food manufacturers are putting into products these days. Especially when starting out with a celiac diagnosis. When you actually start reading the labels, you find out that gluten is in many products. You also start understanding all the ingredients manufactures put into food.
In the restaurants that I was frequenting, they were using the Lee Kum Kee Panda Brand. This fish sauce is gluten free and I was able to look it up online. The other sauces that restaurants had was the Squid Brand which was also gluten free.
Gluten Free Vietnamese Food
Before travelling to a new country, you will wonder – is Vietnamese food gluten free? I was happy to find some restaurants that I could successfully eat at and where traditional Vietnamese food was gluten free. To get a great list of questions to ask about gluten free at restaurants, click on the link.
If you can find a local who can dine with you and help you navigate the restaurant scene in your area that would be ideal. Once you had educated them, you can take them out with you and find a traditional restaurant that you can build a relationship with, so you can eat out safely in Vietnam. Celiac people are the most loyal customers, once we know about a place we can eat at, we go there all of the time.
|Summer rolls – goi cuon|
Pho soup (rice noodles) – pho
Bun (also rice noodles) – bun
Gluten Free Travelling & Products
6.) Gluten Free Products in Vietnam - Testing for Gluten
I did find some gluten free products in Vietnam. I was excited about it and wanted to share them with you, so you can try them too if you are ever in Vietnam. These products were tested with my Nima Gluten Sensor, which allows me to test food for gluten prior to ingesting them. This helps me from getting sick.The gluten tester helped me immensely and I am 110% happy that I made the purchase prior to traveling.
I always need that snack food between meals and on outings for the day, so I try to find out what items that I can purchase at a grocery store. I feel more comfortable being able to be in control of what I am eating and not solely relying on a restaurant to cook for me. It is very important for me to have food independence and find food products that I can eat.
Looking For Adventure?
7.) My Favourite Gluten Free Restaurant in Vietnam
I frequented one restaurant almost every second day while in Da Nang, Vietnam. I loved the service and the food, so I must recommend it to you.
Final notes about Eating Gluten Free in Vietnam
I was two months into my travels in Southeast Asia and I was having less anxiety about being able to find gluten free food that I could eat. I went completely out of my comfort zone and it helped me be more flexible and have less anxiety. I faced my fears here and it paid off. This was a milestone for me and it taught me that with practice and an open mind, that I can get better at this. I CAN travel and follow my dreams without evil gluten holding me back. I share these stories as I know there are others out there who are wanting to travel and have major anxiety about doing so. I am passionate about sharing my story to encourage others.
Depending where you are going to be visit, I may be able to give you awesome guides:
While my husband had traveller’s diarrhea, I did not. I found a new benefit of having celiac, which was me staying healthy for the whole trip.
Where is your next adventure going to take you? I have been all over the globe and may be able to help you out. Subscribe to my newsletter and stay in the loop.
If you are looking to learn more about Vietnam before you go, I can recommend these books to you for a deeper dive:
Cheers, I hope you enjoyed my lovely trek,
Brett – The Ultimate Gluten Free Traveller