Vietnamese cuisine emphasizes fresh, vibrant ingredients like herbs, vegetables, rice, meat and seafood. For those avoiding gluten, Vietnamese food provides flavorful options using naturally gluten free ingredients. However, with dishes like pho and banh mi so iconic to Vietnamese food, you may wonder how to enjoy this cuisine if you are gluten free.
The key is knowing what to look for and how to navigate restaurants and street food stalls. With some simple substitutions and an awareness of common culprits like soy sauce, you can indulge in delicious Vietnamese dishes without gluten. Read on for a guide to eating gluten free Vietnamese food.
What Contains Gluten in Vietnamese Cooking?
Some of the most common ingredients and staples of Vietnamese cooking do contain gluten or have an added risk of cross-contamination. Here are some of the top ingredients and products to watch out for:
- Soy sauce – Regular soy sauce contains wheat. Use tamari or coconut aminos instead.
- Fish sauce – May have gluten from wheat or barley. Opt for brands that state “gluten free” on the label.
- Hoisin sauce – Often contains wheat. Make your own from gluten free ingredients or buy a certified gluten free brand.
- Noodles – Wheat noodles like pho noodles or instant ramen contain gluten. Substitute with 100% rice noodles.
- Wrappers – Spring roll wrappers and dumpling skins with wheat flour are not gluten free. Use rice paper or lettuce wraps instead.
- Wheat flour – Found in batters for fried foods. Swap with rice flour, tapioca flour or almond flour.
- Oyster sauce – May have wheat flour added. Check labels carefully or avoid.
- Bread – Banh mi sandwiches are typically served on French baguettes loaded with gluten. Customize with gluten free bread or wrapped in lettuce.
Gluten may also lurk in broths, marinades, stir fry sauces and condiments. When in doubt, ask if a dish contains any wheat, barley or malt ingredients.
Gluten Free Versions of Vietnamese Noodle Soups
Slurping a steaming bowl noodle soup is a favorite pastime in Vietnam. Thankfully, rice noodles make popular soups like pho and bun gluten free.
Pho – This classic beef or chicken noodle soup is typically made with wheat noodles. Request rice noodles instead along with gluten free additions like basil, bean sprouts, lime and chili sauce. Ensure the broth is gluten free.
Bun – These vermicelli noodle bowls, like bun cha or bun rieu, also use wheat noodles traditionally. Swap for rice vermicelli and double check soup bases.
Canh – Light veggie soups are usually gluten free but examine broth ingredients.
Hu Tieu – A pork and seafood soup with rice noodles. Goes down easy without gluten.
Gluten Free Vietnamese Appetizers
Vietnamese appetizers centered around fresh components like herbs, veggies and rice papers offer bright gluten free beginnings to meals:
Spring Rolls – Swap wheat wrappers with rice paper and make sure the dipping sauce is gluten free.
Summer Rolls – Fresh fillings wrapped in rice paper make these naturally gluten free.
Salads – Vietnamese salads like goi ga or goi du du are free of gluten worries.
Banh Xeo – The Vietnamese crepe can be made gluten free by using rice flour in place of wheat flour.
Main Dishes Without Gluten
Beyond pho and banh mi, there are many Vietnamese entrees that can be prepared gluten free:
Banh Mi – While traditional banh mi is served on a baguette, you can order it with gluten free bread or wrapped in lettuce instead.
Bun Cha – Swap wheat noodles for rice vermicelli in this grill pork and noodle dish.
Com Tam – Broken rice topped with grilled meats is a gluten free alternative to pho.
Banh Khot – These bite-sized rice flour pancakes with shrimp make an awesome gluten free appetizer.
Bo Luc Lac – Cubed steak stir fried with veggies and served over rice is naturally gluten free.
Desserts and Drinks Without Gluten
Don’t miss out on sweets! Vietnamese desserts rely on ingredients like fruits, rice, tapioca and coconut milk. Beverages center around tea, coffee and fresh fruit juices.
Che – Sweet soupy desserts are based on tapioca, coconut milk and fruits like mung beans or lotus seeds.
Sinh To – Refreshing fruit smoothies made from fresh produce.
Chuoi Nep Cam – Banana fritters with a rice flour coating.
Coffee – Vietnamese coffee (ca phe) contains no gluten. Enjoy with coconut milk for a dairy free option.
Tea – Vietnamese tea (tra) is a wonderful gluten free drink choice.
Beer – Check labels for gluten ingredients like barley before imbibing.
Rice Wine – Liquor like ruou and rượu đế are distilled from rice and bottled without gluten.
Tips for Navigating Vietnam Gluten Free
Eating at restaurants in Vietnam poses a greater risk of cross contamination with soy sauce, fish sauce and other problem ingredients. Here are some tips to stay gluten free:
- Seek out street food vendors with made to order dishes.
- Use Google Translate app to ask about gluten ingredients.
- Confirm dishes are completely gluten free, even if they seem safe.
- Ask to speak with the chef about preparing gluten free meals.
- Stay at homestays where hosts can assist with gluten free meals.
- Bring a gluten free “cheat sheet” to show ingredients to avoid.
- Travel with some emergency gluten free snacks like dried fruits or nuts.
While Vietnamese cuisine has its gluten pitfalls, you can indulge in most dishes with care and preparation. Focus on fresh ingredients like herbs, vegetables, fruits and proteins prepared in traditional ways without wheat. With the right modifications and precautions, Vietnam offers an amazing gluten free food destination.
Vietnamese cuisine offers bright, fresh flavors for those eating gluten free. With its emphasis on herbs, veggies, rice, meat and seafood, you can enjoy most dishes with some simple substitutions like swapping wheat noodles for rice noodles.
Be diligent about checking labels and asking questions when dining out. Inform your server about your dietary needs. With an awareness of ingredients like soy sauce, hoisin and wheat flour, you can indulge in Vietnamese food without gluten.
Exploring the Vietnamese kitchen gluten free opens up an amazing world of noodle soups, spring rolls, banh mi sandwiches and more. As gluten free diets become more mainstream, options will continue expanding. Already, many vendors are accommodating requests for adjustments to traditional dishes. With some preparation and research, Vietnam serves up incredible gluten free flavors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some tips for eating gluten free in Vietnam?
Some tips include: seek out street food vendors who make dishes fresh, use Google Translate to ask about ingredients, confirm dishes are gluten free, speak with the chef about gluten free options, stay at homestays where hosts can assist with gluten free meals, and bring a “cheat sheet” listing gluten ingredients to avoid.
What Vietnamese dishes are naturally gluten free?
Many Vietnamese dishes focus on fresh ingredients that are naturally gluten free like grilled meats with vegetables, salads, rice dishes, pho and bun with rice noodles instead of wheat, summer rolls with rice paper, and desserts made with fruits, coconut milk and tapioca.
What substitutions can make Vietnamese food gluten free?
Substitutions include using fish sauce and soy sauce that is labeled “gluten free,” replacing wheat noodles with rice noodles, using rice paper instead of wheat-based wrappers, and swapping wheat flour for rice flour, tapioca flour or almond flour in dishes like banh xeo crepes.
What food ingredients contain gluten in Vietnamese cooking?
Common sources of gluten include soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, wheat noodles, wheat flour, oyster sauce, and breads. Always check labels and with restaurants on ingredients and preparation methods.
Can I eat banh mi sandwiches on a gluten free diet?
Traditional banh mi are made on baguette bread that contains gluten. However, you can order banh mi made with gluten free bread or wrapped in lettuce leaves instead of bread to enjoy the fillings gluten free.