|More options: A vegetarian dish at the Shang Palace Restaurant in HCM City. — VNS File Photo
HCM CITY (VNS) — During the Vu Lan season this month, which takes place during the seventh lunar month, many Vietnamese visit vegetarian restaurants, not to purify their Buddhist souls but to escape urban pollution and noise.
Previously, vegetarian food shops and restaurants opened near pagodas in HCM City and most of the main cooks were Buddhist nuns. Today, they now exist throughout the city and attract investment from businesspeople and individuals.
At Huu Loi Vegetarian Restaurant in Thi Nghe Market in Binh Thanh District, more than a half of its customers are young people.
The restaurant offers more than 20 different dishes at reasonable prices, only VND15,000-18,000 (7-8 US cents) per dish.
Nguyen Thi My Van, 25, a sales executive at a tourist agency, said she first only wanted a change in her usual diet of meat two years ago, but now she has found the cuisine to be her liking and visits the Huu Loi two or three times a week.
"My mom and I are eating vegetarian food during this Vu Lan month," she said.
Van sometimes invites her boyfriend, a French businessman, to visit the Huu Loi. "He enjoyed delicious non-meat meals and ‘vegetarian beer', of course, made from wheat without fermentation," she added.
According to vegetarian Nguyen Thi Kieu Oanh, a vendor who sells vegetarian food on District 3's Ly Chinh Thang Street, unlike before, when steamed glutinous rice was the only dish on the menu for vegetarian meals, there are many options, including vegetarian fried noodle, bread, dumplings, bi chay (rolls with vermicelli and shredded crispy mock pork) and goi cuon (spring rolls with vermicelli and mock shrimp).
"Vegetarian fried noodles at only from VND7,000 to 10,000 is my best-seller," she said.
Dozens of women like Oanh are selling vegetarian food in the mornings at mobile vendors along streets.
Along Su Van Hanh Street in District 10, Vuon Chuoi Street in District 3 and Quang Trung Street in Go Vap District, many small vegetarian pavement stalls stand side by side for customers to choose from.
Hu tieu (noodles with mushroom, tofu, carrot and white cabbage) is the popular favourite sold at these stalls.
Each vegetarian food shop or restaurant brings their own style with a menu displaying around 10 to 30 different dishes per day.
If vegetarians want to enjoy a buffet, they can go to luxury restaurants and hotels around the city, which are often served customers on the first day and the 15th day of each month of the lunar calendar.
The menu for a vegetarian buffet here is as varied as any non-vegetarian one, with 35-40 dishes per day, and priced between VND300,000 and 700,000 per person.
To meet increasing demands for non-meat meals during the Vu Lan festival, supermarkets such as Maximark and Co.op Mart have offered more than 300 products of vegetarian food.
Many non-vegetarian shops and restaurants also add vegetarian dishes to their menu whereas some new vegetarian pavement stalls and shops appear.
"It's quite easy for me to find a restaurant serving vegetarian food during this month," says Tran Huy Hung, a teacher at a primary school in Tan Phu District.
"So, I can go veggie anytime I feel like it."
Hung said that he loves vegetarian food which began as a family tradition during the lunar July. "I eat veg food for health reasons, not religious ones, like my parents."
"You will feel lots of refreshment; your mind will be kind of light and flowing. Vegetarian fare helps you relieve fatigue and get sound sleep," he said. — VNS