Hold the meat: Saigon veggie market takes root for Parents’ Festival

By Pham Van   August 20, 2016 | 09:28 am GMT+7

Where nothing costs you more than $1.

The 15th day of the 7th month on the lunar calender is the day Vietnamese celebrate Vu Lan, the Parents’ Festival. As the festival is of Buddhist origin, people opt for vegetarian offerings following a time-honored Buddhist discipline: no killing. Even non-buddhists choose to go vegetarian for the day as a mark of respect.

Let VnExpress guide you through a food bazaar in Saigon - without the meat.

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Just off Hong Bang Street in District 11 lies a makeshift food stall. 30 years ago, Huyen, a female vendor, chose this alley near a host of pagodas to open her vegetarian noodle cart, giving birth to a whole bazaar that focuses exclusively on vegetarian gastronomy.

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Vegetarian food, to many Vietnamese, is not so different from Italian food or French food, no more than a somewhat exotic experience off the habitual meaty diet.

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Sharing the lunar calendar brings people together. The vegetarian bazaar does extra business on the first and 15th days of every lunar month, and reaches its peak during important occasions like the 15th day of the seventh month; the Parents’ Festival.

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Food stalls here are squashed together to make full use of the unauthorized space. All prices are advertised, reaching a maximum VND15,000. For your information, $1 is around VND22,000 - for the time being. However, no matter how low the price, what mainly draws eaters here remains the quality of food.

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Vegetarian “sausage” (‘gio’, ‘cha’) made from soy beans. The original is often finely hand-ground meat, seasoned with spices and fish sauce, tightly wrapped in a banana leaf, boiled or steamed.

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The broth used in vegetarian dishes doesn’t acquire its sweetness from bones and marrow, it's horseradish.

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Fried rice is among the dishes that can be effortlessly turned vegetarian thanks to its cocktail-like nature: mix things up. Leave the meat out and you have vegetarian fried rice.

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Rice with various sauteed vegetables

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Fried noodles lend a crunchiness to those who love snacks.

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Fried dried tofu, a favorite side dish for anyone who has a chance to try hotpot in Vietnam.

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Fresh vegetables, the main ingredients in almost all vegetarian dishes.

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Vegetarian noodles sell for VND15,000.

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Spicy Thai noodles are also priced at VND15,000.

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Beef noodles without the cow is also a soup of choice.

Ngày Vu Lan, ghé chợ đồ chay chỉ 15.000 đồng ở Sài Gòn

Fresh spring rolls are ever-fresher with ‘bun’ (sour rice noodle), bean sprouts, sour fruits and herbs wrapped in ‘banh trang’ (dried thin rice paper).

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The bazaar stays open for the whole day and reaches a frenzy as the sun dips.

Photo by Mr. True

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