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Gluten-free eating in Vietnam

The food in Vietnam is great, and very heavily based on rice, rice-flour and rice-noodles, so one does not encounter too much gluten. It contains a lot of very fresh ingredients, and very little spicing – some may call it bland, but I like my GF food that way! They rarely even use soy sauce.

But on the other hand communication there is extremely difficult, so a written celiac card is a necessity. They have a habit of offering tourists bread, especially at breakfast, but the local traditional breakfast of rice-noodle soup is an excellent alternative for celiacs – I ate it every day and was happy with it, and didn't have any trouble. This is meat/chicken broth served with rice-noodles, some vegetables (spring onion, Anise-Basil and bean sprouts) and a bit of beef ("Pho Bo") or chicken ("Pho Ga"), although the soup is the same.

Enjoying gluten free 'Pho Ga

Most dishes are served with rice ("Com", but watch out for the pronunciation) as the standard. The local spring rolls ("Nem") are made with a thin rice-paper that was fine for me. The staple seasoning ingredient is the fish sauce ("Nouc Mam") which is quite different from the Thai version and is tangy-salty. I made sure to show my note asking for no wheat ("bot my", pronounced ~"bu mi") or soy sauce ("xi dau", pronounced ~"si zau") – this usually got the locals pointing at us and making fun of us, but I had safe sailing almost throughout.

After I was tempted to sit in a market place and eat everything that "looked ok" (including rice dumplings and unrecognized grill sauces), I ended up with a bad stomach and symptoms. Another time when I ate a "sweet and sour" dish at a touristy place, which probably came from a bottle, I also had some symptoms ("driver, pull over please!"). In general I'd recommend sticking to the fresh simple local foods, avoid things you can't recognize, and always show your Vietnamese restaurant card.

Have a good time

Nitzan R, Rehovot (Israel) - September 2006

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