Founder of LifeJuice Bar and one of the first bootcamps in Vietnam, 420 Fitness Playground, Giang Pham is a committed vegan with an enviably healthy lifestyle. Here she disproves the assumption that plant-based eating has to be bland and tasteless as we try her favourite vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in Saigon’s District 2.
Giang Pham is always on the go. Her projects LifeJuice Bar and the 420 Fitness Playground bootcamp that she established with her husband are aimed at presenting plant-based eating and healthy lifestyles in a new light. But most of the time, she admits, is spent being a mum to a beautiful one-year-old girl. “To me, there’s no job in the world more important than parenting,” Giang Pham smiles.
But she is also a reflection of a modern, motivated generation who dare to dream and dare to do. Besides her businesses and family, Giang Pham is also willing to carry on another “mission” of adopting and spreading a healthy vegan lifestyle that she holds herself accountable to. “There are so many amazing ways that veganism can improve our lives – fantastic health benefits, less stress on our environment, more efficient ways to use our resources,” she lists off confidently.
“I know I’m only a grain of sand in the desert. Yet we all keep talking about making impactful changes towards a sustainable environment without anyone actually doing it. A widespread movement towards a vegan lifestyle may be absolutely crucial to our survival as a species,” Giang Pham asserts as we walk into her colourful kitchen inside the 420 Fitness Playground.
There she quickly whips up a refreshing pineapple sorbet topped with nutritious fruits and nuts. “Plus, there is a joy in turning the most mundane vegetables into pure indulgence,” she glows as she passes us a bowl to try. We’re converted immediately.
So, The Dot Magazine asked Giang Pham for her top vegan restaurants that she frequents (or orders from) in her neighbourhood, Saigon’s District 2. Whether you are pondering switching to veganism or not, these five restaurants are a must-visit.
1. Đậu Đỏ Vegan Bistro
“Vegan with style” is the motto of Đậu Đỏ Vegan Bistro. This beautiful place puts a plant-based spin on modern Vietnamese recipes. “It’s simply outstanding,” Giang Pham says. It recently emerged from the growing number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the district. And you might have already noticed if you follow their Instagram. There you’ll find some of the prettiest dishes around. It serves food relying heavily on healthy staples like greens, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, which are packed full of beneficial fibre, vitamins and minerals.
“I’ve learnt to prioritize whole food products in my diet, hence Đậu Đỏ Vegan Bistro is my go-to. It proves itself time and time again with an exciting dining experience inspired by seasonal vegetables and a chic, stylish interior design. Picture-perfect plates and a lovely space to enjoy them will just win you over.”
Because of its organic ingredients, the price is slightly higher than your average vegan restaurant in Saigon, ranging from 80,000 to 130,000 VND. “But I think it’s worth it, for your body’s health primarily,” Giang Pham continues. “I fancy the red rice noodles with vegan spring rolls and Vermicelli with spicy apple sauce here. I love the apple sauce so much that I went through countless experiments to eventually come up with a recipe almost as amazing and that received lots of positive feedback on my Instagram account!”
Another plus point of Đậu Đỏ Vegan Bistro is its consistent commitment to more sustainable practices, shown, for example, in its recyclable and compostable food packaging. “You can see that commitment in the tiniest details like the glass sauce containers they use instead of plastic ones,” Giang Pham adds. “That lives up to my expectations and fits the lifestyle I’m pursuing. Local brands like this deserves wider attention and support.”
Giang Pham says: “Đậu Đỏ Vegan Bistro is the kind of local brand that deserves wider attention and more support.”
Location: Level 2, Estella Place, District 2
2. House Of Chay
House of Chay is an absolute shining star among Saigon’s great vegan scene. Like Đậu Đỏ Vegan Bistro, and with similar prices, it serves a globe-trotting menu with both Western and Asian influences. Although not in District 2, their proximity and delivery service mean they make the list. And they play around with naturally sourced ingredients to produce some of the most beautiful raw-vegan creations imaginable. House of Chay’s packaging is also meticulously eco-friendly. And in addition to that, House Of Chay provides a never-ending source of knowledge about proper nutrition, zero-waste lifestyles and tips to protect yourself against the serious effects of climate change.
“Chickpea burgers and vegan wonton noodles are forever my favourite,” Giang Pham shares. “Do order one hour before your lunch or dinner time if you want food delivered to your door – House of Chay’s “rush hours” are madness!”
With the Mid-autumn Festival just passed, House of Chay even offered to help guests celebrate the festive season with their homemade veganised, yummy and healthy mooncakes. Full of nourishing enzymes, easy to digest, no preservatives and mostly organic ingredients, they were truly guilt-free celebratory cakes.
Giang Pham says: “A restaurant that plays around with naturally sourced ingredients to produce some of the most beautiful raw-vegan creations imaginable.”
Location: 135/1/80 Nguyen Huu Canh, Binh Thanh
Contact: Facebook | Instagram
3. METTA Vegetarian
“With places like this, I guess I never need to leave my ‘hood’ of District 2,” Giang Pham laughs. “This is the best area for vegans who love dining out.”
METTA Vegetarian, located in a very charming hem in An Phu ward, has been creating recipes for non-meat eaters that showcase the finest local, sustainable and organic produce. “They serve international dishes like Thai Tom Yum and Korean Tokbokki too, but my favorites are always vegan Vietnamese food. One dish costs between 50,000 and 90,000 VND – very reasonable for a pretty generous portion.”
“My pick of the bunch is Bún Mít (vermicelli with jackfruit). They make the best out of consciously-sourced ingredients in this tropical city. The texture is harmoniously crunchy and chewy, and the flavour refreshing!” METTA Vegetarian has also impressed Giang Pham with its swift delivery and eco-friendly packaging.”
But if you visit the restaurant you’ll find that space is so comfortable and peaceful you’ll want to waste your entire Sundays there relaxing and nibbling on its healthy snack. “An elegant destination for plant lovers tucked amid the busy city, perfect for a cosy family or gathering of friends,” Giang Pham concludes.
Giang Pham says: “District 2 is the best area for vegans who love dining out…I guess I never need to leave my ‘hood’ again.”
Location: 6 Street 19, An Phu, District 2
4. HUM Vegetarian
The name sounds like a healing chant, and HUM Vegetarian indeed embraces calmness and mindfulness as you delve into its District 2 venue with its serene music and natural wooden interiors that awaken all your senses. A quick glance through the menu is enough to tell how well-curated and thoughtful all the dishes are – as each ingredient is transparently outlined with its specific health benefits so that you are well informed of the nourishing food you’re about to take into your body.
Inspired by the elegant French villa that houses it, the third HUM Vegetarian in Saigon lets the plants and the air guide its space into becoming an exclusive area. There are indoor tables adorned with Vietnamese-style decor and paintings and outdoor seating beside a soothing lotus pond. “I enjoy my time in the airy, atmospheric garden. This is one of the rare finds in Saigon that can satisfy me when I feel like connecting to Mother Nature again.”
Menu highlights include Pomelo Salad, Tofu In Spicy Sauce and Brown Rice in Lotus Leaf. With HUM’s chefs focusing heavily on flavour and presentation, most people don’t even realise that the food here is purely plant-based. “The price is a little high, about 60,000 to 120,000 VND for some small plates of food, but I can’t remember even one time I was let down by anything here. Sure, your final bill may well approach bistro prices, but a dining experience this masterful is worth it.”
Giang Pham says: “This is one of the rare finds in Saigon that can satisfy me when I feel like connecting to Mother Nature again.”
Location: 32 D10 Street, Thao Dien, District 2
Contact: Facebook | Instagram
5. MAD House
“The best damn vegan burger in town,” Giang Pham says excitedly as we arrive at our final spot. That’s despite MAD House not being a dedicated vegan venue. “The menu in MAD House does feature meat and dairy products,” Giang Pham concedes, “but they adapt well with lots of vegan options.”
This drool-worthy jewel in the crown of Thao Dien’s blooming restaurant scene caters to all tastes because of their Asian–Western fusion menu. The veggie burger here is made of fava beans, pesto sauce, arugula and vegan cheese, with a touch of Vietnamese pickles. “It energises me with enough protein, good fat and a dollop of fiber,” Giang Pham says as she orders.
MAD House’s owner Camilla Bailey, who walked us through her tour of Saigon’s District 2 Thao Dien, together with her husband Casper, bring Danish homely, comfort food closer to both locals and expats living in Saigon. Its famous rye bread sandwiches and homemade hummus, ricotta cheese, avocado and watercress are more popular options for vegetarians (For people who pursue a vegan diet like Giang Pham, she would always notify the waiters to take cheese out of her burger).
MAD House is oh-so-comfy with its spacious shady dining space that could “host up to 1000 people,” according to Quince’s Head Chef Francis Thuan who we interviewed recently. “Its Southern-European and totally chilled out vibe makes me forget that I’m still in the bustling city of Saigon,” Giang Pham adds. “A perfect spot to detox your soul. It’s not only about your diet anymore, it’s about how you treat your body, mind and heart.”
Photos by Nam Tran Duy and Khooa Nguyen and edited by David Kaye