[Hue, Vietnam] Dinner at Sân Mây Vegetarian Restaurant

Hue is traditionally the centre of Buddhist consciousness and learning in Vietnam, stemming from its imperial capital past, when Buddhism enjoyed the patronage of the ruling Nguyễn Lords. One of the most searing images from the Vietnam War period was the fiery death of Buddhist monk, Thích Quảng Đức, by self-immolation. Thích Quảng Đức was from Hue, and had journeyed all the way to Saigon, where he burnt himself to death at a busy intersection to protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government of the staunchly Roman Catholic Ngô Đình Diệm.

We spent most of yesterday exploring the Buddhist side of Hue, visiting temples and even an orphanage run by an old Buddhist nun who accepted abandoned children left at the door of her nunnery. In keeping with the theme of the day, we went vegetarian for all our meals! Many of the Hue’s vegetarian restaurants cater to the Buddhist monks, nuns, and laypeople who’d chosen to give up meat out of their religious obligation.

We had a good vegetarian dinner at Sân Mây, which was rather upmarket (I understood from a Saigonite friend that there is also a Sân Mây branch in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon). One of the co-owners here, as well as being the chef is Nguyen Tan, who’s also an artist-sculptor.
The restaurant is located in a traditional Vietnamese house, full of intricately-carved wooden beams, and columns. Like most traditional Vietnamese houses I’d been to, it’s kind of smallish, but beautifully decorated. The centre space of the house would contain a prayer altar. The dining spaces are to the left and right of the central altar area, and are tastefully furnished.


Our dinner:

  1. Crisp, deep-fried spring rolls (known as chả giò in Saigon/South Vietnam, and nem rán in Hanoi/North Vietnam), paired with deep-fried mashed taro balls coated with crisp, green rice (khoai môn chiên cốm) - this appetiser platter was presented with the spring rolls and taro balls skewered onto a carved pineapple Jack-o’-lantern.

I remembered this dish from Saigon’s infamous Rex Hotel, which purportedly invented it. During the Vietnam War era, Rex Hotel was where the American military command’s daily conference, derisively named Five O’Clock Follies by cynical journalists, were held. The Rex Hotel’s rooftop bar was also a popular meeting spot for war correspondents, military officials, spies, Saigon’s elite and foreign dignitaries.

The rendition by Sân Mây was tasty, but paled in comparison to the versions served in Rex Hotel or other eateries which incorporated meat into the dish.

  1. Pomelo salad (Gỏi Bưởi) - pomelo is a large citrus fruit which tasted like a sweeter variant of grapefruit, and made for a great salad ingredient. The version here was tossed with shredded fresh basil leaves, soybean crisps, chilis and other herbs, then served in a hollowed-out whole pomelo skin.

The salad with crisp rice crackers:

  1. Vegetarian “pork-belly slices”, served with “bun” rice noodles - one of the “strange” things about many vegetarians in China, as here in Vietnam, is that some of them felt “obligated” to forego meat because of their religious beliefs, and not because they wanted to. So, Chinese vegetarian cuisine has many dishes which were made from tofu or gluten products, but intentionally made to resemble (in appearance and even taste/texture) pork, chicken, fish, prawns and many other meats which these folks missed.

Over here at Sân Mây, they have a vegetarian version of bún thịt nướng (grilled pork with rice noodles).

  1. 8-Colour Fried Rice - fried rice done sans egg, with taro cubes, carrots, corn kernels, carrots and long beans. It’s pretty tasty, with a hint of sesame oil.

5)Vegetarian noodles (bún nước) - rice noodles in a soup with strong lemongrass, tomato and herbal flavours, garnished with various types of tofu products and served with shredded Chinese lettuce leaves and banana blossom.

Overall, the food tasted better than I’d expected and, like most of Vietnamese cooking, the dishes had crisp, fresh textures and very light flavours.

Sân Mây Huế
8 Thanh Tịnh, Vỹ Dạ, Thành phố Huế
Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam
Tel: +84 93 199 99 72
Opening hours: 7am to 9pm daily



I always try to find Buddhist vegetarian cuisine when in Asia. So far I think the best vegetarian/Buddhist vegetarian meals I had, in terms of aesthetics, taste and creativity, were in Koyasan, Japan.

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Very hard to top the Japanese when it comes to food aesthetics. :grin: