Is Vietnamese food naturally gluten-free?

Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest in the world. With its focus on fresh vegetables, herbs, lean proteins, and bold flavors, Vietnamese food provides an abundance of nutrients without many of the unhealthy extras that are common in other cuisines.

One of the things that makes Vietnamese food so healthy is that many traditional dishes are naturally gluten-free. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, Vietnamese food can be an excellent option when dining out or looking for gluten-free recipe inspiration.

What Makes a Food Gluten-Free?

Gluten refers to the proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It acts as a glue that helps foods like bread maintain their shape and texture. However, for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine.

For a food to be considered gluten-free, it must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. This trace amount is generally recognized as safe for most people with gluten-related disorders.

There are many naturally gluten-free grains and flours, such as:

  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Arrowroot
  • Tapioca

Foods made with these gluten-free grains and flours, as well as fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, and seeds, are considered naturally gluten-free.

Common Gluten-Containing Foods

To understand which Vietnamese dishes are naturally gluten-free, it helps to be aware of common sources of gluten:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oats*
  • Malt
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Soy sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Hoisin sauce

*Oats are naturally gluten-free but are often contaminated with gluten during growing and processing.

Dishes and products containing these ingredients are not gluten-free. This includes breads, noodles, and dumpling wrappers made with wheat flour, as well as sauces and condiments containing soy sauce or other glutenous ingredients.

Key Aspects of Vietnamese Cuisine

To understand which traditional Vietnamese dishes are naturally gluten-free, it helps to look at some of the key aspects of Vietnamese cuisine:

  • Rice – Rice is a staple ingredient in many Vietnamese dishes. Vietnamese cuisine uses various types of rice like jasmine, sticky rice, and broken rice.
  • Rice noodles – Rice noodles (bún) are commonly used in soups, stir-fries, and spring rolls.
  • Meat – Pork, chicken, beef, and seafood are all prevalent proteins.
  • Vegetables – Fresh herbs and veggies like bean sprouts, cucumbers, and lettuce are served alongside many Vietnamese dishes.
  • Fish sauce – The iconic umami-rich Vietnamese fish sauce called nước mắm is gluten-free and used to flavor dishes.
  • Lime – Lime adds brightness to Vietnamese food.

Understanding these components makes it easier to determine which traditional Vietnamese food items are gluten-free.

Naturally Gluten-Free Vietnamese Dishes

Many classic Vietnamese dishes are naturally gluten-free. Here are some of the most popular gluten-free Vietnamese foods:

Bún Chả

Bún chả consists of rice vermicelli noodles (bún) served with grilled pork (chả), fresh herbs, chopped vegetables, and a fish sauce-based dipping sauce. As long as rice noodles are used, this dish is gluten-free.


Phở is the famous Vietnamese noodle soup traditionally made with rice noodles and broth, sliced meat, and lots of herbs. Authentic phở is gluten-free, but some restaurants improperly use wheat noodles instead of rice noodles.

Bánh Xèo

Bánh xèo are Vietnamese savory pancakes made from rice flour and turmeric powder, filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. When prepared traditionally, these crispy pancakes are gluten-free and delicious.

Gỏi Cuốn

Also known as Vietnamese summer rolls or salad rolls, gỏi cuốn consist of shrimp, pork, rice vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs and lettuce wrapped in rice paper. Rice paper wrappers are naturally gluten-free.

Cơm Tấm

Cơm tấm is a popular Vietnamese rice dish made by layering broken rice with sliced meat or seafood, shredded pork skin, fried egg, cucumbers, fish sauce, and more. It is a naturally gluten-free meal.

Bún Riêu

Bún riêu is a rice vermicelli noodle soup made with a shrimp and tomato broth flavored with fish sauce and served with tofu, shrimp, and herbs. It’s gluten-free when using rice noodles.

Gluten-Free Substitutions in Vietnamese Cooking

While traditional Vietnamese cooking relies on naturally gluten-free ingredients like rice, herbs, meats, and fish sauce, some modern Vietnamese recipes call for glutenous ingredients. Luckily, there are easy substitutions to make these dishes gluten-free:

Gluten-Containing Gluten-Free Substitution
Soy Sauce Coconut aminos, tamari
Hoisin Sauce Gluten-free hoisin sauce
Teriyaki Sauce Gluten-free teriyaki sauce
Oyster Sauce Gluten-free oyster sauce
Wheat Noodles Rice noodles, zucchini noodles, or spiralized vegetables
Wheat Flour Wrappers Rice paper

With simple substitutions like these, people with gluten sensitivities can still enjoy their favorite Vietnamese dishes.

Tips for Ordering Gluten-Free Vietnamese Food

If you follow a gluten-free diet, here are some useful tips for ordering gluten-free Vietnamese food at restaurants:

  • Ask if dishes are made with soy sauce or other glutenous sauces. Request gluten-free substitutions.
  • Order phở with rice noodles instead of wheat noodles.
  • Ask if spring rolls are made with rice paper instead of wheat-based wrappers.
  • Choose grilled meat and seafood dishes instead of breaded and fried options.
  • Request extra sauce and dressing to be served on the side to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Ask about hidden ingredients like thickening agents in sauces.
  • Look for gluten-free markers on menus or ask the server for help identifying gluten-free dishes.

With good communication and some adjustments, you can enjoy delicious and naturally gluten-free Vietnamese food.

Traditional Glutenous Vietnamese Dishes to Avoid

While many Vietnamese dishes are naturally gluten-free, some traditional recipes do contain gluten. Here are some of the most common glutenous Vietnamese foods to avoid on a gluten-free diet:

Bánh Mì

The classic Vietnamese sandwich bánh mì is traditionally made on a baguette, which contains gluten. Some restaurants offer gluten-free bánh mì, but wheat-based bread is the norm.

Bánh Bao

These fluffy Vietnamese steamed buns are made from a wheat-based yeast dough. Unless a gluten-free recipe is used, steamed buns contain gluten.

Bánh Cuốn

Bánh cuốn are delicate Vietnamese rice flour crepes filled with meat and mushrooms. However, they are often topped with fried shallots containing wheat flour.

Various Bánh Cakes

Many cakes and sweet treats in Vietnam are made with wheat flour, including bánh ga, bánh gai, and bánh trôi. It’s best to avoid these desserts.

Nem Ran

These popular Vietnamese meatballs are coated in crushed wheat crackers before frying, so they contain gluten.

In addition to these dishes, fried glutenous snacks sold at Vietnamese markets and wheat-based noodles in soups should also be avoided.

Gluten-Free Vietnamese Recipes to Try

Cooking Vietnamese food at home is a great way to control the ingredients and prepare gluten-free versions of classic dishes. Here are some delicious and naturally gluten-free Vietnamese recipes to try:

Gluten-Free Phở

This classic Vietnamese noodle soup comes together easily with rice noodles, homemade bone broth, and all the tasty toppings.

Gluten-Free Summer Rolls

Re-create the popular gỏi cuốn with fresh rice paper wrappers stuffed with shrimp, pork, rice noodles, cucumber, lettuce, mint, and cilantro.

Gluten-Free Vietnamese Chicken Curry

Chicken simmered in a flavorful coconut curry sauce served over rice or rice noodles makes for a hearty and comforting gluten-free meal.

Caramelized Pork Bowl with Rice Noodles

Sliced pork belly caramelized in fish sauce and coconut soda served over rice noodles is an easy yet delicious gluten-free dish.

Gluten-Free Shaking Beef

This Vietnamese-American classic of seared beef with onions, watercress, and rice is naturally gluten-free and full of flavor.


Vietnamese food is an excellent choice for gluten-free eaters, as many of the traditional dishes are naturally free of gluten. Staple ingredients like rice, rice noodles, herbs, vegetables, meat, seafood, and rice-based sauces create the foundation for healthy and flavorful gluten-free meals.

While some modern Vietnamese recipes have adapted glutenous ingredients, there are easy substitutions like using rice noodles instead of wheat noodles, and tamari instead of soy sauce. With some minor adjustments, classics like phở, spring rolls, and shaking beef can be made gluten-free.

When dining out, be sure to ask about preparation methods, noodles, and sauces to ensure dishes are gluten-free. With proper precautions, those avoiding gluten can enjoy and appreciate the fresh and tasty cuisine of Vietnam.

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