For vegan and veggie travellers the goal is most often to find food you can eat, whilst having the most authentic food experience possible. China’s cuisine is one of the tastiest on the planet; it’s a highlight for many who visit and the culture surrounding it is something China holds close to its heart. Here’s our China travel experts’ guide to make sure you’re able to find vegetarian and vegan food with ease and don’t compromise on authenticity one bit.
1. The devil is in the detail
Avoiding ‘meat dishes’ in Chinese food is no problem: there are plenty of vegan/vegetarian dishes and as long as you order right you’ll be gouging down delicious food all day long. The harder part is communicating that there really must be no meat anywhere in the dish. Meat broths are a staple part of Chinese cuisine as is food cooked with very small pieces of meat. Fear not! Eating in the right way and in the right places can easily prevent this from being an issue.
Tofu and aubergine dishes served at Buddhist temples
2. Where should I be eating?
A meat-free diet is part of the Buddhist religion and Buddhist temples can be excellent places to get a meal you can be 100% sure is vegetarian. If you are a backpacker travelling from city to city there isn’t always time to find one, but it’s worth asking at the hostel reception if they know of any nearby. (Or if you’re on The Dragon Trip, ask your guide!)
While it might not be as fail-safe as the Buddhist diet, street food offers a good way to see exactly what you’re getting as it’s prepared in front of you. Unlike restaurants, you don’t run the risk of staring at the mystery dish placed on the table, hoping you got the order right. For vegans and vegetarians alike, vegetable and tofu skewers are commonly served in night-time street food markets and can be a delicious snack to end a night out.
In the big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, a range of vegan and vegetarian restaurants are starting to pop-up. While they might not be as high quality as in countries where the diet is more common, many are still well worth a visit. Some of our favourites include Blossom Vegetarian (Beijing) and SongYue Lou (Shanghai).
If you’re not ordering at a Buddhist temple or at a street food stand (which will probably be most of the time) you just need to make sure you get the language right. Which brings us to our next point…
Cold greens salad
3. Order right, eat right
First things first:
• I am vegetarian – 我吃素 (wo chi su) [click here for audio]
• I am vegan – 我吃纯素 (wo chi chun su ) [click here for audio]
That’s some pretty important Chinese lingo you should memorise or have written down. English speakers can often struggle to enunciate words in Mandarin, so to make sure the chef gets the message, we’d recommend having a snapshot of this on your phone to show them.
As we said, explaining you are vegan/vegetarian isn’t always enough and meat and eggs can often sneak their way into lots of different dishes. So get used to giving clarity on this:
• Don’t put (meat)(egg). – 别放 (肉)(鸡蛋) bie fang (rou)(ji dan )
If you’re travelling on one of our Adventure group tours, our guides are used to helping vegans/vegetarians ensure their dinner is 0% meat/dairy. So if you’re not confident about how clear you have been, just ask the guide and they’ll confirm.
Stir-fried bitter gourd and mushrooms
4. What’s tasty?
To make sure you feed your wanderlust you want to leave a country knowing you made the most of the vegan and vegetarian cuisine it has to offer. And China certainly has a lot to offer. So here’s The Dragon Trip’s China travel experts’ selection of 20 must-try dishes while you are out there:
酸辣土豆丝 – Spicy & sour potatoes – suān là tǔdòu sī (vegetarian/vegan)
蕨根粉 – Spicy & sour fern root vermicelli noodles – jué gēn fěn (vegetarian/vegan)
拔丝地瓜 – Caramelized sweet potato – básī dìguā **** (vegetarian, request without honey if vegan)
清炒苦瓜 – Stir-fried bitter gourd – qīng chǎo kǔguā (vegetarian/vegan)
凉拌菠菜 – Cold spinach salad – liángbàn bōcài (vegetarian/vegan)
地三鲜 – Aubergine, potato and chilli stir fry- di sān xiān (vegetarian/vegan)
青菜豆腐汤 – Spinach tofu soup – qīngcài dòufu tang (vegetarian/vegan)
麻酱油麦菜 – Cold lettuce salad with sesame sauce –májiàng yóumài cài **** (vegetarian/vegan)
爆炒香干 – Stir-fried tofu chilli – bào chǎo xiānggān (vegetarian/vegan)
凉拌黄瓜 – Cold marinated cucumber salad – liángbàn huángguā (vegetarian/vegan)
蒜蓉空心菜 – Garlic fried spinach – suàn róng kōngxīncài (vegetarian/vegan)
拔丝香蕉 – Caramelized banana – básī xiāngjiāo **** (vegetarian/vegan)
香菇青菜 – Mushroom spinach stir fry xiānggū qīngcài (vegetarian/vegan)
凉拌西兰花 – Cold marinated broccoli –liángbàn xī lánhuā **** (vegetarian/vegan)
蒸南瓜 – Steamed & caramelized pumpkin – zhēng nánguā (vegetarian/vegan)
糖醋藕丁 – Sweet & sour lotus root –táng cù ǒu ding (vegetarian/vegan)
炒二冬 – Bamboo mushroom stir fry – chǎo èr dōng (vegetarian/vegan)
椒盐蘑菇 – Chilli mushroom stir fry –jiāoyán mógū (vegetarian/vegan)
西红柿炒鸡蛋 – Scrambled eggs with tomatoes Xīhóngshì chǎo jīdàn (vegetarian)
青椒炒蛋 – Scrambled eggs with chillis qīngjiāo chǎo dàn (vegetarian)
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