The task of being a vegan in China may seem overwhelming on arrival. Everything, including simple vegetable dishes, seems to contain meat. But there are some tricks of the trade to make your life as a vegan in China a hell of a lot easier. Here are some tips, essential phrases and a list of (usually) vegan Chinese food.
Tip 1 - Always Assume the Worst
The first rule of being vegan in China is to assume there’s meat in everything. Even dishes marked as vegetarian on a menu might have some pork sprinkled in, just for fun. It therefore pays to master a few key phrases to pull out at restaurants.
Tip 2 - Master The Vocab
1) Wǒ chī chún sù (我吃纯素)
“I eat vegan”.
It’s best to start with this one, but bear in mind that, just like in the West, it’s possible that your waiter will not fully understand what being vegan really means.
It’s therefore also good to throw in a:
2) Wǒ chīsù (我吃素)
“I am vegetarian”
And follow up with:
3) Wǒ bù chī (我不吃)... Ròu（肉）, Yú（鱼), Jīdàn (鸡蛋), Niúnǎi（牛奶）
“I don’t eat... Meat, fish, eggs, milk”
The majority of Chinese dishes don’t contain eggs or dairy (most noodles are made without egg), but a lot will come with totally unnecessary tiny bits of meat mixed in. You can therefore pick what seems to be a largely vegetable-based dish an say:
4) Bù jiā ròu (不加肉)
“Don’t add meat”
Tip 3 - Get Freindly with the Buddhists
There are plenty of Buddhist in China. And what do Buddhist do? Eat vegan, among other worthy things. Locate your nearest Buddhist temple and check out the restaurants around it. There are likely to be at least a few that offer genuine vegan food.
Tip 4 - Don’t Go Too Militant
Being very strictly vegan is totally do-able in most Asian countries, but you’re going to give yourself and those around you a serious headache if you try to keep it up in China. No matter how well you master the key Chinese vegan phrases, you’re likely still to get served dishes cooked in animal fat or with pieces of meat mixed in. If you do get a dish with meat in it you can complain and send it back, but they’ll no doubt just pick the meat out in the kitchen and return to your table. I dare say it’s better to pick the meat off yourself or order something else.
All that said, there are quite a few Chinese dishes that are (usually) totally vegan. Here are some of my favorites:
Vegan Chinese Dishes
Shūcài tánhuáng juǎn (蔬菜弹簧卷)
Vegetable Spring Rolls
Zhīma miàntiáo (芝麻面条)
(Hot or cold) Sesame Noodles
Bōcài huāshēng shālā (菠菜花生沙拉)
Spinach and peanut salad
Pāi huángguā (拍黄瓜)
Liángbàn gān sī (凉拌干丝)
Shredded tofu salad
Juǎnxīncài Fǔrǔ gāolí cài (卷心菜腐乳高丽菜)
Sauteed Cabbage with Fermented Bean Paste
Chǎo (炒) bōcài (菠菜)/ Xī lánhuā (西兰花)/ Báicài (白菜)
Sauteed Spinach/ Broccoli/ Bok Choy (they usually come with plenty of garlic!)
Liángfěn ( 凉粉)
Cold Noodles (starch Jelly), usually served with a spicy sauce
Hāní gèjiù (哈尼个旧)
Cold Rice Noodles, Bean Paste, Peanuts etc
Qīngjiāo tǔdòu sī (青椒土豆丝)
Chinese Shredded Potato Salad
Lǎohǔ cài (老虎菜)
Tiger Food (a salad of shreded cucumber, green chilies and coriander)
Nuòmǐ cí (糯米糍)
Sticky Rice Balls (usually come with a sesame filling (sweet)
Dòu shā(豆沙)/ Zhīma (芝麻) / Gānshǔ (甘薯) bāo(包)
Red Bean/ Sesame/ Sweet Potato Buns (sweet)
To help you distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly Chinese drinks, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourites.
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