Despite having thousands of years of Buddhist influence, contemporary Chinese cuisine places a heavy emphasis on meat. In fact, as the country develops and the average citizen has more disposable income, the Chinese diet is becoming more meat-centric. According to a 2012 piece by the Telegraph, “In the last 30 years, Chinese demand for meat has quadrupled… The country now eats a quarter of the world supply, or 71 million tons a year.” But don’t worry, if you’re a vegetarian or just don’t trust Chinese meat products, there are delicious options out there available.
1) Mapo Tofu (麻婆腐; mapo doufu)
Coming straight out of the Sichuan spice belt, Mapo Tofu has become one of the nation’s favorites. Basically, it consists of tofu topped with a chili and bean sauce, but (warning) sometimes restaurants will top it off with a bit of minced meat. As the story goes, mapo doufu means “pockmarked grandma’s bean curd” since it’s named after the facial features of the original old woman who created this famous recipe.
2) Potatoes, Green Peppers and Eggplant (地三鲜; disanxian)
Chinese food (the real thing, not the stuff I get at the to go place back home) is probably my favorite. I love how they can take a few simple ingredients and make it delicious. Disanxian is the epitome of this. It’s just sliced and stir-fried potatoes, green peppers, eggplant, and a bit of seasoning, but somehow Chinese chefs make it taste wonderful!
3) Fried Eggs and Tomato (西红柿炒蛋; xihongshi chaodan)
Many foreigners first come to China and are amazed to see a dish consisting of scrambled eggs and tomatoes. At first it’s a bit weird, but after sampling, they come to realize that it’s actually quite good. When foreigners leave China, many of them find themselves making this extremely simple and tasty dish.
4) Veggie Dumplings/ Veggie Xiaolongbao (素的饺子/素的小笼包) ; sude jiaozi/sude xiaolongbao)
Everyone knows dumplings are a staple of Chinese cuisine. If you’re a vegetarian and see veggie dumplings on the menu, go for it. If you’re in or around Shanghai (or dining at Dintaifeng), try the local version of xiaolongbao (soup dumplings).
5) Fried Rice/Fried Noodles (素的炒饭/素的炒面; chaofan/chaomian)
Take the previous paragraph about veggies dumplings and xialongbao and plug it in here – fried rice and fried noodles are found everywhere in China and is one of the most standard meals around. Though, just as with dumplings, they can often come with meat, so make sure to ask for sude (素的) and you should be A-OK.
6) Jianbing (煎饼; jianbing)
This is a popular snack mostly found in Beijing and the Northeast. Jianbing is a pancake wrapped around a crunchy fried dough stick with bean paste, scallions, a little bit of spice, and sometimes an egg (vegans watch out!). It’s just as good for breakfast as it is for dinner or a snack, but in my opinion it’s best served during a hangover.
7) Cucumber Salad (拍黄瓜; paihuanggua)
This is another one of my personal favorites. In fact, I order it just about every time I need a veggie dish. Chopped cucumbers tossed in vinegar, garlic, and red chili peppers – what else more do you need???
8) Cold Noodles (冷面, lengmian)
Lengmian is another dish indigenous to Sichuan that’s made its way into kitchens across the country. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this bowl of white noodles, shredded cucumbers, carrots, cilantro, sesame paste and chili paste, is as simple as it gets. As you can tell by the name, it’s served best cold, and is therefore a great snack on a sweltering summer day.
9) Meat Analogue (素肉; surou)
Meat analogue sounds like an 80’s hair-metal band, but I can guarantee you that it’s not (well, no guarantees…). Also known as imitation meat, faux meat, meat substitution, or vegetarian meat, this style is popular at many Buddhist restaurants across the country. With that being said, many Buddhist restaurants can be found near, you guessed it, Buddhist temples. Meat analogue is basically vegetarian products designed to taste like meat, and though it may sound gross, it’s very good (I like it and I’m not even a vegetarian). With items like vegetarian kung pao “chicken”, Beijing “duck”, and sweet and sour “pork ribs”, it’s amazing how they can make veggies taste like the real thing.
Ordering Food as a Vegetarian
China has many self-serve establishments. Malatang (麻辣汤; spicy soup) booths, shaokao (烧烤; Chinese BBQ) street stalls, and other buffets are extremely common. If you’re picky about your diet, you can always go to one of these places and pick out exactly what you desire. If you’re putting your faith in your linguistic abilities, try telling the waiters or waitresses wo bu chi rou (我不吃肉; I don’t eat meat), or wo chi su de (我吃素的; I’m a vegetarian).
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Keywords: Chinese vegetarian dishes Vegetarian Chinese food
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There's plenty of good veggie food in China especially in smaller and medium sized restaurants. Here's a list of good veggie food: 1. Green Peppers, Dry Tofu and Jiaobai (a yellowy marsh reed) (qingzhou gansi he jiaobai) 2. Celery and Lily bulb (Xi Xing Bai He) 3. Snow Peas and Lily (Helandou Bai He) 4. Family Style Tofu (JiaShan Tofu)-- dry tofu with tree ear fungus,m carrots, green peppers -- a good veggie tofu dish 5. Curried potatoes (ask for large pieces/chunks) 6. Greens! -- Clover with yellow wine (Tsao Tou); KongXinCai and Onions; Amaranth (the one that turns everything red liek beets); or even spinach and garlic 7. Pine Nuts and Corn -- a good restaurant will toss in some green pepper and maybe carrots 8. Eggplant and Jiaobai (the marsh reed) 9. Sushijing -- aka Buddha's Delight -- a mix of "10" veggies. Usually cabbage, dry tofu, tree ear fungus, green pepper, carrots, and whatever other plants are lying around. Unlikely to be 10 veggies, but it's a good mixed veggie dish. This used to be more common ... A much better list of 9 veggie dishes with no egg and no cold dishes, and all should be available at most non-fancy Chinese restaurants. Though I guess the Jiaobai is seasonal.
Jun 15, 2015 19:28 Report Abuse
What a terrible selection. 1. Mapo dofu without meat is bad -- it's a meat dish. 2. Potato chunks take longer to cook than stir-fry, so the potatoes will likely be cooked earlier. The same problem that plagues the potato-green bean dish. 3. egg is not vegetarian 4. veggie dumplings are fine but hard to find 5. fried rice? Chinese cooking has enough oil, I always thought the purpose of rice was too be able to absorb the excess oil of cooked dishes. 6. Jianbing, not common in Shanghai (as noted in the article) 7,8. cuke salad and cold noodles? I avoid all cold food in China because the food handling isn't always the best. Hot dishes cooked with huge flames kills bacteria. Plus the cuke salad isn't to my taste anyway. 9. Okay some veggie meat dishes work -- but they should mention veggie intestines, koufu and other possibilities.
Jun 15, 2015 19:20 Report Abuse
I never really understood why anyone who's a vegetarian would come to a country like China. As often as not, they garnish cabbage with pieces of pork butt. And Mapo's Tofu usually has meat in it. Also, the Ma La Tang is cooked in meat broth. I've had to deal with fussy white people for years--the kind that wont eat anything with peppers, or they throw a fit if someone orders fish. Almost everything worth eating in China has meat in it. Sure, there are nine exceptions. Nine. In the end, China really isn't a vegetarian friendly place.
May 25, 2015 01:11 Report Abuse
Actually I'm a vegan and I find it quite easy to find good food in China. Nearly every restaurant has a page or two of delicious vegetarian dishes, remember that many vegetarian staples like tofu, seitan, soy milk etc originate in China. Chou doufu, ReGanMian, Kao MianJin, SuSanXian, TuDouSi, etc etc etc are all vegan. The traditional Chinese diet actually contains very little meat, recently the Chinese have been brainwashed by Mcdonald, KFC, etc to think that they need to eat lots of meat, and low and behold, they are looking more and more like fat Americans.
Jun 27, 2015 18:31 Report Abuse