How To: Be Vegetarian in Guangzhou

How To: Be Vegetarian in Guangzhou
By Thomas Ackerman ,

Meat-free folk find it challenge to eat at ordinary Chinese restaurants, as most use fish oils and other meat products in the kitchen, and cook vegetables and meat in the same pan. Bad news for veggies. And what’s worse, many dishes in Chinese restaurants come with bits of meat (usually pork) mixed in, even if it's not mentioned on the menu. It’s safe to assume that everything on your plate will have come into contact with meat at some stage in its preparation.

If your diet is strictly meat-free, it can be less of a gamble to go to specialized eatery. There are several vegetarian restaurants in Guangzhou. Beyond serving vegetarian dishes, they offer a glimpse into the Chinese tradition of meat substitutes, a concept which chefs have been refining for centuries here. Though quality varies widely depending on the recipe and the chef, meat substitutes made from ingredients like wheat gluten, tofu, and potato are standard in China for Buddhists who keep to traditional dietary practices.

Non-vegetarian restaurants in Guangzhou might still be suitable for vegetarians if they don’t use meat oils and other meat products in the kitchen. Chefs at Lucy's, a Western-style restaurant on Shamian Island, use only peanut oil and olive oil in their cooking, and can prepare plenty of their regular dishes without meat. Other restaurants may be able to do the same thing, if you speak good enough Chinese to ask them.

Guangzhou’s vegetarians should head to Jinghui Lu 净慧路, which has the city’s largest concentration of vegetarian markets and restaurants. Take the metro to Ximenkou and walk up Guangxiao Lu onto Jinghui Lu, and walk to the Guangxiao Temple. There you’ll find meat-free delights to buy and try, and some great restaurants, including Ci Sheng (formerly Lianhua).

Ci Sheng 慈生素食菜馆View In Map
Add: 76 Jinghui Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8107 2970, 8107 2976

Ci Sheng Restaurant looks a bit like a guest house from the outside – just a small wooden entryway. A decorative pastry case is the only evidence that the narrow staircase in the back leads to an eatery. For most of the day, a lady stands outside to welcome guests; she will help you if you're not sure you've got the right place. Upstairs, Ci Sheng is a simple, unfussy restaurant decorated with Buddha statues.

Dishes on the large menu range in price from 8 to 46 RMB, and includes soups, mock meats, all sorts of veggies and a few dishes traditional Chinese sides such as cucumber and lotus root. Highlights include the Cisheng Healthy Soup, the “fish” made from mashed taro, and the Treasure of Mother Earth with sweet taro and yam. The mock meats are convincing in texture, but less so in flavor (aside from the tasty dipping sauces), and are quite greasy. Staff members recommend the Sweet and Sour Pork as one of the best; it’s made from walnut, a method uncommon in other restaurants. They also suggest the Ci Sheng Shang Su, made from mushrooms, tofu, bamboo and nuts.

One of Jinghui Lu’s most popular restaurants is Shui Yun Tian, although it’s easy to miss (go down the alleyway next to Guangxiao Temple). Quirkily decorated, this place does a comprehensive line in fake meat. Their signature dish is mock fish, fried tofu and steak on iron –the veggie version of the classic tie ban niu rou. Shiu Yun Tian is vegan as well as vegetarian, meaning no eggs or dairy products, which makes the drinks list interesting. You can eat decently for around 30 RMB, then stock up on vegetarian snacks at the stall at the front.

Shui Yun Tian 水云天素食馆View In Map
Add: 38-42 Jinghui Lu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 6127 0777
Hours: 10:00-22:00

The two small markets on Jinghui Lu are Yong Xing Zhai and Pin Wei Zhai. The latter attracts foreigners with English signs outside advertising “Whole Perfect Foods”. Both of the markets offer a variety of mock meats, noodles, wheat germ and sauces. Ping Wei Zhai, though the smaller of the two, has a greater variety of meat substitutes, carrying the full range of mock shrimp, fish balls, chicken wings, gizzards, whole fish and what is best called a mini-pig. It's interesting stuff to look at even if you're not a vegetarian.

Yong Xing Zhai 永兴斋View In Map
Add: 26 Jinghui Lu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8364 9282

Pin Wei Zhai (Whole Perfect Foods) 品位斋View In Map
Add: 90 Jinghui Lu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8108 2437, 8109 4463 

Out in the Haizhu District you’ll find Tai Lai, small vegetarian eatery and tea house. They don't do much in the way of meat substitutes, preferring to serve foods which are naturally tasty such as vegetables, seaweed and mushrooms, light on oil and salt. They recommend their Five Grains Cook Rice, Ganoderma Lucidum Soup, Vegetarian Hot Pot and Thai Source Bean Curd.

Tai Lai 太来养生馆View In Map
Add: 1 Yale Lu, near Shangdu Lu, Haizhu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 3425 3411
Directions: Take Metro to Lujiang on Line 2, take the B exit, walk toward Shangdu Lu, turn left at the second corner, walk fifty yards and the restaurant is on the left side

Also in Haizhu is Fo Shi Jie. This Buddhist restaurant has over twenty years of history, and is a quiet, simple place for Buddhists and non-Buddhists to get together to eat vegetarian food and share experiences. Fo Shi Jie has both traditional vegetable dishes and meat substitutes, and attracts a fair number of customers with its South Korean non-alcoholic beer. Like most Buddhist restaurants, this one refrains from both garlic and onion. One of Fo Shi Jie's stand-out dishes is the Luo Han Zhai, comprising black fungus, mushrooms, bamboo, asparagus, corncob, tofu and nuts. Their meatless meats, such as the crispy chicken, duck and fish, are made from gluten, flour, taro, mushroom and dried bean curd. They also serve meatless abalone.

Fo Shi Jie 佛世界素食社View In Map
Add: 2-8 Er Sheng Gong, Tongfuzhong Lu, Haizhu District, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8440 7261
Directions: Take bus 53, 113, 121, 121A, 203, 227, 243, 244, 250, 270, 273, 527, 530, get off at Haizhu Quwei stop and walk towards Tongfuzhong Lu and turn right. The restaurant is on the right about 100 yards after the Red Cross Hospital.

For vegetarians in Liwan District there’s Fo You Yuan, which is more than fifteen years old and one of Guangzhou's best-known vegetarian restaurants. They do a plethora of mock meats, as well as classic vegetable dishes. The staff recommends their Luo Han Zhai (made with mushrooms, carrots, bamboo, melons and nuts), their Hokkaido Su-eel (made from small Yunnan melon and tofu) and their Mushroom Hot Pot.

Fo You Yuan 佛有缘素食馆View In Map
Add: 1 Fu Er Lu, Xingfu Xincun, Liwan Lu, Liwan District, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8125 0619, 8125 0428
Website: (mostly in Chinese)
Directions: Metro Line 1, Chen Clan Academy, exit D. Walk down Liwan Lu and turn right. In a few minutes you’ll see a housing community called Xingfu Xincun, enter the community and follow the logo of the restaurant

So whether you’re a veggie or not, it’s worth paying a visit to one of Guangzhou’s vegetarian outposts.

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