Most Chinese vegetarians are vegetarian because of their religion: they are Buddhists, following the Buddhist teachings about minimizing suffering. In addition, many Yoga enthusiasts in China are vegetarians or vegans. In the same way that vegetarianism is popular with people who are very health-conscious in the West, in order to keep healthy and fit, more and more Chinese people who are not vegetarians or vegans tend to eat vegetarian food from time to time.
Vegetarian food is common and readily available in China, though vegetarianism is only practiced by a relatively small fraction of the population. Especially in the countryside, an emphasis on fresh vegetables makes Chinese cuisine perfect for vegetarians. The mainstays of Chinese cuisine, noodles, rice, tofu, and vegetables, are all fine for vegetarians.
Besides a large variety of vegetables, Chinese vegetarian food often uses tofu (soft or dried bean curd), nuts, mushrooms, fungi, and water plants as its ingredients.
Interestingly, you will frequently find dishes resembling meat or seafood (as in the second photo, which shows a completely vegetarian dish, believe it or not). For example, in fried mock oyster, mashed tofu pieces are shaped like an oyster.
Besides good taste, Chinese vegetarian food emphasizes appearance, displaying a harmonious balance of colors and textures as well as flavors. This is especially true for the vegetarian restaurants that are associated with Buddhist temples or institutions, and may surprise a Western vegetarian.
Although it is not hard to find vegetarian food in China on a menu if you speak the language, the language barrier may cause some confusion.
Many dishes that have meat in them can also be prepared without the meat. All you have to tell the waiter is what exactly you don't eat. The better restaurants, especially, will have no problem leaving the meat out of your dish to suit your preferences.
You should be clear and specific when telling the waiter what you don't eat, as their understanding of vegetarian dishes may not be the same as yours. For example they may think you only don't eat meat but things like eggs or honey are okay.
If you travel with us, our guides will be able to help you with this (as will the table below).
I do not eat fish, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, honey, chicken stock, meat broth, fish stock, fish sauce, or lard.
Wǒ bùchī yú, niúnǎi, nǎilào, huángyóu, jīdàn, fēngmì, jītāng, ròutāng, yútāng, yújiàng, zhūyóu.
/wor boo-chrr yoo, nyoh-neye, neye-laoww, hwung-yoh, jee-dan, fnng-mee, jee-taang, roh-taang, yoo-taang, yoo-jyang, joo-yoh/)
Here is a list of common Chinese vegetarian dishes and/or street food, with names in English, pinyin, English-style pronunciation, and Chinese characters.
|fried spicy vegetarian beef||xiāng là sù niúròu||sshyang laa soo nyoh-roh||香辣素牛肉|
|vegetarian sweet and sour spare ribs||sù chǎo tángcù páigǔ||soo chaoww tung-tsoo peye-goo||素炒糖醋排骨|
|vegetarian ham||sù huǒtuǐ||soo hwor-tway||素火腿|
|vegetarian ants climb tree (vermicelli with spicy silk noodles)||sù mǎyǐ shàng shù||soo maa-ee shung shoo||素蚂蚁上树|
|vegetarian drumstick with Western gravy||xizhī sù jītuǐ||sshee-jrr soo jee tway||西汁素鸡腿|
|crispy roast duck||cuì pí shāoyā||tsway pee kaoww-yaa||脆皮烧鸭|
|Luojiang fried bean duck||luōjiāng dòu yā||lwor-jyang doh yaa||罗江豆鸭|
|fried vegetarian crab meat||chǎo sù xièfěn||chaoww soo sshyeah-fnn||炒素蟹粉|
|seven-color shitake mushrooms||qícái xiānggū||chee tseye sshyang-goo||七彩香菇|
|fried pickled cabbage and bean sprouts||xuěcài chǎo dòuyá||sshwair-tseye chaoww doh-yaa||雪菜炒豆芽|
|cucumber and crushed garlic||Pāi huángguā||peye-hwung-gwaa||拍黄瓜|
|crispy tofu skin||cuìpí dòufu||tsway-pee doh-foo||脆皮豆腐|
|mixed salad with Chinese dressing||dàbàncài||aaa-ban-tseye||大拌菜|
|home-style tofu||jācháng dòufu||Jjaa-chaang doh-foo||家常豆腐|
|Spicy Tofu||málà dòufu||maa-laa doh-foo||麻辣豆腐|
|Eggpant with Peppers and Potato||dìsānxiān||dee-san-sshyen||地三鲜|
|Hand-torn Fried Cabbage with Chili||shǒusī yuánbáicài||shoh-srr ywen-beye-tseye||手撕圆白菜|
|Stir-fried Celery and Lily Bulbs||xīqín bǎihé||sshee-chin beye-her||西芹百合|
|Flash-fried Broccoli||báizhuó xīlánhuā||beye-jwor sshee-lan-hwaa||白灼西兰花|
|Needle Mushrooms with Cucumber||jīnzhēngū huángguā||jin-jnng-goo hwung-gwa||金针菇黄瓜|
|Spinach Fried with Garlic||suànní bōcài||swann-nee bor-tseye||蒜泥菠菜|
|Sauteed Cabbage with Mushrooms||xiānggū yóucài||sshyang-goo yoh-tseye||香菇油菜|
|Fried Egg with Tomato||xīhóngshì chǎodàn||sshyee-hong-shrr chaow-dan||西红柿炒蛋|
We have compiled directories of China's most popular tourist destinations' vegetarian restaurants to help you find your way around. Many of the restaurants listed in the articles linked below are specifically Buddhist, but not all of them.
We can help make your trip a lot easier. Our tours are tailored to your needs, and if you are vegetarian/vegan we will ensure that our tour guides order only the best vegetarian dishes for you during your holiday. See our most popular tours below: