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.
The above means that although it may not seem that way, 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 large varieties of vegetables, Chinese vegetarian food often uses tofu (bean curd), dry bean curd, nuts, mushrooms, fungi and water plants as its ingredients.
Interestingly, you will frequently find dishes resembling a type of 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 of institutions, and may surprise a western vegetarian.
Alternatively, sample vegetarian dishes at normal restaurants. 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. Fortunately our guides will be able to help you with this (as will the table below).
Many dishes that have meat in them can also be prepared without the meat. All you have to tell the waiter is Wǒ chī sù （我吃素 /wor chrr soo/). Especially the better restaurants throughout the country will have no problem leaving the meat out of your dish to suit your needs.
Here is a list of common Chinese vegetarian dishes and/or street food, including names in Chinese, Pinyin and English.
|English Name||Chinese Pinyin||Chinese Characters|
Cucumber and Crushed Garlic
|Crispy Tofu Skin||Cuìpí dòufu||脆皮豆腐|
|Mixed Salad with Chinese Dressing||Dàbàncài||大拌菜|
|Home-style Tofu||Jiācháng dòufu||家常豆腐|
|Spicy Tofu||Málà dòufu||麻辣豆腐|
|Eggpant with Peppers and Potato||Dìsānxiān||地三鲜|
|Hand-torn Fried Cabbage with Chili||Shǒusī yuánbáicài||手撕圆白菜|
|Stir-fried Celery and Lily Bulbs||Xīqín bǎihé||西芹百合|
|Flash-fried Broccoli||Báizhuó xīlánhuā||白灼西兰花|
|Needle Mushrooms with Cucumber||Jīnzhēngū huángguā||金针菇黄瓜|
|Spinach Fried with Garlic||Suànní bōcài||蒜泥菠菜|
|Sauteed Cabbage with Mushrooms||Xiānggū yóucài||香菇油菜|
|Fried Egg with Tomato||Xīhóngshì chǎodàn||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. Check out the following links for more city-specific information. Many of the restaurants listed in the articles 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 we will ensure that our tour guides order only the best vegetarian dishes for you during your holiday. All you have to do is let us know when you contact us.