Chinese Vegetarian Food

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.

Availability and Ingredients

Soybean and Tofu

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.

Chinese mock meat dishChinese mock meat dish

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.

Key Phrases

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

Pāi huángguā 拍黄瓜
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

Vegetarian Restaurants in China's Biggest Cities

Chinese vegetarian food

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.

Tour With Us

Chinese vegetarian food

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.

Further Reading

  • Looking for more information? Click here for more help understanding the Chinese vegetarian food menu.
  • Many vegetarians in China are so because of their religious beliefs. Find out more about Buddhism in China here.
  • Are you allergic to gluten? Gluten Free Travel in China is very possible, and eating gluten-free doesn't mean that you can't try a lot of different Chinese dishes throughout your travels.