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Chinese Vegetarian Food — a Vegetarians Guide to China

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 Widely Available in China

Soybean and Tofu

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.

Ingredients of Chinese Vegetarian Food

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.

How to Order 

Chinese mock meat dishChinese mock meat dish

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).

Useful English/Chinese Phrases to Help You Order

  • I am a vegetarian. (我吃素。 Wǒ chīsù. /wor chrr-soo/)
  • I do not eat any meat. (我不吃任何肉类。Wǒ bùchī rènhé ròulèi. /wor boo-chrr rnn-her roh-lay/)
  • I do not eat fish, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, honey, chicken stock, meat broth, fish stock, fish sauce, or lard.
    (我不吃鱼、牛奶、 奶酪、黄油、鸡蛋、蜂蜜、鸡汤、肉汤、鱼汤、鱼酱、猪油。 
    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/)

  • Chinese Vegetarian Dishes Menu

    Here is a list of common Chinese vegetarian dishes and/or street food, with names in English, pinyin, English-style pronunciation, and Chinese characters.

    English Chinese Pinyin Pronunciation 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

    Vegetarian Restaurants in China's Biggest Cities

    Eating vegetarian food with China Highlights

    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.

    Tour Veggie/Vegan With China Highlights

    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: