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.
Can I survive in China as a Vegan or Vegetarian?
A Changing Land, a Changing DietVegans and vegetarians can find some difficulty in new and unfamiliar countries. China may seem a challenge in this regard. However, it may be far easier than most people realize.
Given food shortages, the China of the past saw meat as a rarity and ate it at every opportunity. Given the shortage, restaurants in those days tended to have a wide variety of vegetable rather than meat dishes. That changed with China's development, but recently there has been a reversion as standards of living have risen and people are seeking healthier lifestyles.
As a consequence, all-meat dishes are no longer deemed as acceptable. Indeed, where once people may have complained about an absence of meat, now complaints are more likely to come if a meal has a shortage of vegetables.
As of 2018, China had around 576 million people living in the countryside, some 40% of the population. China's cities are surrounded by farming towns and villages which serve the urban communities.
With improved roads and other means of travel, food can be transported from these rural surroundings and into the cities far more rapidly. As a consequence, locally-sourced foodstuffs arrive fresh in the cities, much of it vegetable produce.
and vegans, then, will find they are well catered-for in today's modernizing and rapidly-developing Chinese urban environment.Some Popular Vegetarian or Vegan dishes in China.
- Broad Beans with Lily Bulbs
- Lily Bulbs with Pakchoi
- Soybean Sprouts
- Braised Eggplant in Brown Sauce
- Fried Lettuce
- Stir-fried mushrooms
- Oyster Sauce with Pakchoi and Mushrooms
- Lotus Root with Green Pepper
- Fried Tofu with Peanuts and Red Pepper
- Dried Beancurd Sticks
Vegetarian Food is Widely Available in China
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
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
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.
|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|
Everyone in China Eat Meat?
Vegetarianism and veganism is still developing as a trend in China. With older and more traditional people, meat dishes continue to be to the fore as they take advantage of this new luxury modernization affords them.
However, China is exceptionally varied and not limited to only one tradition.
In particular, China's long association with Buddhism means vegetarianism itself reaches far back into the nation's history. Today, most Chinese Buddhists avoid meat and eat only vegetables on the first and fifteenth days of each month by the lunar calendar, while some Chinese Buddhists avoid meat altogether.
New Trend Built on an Ancient Tradition
This tradition has served as a source of inspiration for modern Chinese vegetarians and vegans motivated by concern for their health and for the well-being of animals.
China now hosts some 50 million vegetarians. Most of these are young and from the middle class. The number is growing, but even now there is a sufficient market for restaurants to deem them worth catering for.
So it is that vegetarian and vegan travelers need feel no concern when arriving in China. You will find your tastes catered for with a wide variety of both modern and traditional meat-free dishes, and this can only expand as the market continues to grow.
Vegetarian Restaurants in China's Biggest Cities
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.
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:
- 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.
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/)
- The Golden Triangle: the choice of most first timers (8 days)
- Classic Wonders: China's historical sights plus outstanding natural beauty (11 days)