Savoury Vegetarian hotspots to dine at in China

If you’re a vegetarian, you may envision navigating China’s food scene to be a daunting, difficult task. It is, after all, a land known for its vast array of succulent, meaty dishes. However, after spending some time here, we’ve learned that this picture we had in our heads is not entirely accurate, and with some helpful tips and tricks to serve as a guide, following a plant-based diet here is not only do-able but truly enjoyable.

dumplings

Truth: It may be a challenge, at first.

If you’re traveling with meat-eaters, or simply haven’t yet discovered the decadent veg-friendly restaurants in China (see below), you are bound to find yourself in a traditional restaurant, which you’ll have to learn to navigate. The first thing to note is that you’ll have to engage your waiter in a series of questions. Unfortunately, you cannot rely on the menu to suss out which dishes are going to be appropriate for you. Courses that you wouldn’t expect to contain meat, like tofu and eggplant, might very well come garnished with beef or pork. So, ensure this is not the case when you place your order, and you’d be wise to confirm it again before your waiter leaves your table. The second thing to note is that you must clarify the term “vegetarian,” or what it means for you not to “eat meat.” After all, some vegetarians will eat fish, and this, along with vegetables rendered in animal fat, has been known to be served to those who simply state they don’t consume animal flesh.

Avoid…

Dim Sum restaurants, for they don’t tend to offer many vegetarian options. Also, stay away from “hot pot”; this cooking method boils all ingredients together in a large, common vessel, which is likely going to result in your meal coming into contact with meat or meat products.

Dim sum

What to order

Although there are certain dishes that won’t jive with your personal food philosophy, you’re bound to be astounded by the number of delicious ones that do. The Chinese have been catering to their vegetarian Buddhist population for a long time, developing in this process a real knack for prepping exquisite dishes, formed on the bases of fresh vegetables. The following are traditional meals you must try:

  • Seaweed and egg soup: garnished with sesame oil and salt (ensure they don’t add shrimp!)
  • Flash fried broccoli: tofu, peppers, scallions, augmented with soy sauce, ginger and garlic (double check pork or oyster sauce aren’t added!)
  • Fried eggs and tomatoes: topped off with green onions and salt
  • Green vegetables with mushrooms: bok choy and fungi with garlic, glazed with soy sauce, and sprinkled with salt
  • Seven-colour shiitake mushrooms: bok choy, fungi, and tofu; glazed with sesame oil, chili and soy sauce; and topped with ginger
  • Crispy tofu skin: golden brown in color, this crunchy, flavourful dish is considered the veggie version of chicken breast; it is also known as “bean curd skin.”
  • Stir-fried potatoes: flavored with peppers, salt, chili sauce and Sichuan peppercorns

food-salad-healthy-vegetables

Specialty vegetarian restaurants to dine at

The following are inventive plant-based restaurants in Shanghai that offer a highly varied menu of mouthwatering dishes for every veg-loving individual.

  • Godly: Shanghai’s Vegetarian chain of restaurants known for being the dining destination of famed author Lu Xun in the early 1920s. The most popular can be found on Nanjingxi Road. 
    Address: 445, Nanjingxi Road, Huangpu District
  • Twin Lotus Vegetarian Guild Hall: located in Tianjin, this hotspot is renowned for its mushroom dishes, including dry-fried fungus and stew-dried mushrooms. Other specialties include baked bean curd and spicy boiled “fish.”
    Address: Block B, 68 Changde Road, Heping District
  • Wonderful Vegetarian House: Tibet’s first plant-based restaurant is a popular one for tourists and, with its reasonably priced menu, for students on a budget. The dishes are reminiscent of delicious, home-cooked meals, with specialties including vegetarian “sausages,” potato cakes, fried dumplings, and taro and dried bean curd.
    Address: Linju’nan Road, Chengguan District
  • Lily Vegetarian Restaurant: the Caoyuan Hutong branch in Beijing features a melange of simple vegetarian dishes and those inspired by meat dishes, both of which are a treat to the tastebuds. Must try in this chicly decorated restaurant? The rich vanilla multi-layered bread, the pumpkin paste, and the vegetarian “chicken drumstick.”
    Address: A23 Caoyuan Hutong, Dongzhimen North Street, Dongcheng District

Also, don’t forget to make a trip to the many food markets for fresh produce that you can whip into a scrumptious meal at home. A Chinese style stir-fry only takes a handful of ingredients to craft (read: bok choy, spinach, scallions, and garlic). Plus, this is the place to load up on incredibly well-priced protein sources, like brown rice.

China street market

So, veggie-lovers, we hope you’ve become empowered to get out and explore China, knowing you’re going to find the utmost support from restauranteurs in your personal decision to eat plant-based. Even more than that, we promise you will find luscious, authentic, Chinese food that will enrich your cultural experience, and put a smile on your face.

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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