Living in China as a Vegan or Vegetarian
Being vegetarian or vegan in China, on the face of it, is a real challenge. Eating meat in Chinese culture, is actually considered a sign of prosperity. Furthermore, in a lot of vegetable dishes minuscule pieces of meat are frequently used as garnish and people don’t really consider them as meat, but just as a mere decoration.
That’s the reason why, when you specifically ask the waiters for a dish without any animal products, in most cases, they will first reassure you they will follow your wishes. However, after your food arrives, there’s a really good chance it is just a vegetable dish with some small pieces of meat, eggs etc…
If this is giving you the feeling you will be a hopeless vegan condemned to hunger in China, you might be pleased to know that a lot of vegetables are used in Chinese cuisine. Even though the majority of the population in China is not vegetarian, there are some popular Chinese dishes you can easily find and eat because they are 100% made of food which is of plant origin.
Before we move on with some key vocabulary here are LTL’s top five dishes for a Vegan or Vegetarian in China. Rest assured there are many more great contenders also!
Top 5 Dishes for a Vegetarian or Vegan in China
Let’s see 5 dishes both vegan and vegetarian can eat in China:
1. 地三鲜 (dì sān xiān) – Stir fried eggplant, chilli and potato braised with soy sauce.
2. 麻辣豆腐 (málà dòufu) – Tofu bean curd flavoured with hot spices
3. 鱼香茄子 (yú xiāng qiézi) – Despite its name which means “fish-fragrant eggplants”, this dish is only made of crispy eggplants covered in a sticky sweet, sour, savoury and slightly spicy sauce.
4. 香菇青菜 (xiāng gū qīng cài) – Green vegetable with mushrooms
5. 青椒土豆丝 (qīngjiāo tǔdòu sī) – Northern dish. Shredded green pepper and potato, lightly salted and fried with oil.
When in China, you might also need to explain that you’re a vegetarian or a vegan as well as needing to specify what you eat and what you don’t. All you have to do is learn the following expressions to make your life in China much easier:
The Chinese word for vegan is 纯素食者 (chún sù shí zhě) literally “a pure vegetable-ist” or “a pure vegetarian”. The word for vegetarian is 素食者 (sù shí zhě) literally “a vegetable-ist”. The 纯 “chún”(pure) defines the difference between vegan and vegetarian.
Useful phrases in China for a Vegan
I am vegan – 我是纯素食者 (wǒ shì chún sùshí zhě)
I eat only products of plant origin – 我只吃植物性食品 (wǒ zhǐ chī zhíwù xìng shípǐn)
I do not eat meat – 我不吃肉 (wǒ bù chī ròu)
I do not eat fish – 我不吃魚(wǒ bù chī yú)
I do not eat dairy products – 我不吃乳制品 (wǒ bù chī rǔ zhìpǐn)
Useful phrases in China for a Vegetarian
I am vegetarian – 我是素食者 (wǒ shì sùshí zhě)
I eat vegetables – 我吃素 (wǒ chī sù)
I don’t eat meat – 我不吃肉 (wǒ bù chī ròu)
I don’t eat fish – 我不吃魚 (wǒ bù chī yú)
Hopefully this post has been of real use to you. Do you have any favourite Veggie dishes we may’ve overlooked? How do you get by in China as a Vegan or Vegetarian? Let us know and share your experiences below in our comment section.