What You Have to Know About Living In China as a Vegan or Vegetarian
OK so what you think is…
Being vegetarian or vegan in China, on the face of it, is a real challenge.
Let’s kill the myth!
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…
OUR GUIDE TO LIVING OR VISITING CHINA AS A VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN
So here’s the deal Veggies and Vegans
You will 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 Vegan or Vegetarian 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.
Vegan in China – Useful phrases
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)
Vegetarian in China – Useful phrases
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)
Now we are going to take a look at some real life stories of LTL students, past and present.
How did they cope in China as a Vegan or Veggie?
Noah’s Story as a Vegan in China
At the beginning it was quite hard for me to find suitable food, especially as I could not read many characters on the menu of restaurants or in the supermarket.
Two things that helped me a lot:
Living in a homestay that prepared vegan food for me (so in the morning and evening I did not have to worry about finding something vegan)
Secondly, asking my Chinese friends to show me some vegetable dishes in nearby restaurants.
I knew what I could eat and not. After getting to know the authentic Chinese cuisine, I realized that there are loads of vegetable dishes and yummy tofu. There are even real vegan restaurants that offer fake meat like duck, fish and crabs. Definitely an interesting experience!
MY MAIN TIP: When ordering food in a restaurant, it’s always better to ask twice if it has meat, fish, eggs, milk products etc! Just saying “I am vegan/vegetarian” is often not enough, as this concept is not so common in China.
Thanks to Noah from Germany who studied Chinese with us at LTL for 4 months in total which involved some time in Shanghai and some in Beijing.
Pescatarian in China – Meity’s Story
Hello, my name is Meity and I’m doing the 5 weeks of Mandarin Classes at LTL Beijing.
I am a pescatarian who doesn’t eat dairy, which did worry me a little when booking my trip out here.
I was worried about being too shy to raise questions about food or even use my Chinese to ask if something had meat in it.
After only 2 weeks of being here I have realised it’s really not anything to worry about.
Here are my tips I would give to vegetarians, pescatarian or vegans:
1. Write down on your phone key phrases.
I would recommend writing down both the pinyin and characters, that way you can say it and if they don’t understand you, they can read the characters.
2. Download the Happy Cow App
This is useful for vegetarians/vegans travelling in general.
It highlights all the local shops and restaurants which are either have veg options or are vegetarian/vegan.
3. Use a hidden feature on WeChat
Its called translate which is the most useful thing I’ve learnt so far.
You can take a picture and it will scan the characters and translate it for you. This is super useful for someone like me who doesn’t always have the courage to speak up in busy environments.
4. If you have the choice go for a menu with pictures
It is also a good idea to know a few basic characters such as “meat” “egg” “ fish” . Often in Chinese restaurants the descriptions are super long, but if you can just pick out a character like meat or vegetable it will save you a lot of time.
And just so you know:
- 肉 – Meat
- 鸡蛋 – Egg
- 鱼 – Fish
5. If in doubt, Rice & Veg
If you can’t find anything that’s suitable (hasn’t happened to me yet). You can always order a bowl of rice and some veg.
6. Look into Buddhist restaurants
They will be your vegan paradise. It’s also a chance to try mock meats.
The phrases you need to know:
- I’m vegan – 我是纯素食者 (wǒ shì chún sùshí zhě)
- I only eat products of plant origin – 我只吃植物性食品 (wǒ zhǐ chī zhíwù xìng shípǐn)\
- 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)
- I don’t eat dairy products – 我不吃乳制品 (wǒ bù chī rǔ zhìpǐn)
- 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.
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