Traveling to China as a Vegetarian or Vegan
Many people will tell you that vegetarian dining in China can be a bit of a lottery but vegetarians need not fear Chinese cuisine.
China has a long established tradition of vegetarianism arising from Buddhist practices, although among the general public, eating meat is still seen as a sign of prosperity – something to be encouraged not avoided. Meat is often used as a seasoning rather than a main ingredient and chicken or pork stock is used as a base for most soups. That being said, China produces a vast array of fresh vegetables – many of which you may never even have heard of! – and if you order judiciously you will be rewarded with some delicious, unusual dishes.
In addition, more and more people in China are choosing to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet for health reasons or because of environmental concerns.
If you are traveling to China on one of our guided tours, then your agent and guide will help arrange your meals based on any information about your dietary restrictions that you provided. If you are traveling on your own, however, here are some tips for vegetarians or vegans.
Dining out at restaurants
More and more restaurants in China are aware of and accommodating of vegetarian diners and most will have a selection of vegetarian-friendly dishes on the menu. Before you order, simply use one of the phrases below to indicate to your waitress that you don’t eat meat. Western restaurants usually have a strong selection of vegetarian dishes.
If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan and would prefer to eat in a restaurant that doesn’t handle any meat then you still have plenty of options. Most major cities have at least a couple of dedicated vegetarian restaurants; in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, you can check local expat media publications or international vegan and vegetarian restaurant listings website. Outside of major cities, the restaurants attached to Buddhist temples are a good first port of call for vegetarians; the quality varies but the food is guaranteed to be meat-free.
Vegetarian street food in China
China is home to a vast array of street foods and vegetarians definitely needn’t feel like they will be missing out as many of these foods are naturally vegetarian. Take the popular breakfast food, baozi (包子). These steamed buns can be found on every street corner and come with a variety of interesting vegetarian fillings, such as eggs with Chinese chives or spicy sweet potato starch noodles. Although you obviously can’t see the filling until you buy them, show the phrase “I don’t eat any meat” below to the vendor and they will be able to select some for you.
Other recommended street foods for vegetarians include soy milk and deep-fried dough sticks (dòujiāng yóutiáo, 豆浆油条), scallion oil pancake (cōngyŏubĭng, 葱油饼), and jianbing (jiānbing, 煎饼), a multigrain crepe filled with various savory sauces and topped with a fried egg (it makes a great breakfast!).
Recommended Chinese vegetarian dishes
Below is a small selection of vegetarian dishes that you will be able to find on the menu (or request) at restaurants across China. Every region of China has its own unique cuisine, so be sure to explore local options, too!
Smacked cucumber salad 拍黄瓜 pāihuángguā
Cold spinach with peanuts 果仁菠菜 guŏrén bōcài
Stir-fried eggs and tomatoes 番茄炒鸡蛋 fānqié chăo jīdàn
Eggplant with potatoes and peppers 地三鲜 dìsānxiān
Home-style tofu 家常豆腐 jiācháng doufu
Stir-fried broccoli with garlic 蒜蓉西兰花 suànróng xīlánhuā
Buddha’s Delight 罗汉斋 (a popular dish made with tofu and 10 or more types of vegetables) luóhànzhāi
Hot and spicy potato slivers 酸辣土豆丝 suānlà tŭdòusī
Stir-fried corn with pine kernels 松仁玉米 sōngrén yùmĭ
I am vegetarian 我吃素 wŏ chīsù
I am vegan 我吃纯素 wŏ chī chūnsù
I don’t eat meat 我不吃任何肉类 wŏ bùchī rènhé ròulèi
I am allergic to… 我对…过敏 wŏ duì… guòmĭn
I can’t eat… 我不能吃… wŏ bùnĕng chī…
Milk 牛奶 niúnǎi
Butter 黄油 huángyóu
Eggs 鸡蛋 jīdàn
Honey 蜂蜜 fēngmì
Chicken stock 鸡汤 jītāng
Meat or fish stock 肉/鱼汤 ròu/yútāng
Lard 猪油 zhūyóu
What vegetarian dishes do you have? 你有什么素菜？nĭ yŏu shénme sùcài?
Does this dish have meat in it? 这个菜有肉吗？zhège cài yŏu ròu ma?
Can you make this dish without meat? 这个菜能不能不加肉？zhège cài néng bù néng bù jiā ròu?