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Posted by on Apr 13, 2014 in Chinese food, vegan / vegetarian | 22 comments

Is China a vegan and vegetarian friendly country?

Is China a vegan and vegetarian friendly country?

If you are a vegetarian or vegan and you are planning to work, live or travel in China, you might be a little bit concerned about the food. Here is the best Chinese vegan and vegetarian food I found out there.

Is China a vegan and vegetarian friendly country? What type of Chinese vegan and vegetarian food will I find when I make it there? Do people understand what veganism and vegetarianism is? China is not a vegan or vegetarian country as a whole, but you can find great vegan and veggie options

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

 

Let me start from saying that you should never be discouraged from travel due to your different eating habits and beliefs. It is absolutely possible to travel widely in China and find Chinese vegan and vegetarian food. It just takes some effort and a bit of flexibility. Although Chinese people do not understand neither the concept of veganism nor vegetarianism, it does not mean you will starve to death if you live accordingly to one of these practices. In fact, you might find China a food paradise if you know what it has to offer in terms of fruits and vegetables and it’s not only about the greasy pork meat, oily veggies and rice. China is a vegan and vegetarian country indeed.

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Spice sauces and sesame bread

 

The best Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

 

Tropical fruits and fresh vegetables.

When you finally make it here, you can indulge in a juicy rambutan, star fruit, lychee, jackfruit (the most delicious fruits here) or baked sweet corn and grilled jacked sweet potatoes. You can have there on the run as they are sold nearly everywhere in the street. Have them as a snack and it will keep you full till lunch and dinner time.

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Sweet potatoes

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Steamed sweet corn

 

Vegan/ vegetarian menu

#1 Chinese buns

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Sweet buns

 

Breakfast buns are a great breakfast option for vegans and vegetarians. They are usually filled with all sorts of tasty goodies – jam, jelly, fruits and steamed green veggies. You can acquire these from street side vendors. Topped with soy milk taste like heaven!

 

#2 Crispy-Skin Tofu

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

A tofu dish

Blocks of tofu served with sweet red sauce. It might not smell nice, but it is very delicious and so nutritious. If you don’t like spicy food, you might ask for sweet or slightly salty sesame oil instead.

 

#3 Vegetarian Baozi or Jiaozi

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Veggie baozi

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Baozi

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

A plate of Baozi

 

These are one of the most delicious breakfast options on the go when in China. Baozi and jiaozi are the names for dumplings filled with radish, parsley, onion and pumpkin. You can have them served with soy sauce, chilli, vinegar and sesame oil. They are great

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Jiaozi

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

A typical Jiaozi filled with veggies

 

What’s the difference between baozi and jiaozi? Baozi are much bigger than jiaozi and they are normally steamed so they seem to be much healthier. Jiaozi are crescent-shaped, often deep-fried, but can also be served like baozi or in a soup.

 

#4 Egg and tomato soup

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Egg and tomato soup

 

A simple soup made of eggs and tomato. Salty, and available country-wide.

 

#5 Noodle soup

You will surely enjoy a simple noodle soup with carrots, parsley, chives and onion. The noodles eaten in the morning are thick and long so you can feel fuller for longer. Add some herbs and spices and you are sorted for half of your day.

 

#6 You Tiao

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

You Tiao

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

A bowl of You tiao

 

They are deep fried bread sticks made of dough and served as an accompaniment for rice congee or soy milk. They are soft and taste best with some melted chocolate or peanut butter. Be careful: they are extremely oily.

 

#7 Jian bing

vegan food china

street pancake

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Chinese pancakes

 

Jian bing are Chinese pancakes made at street vendors. They do not taste like Western style pancakes (thick, filled with sugar, served with fruits and nutella, sprinkled with powder sugar) as Chinese don’t like sweet food. Jian bing are spicy and served with chives. They are light and very filling.

 

#8 Hot pot

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

spicy noodles with peanut and cucomber

Hot pot are rice or noodles based dishes. There is a huge pot placed in the middle of the table where you can put all veggies in and wait a couple of minutes till they are cooked properly. You can add some chilli, oil and different herbs and spices to make it taste nice.

 

#9 Porridges (Congees)

When it comes to porridge, China offers a great variety of them. You can either go for red bean porridge (sweet), white rice porridge (sometimes sweet), black rice porridge with jujubes (sweet), millet congee or green bean porridge (sometimes sweet).

 

#10 Soy yoghurt

There are few places in China where you can soy yoghurt in glass bottles with tinfoil or paper lids from street vendors. These are most active in the morning. Also, in other areas you can often buy yoghurt in larger food stores or convenience stores.

 

Useful phrases

There is no easy and direct way to say “I’m vegan” or “I’m vegetarian” in Chinese language. However, you can easily express it by saying: “Wo chi su” which means “I eat vegetables”. Locals will understand you well and nobody will ask additional questions.

 

 

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food

Herbs and spices

 

As you can see, there is a great variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes you can try when in China. You might find the food a little bit stodgy at first, but you will quickly get used to it. No matter what part of China you are staying in or going to, there will be always street vendors from where you can purchase fresh fruits, raw veggies, nuts and peanuts.  

Chinese vegan and vegetarian food is varied and delicious, so no need to worry about traveling to China!

 

 

 

  Agness is a photography passionate, food lover and adventure hunter. She stands behind eTramping – a travel website where you can find plenty of budget travel tips on how to travel the world with $25 in your pocket. If you would like to read more about China, you can check out her “Add the Brick to the Great Wall:” Experience-based Advice for China from Expats” e-book which sums up her two-year experience of teaching, living and travelling in the Land of Dragons.

 

 

MORE ON VEGAN AND VEGETARIAN FOODS OF THE WORLD? CHECK OUT:

VEGETARIAN FOODS FROM PORTUGAL   TURKISH FOODS & THE SPICE BAZAAR   TRADITIONAL GREEK VEGAN FOODS   ITALIAN VEGAN FOODS

22 Comments

  1. I’m not a vegetarian neither vegan, but I love eating healthy and China is my food paradise. I often buy my breakfast at food vendors and dine out with friends. We love to indulge in fried rice with grilled veggies, soy milk, fresh fruit salads and baked sweet potatoes!

    • Interesting post! I went to couple cities in China and hardly ate anything vegan there because not all of them are vegan ;( since some dishes may contain lard or animal fat, or something else such as whey or milk powder (dairy). I usually eat raw or shop at groceries/deli with ingredients & labels. I remember how my mom tried to get me ‘vegetarian’ bao-zi (steamed buns) all the time in China, but I told her I won’t eat them b/c they are not from a vegan/vegetarian stall. Thanks for sharing this post! I also run a vegan food and travel blog 😉

    • Btw did most of the snacks/dishes you photographed are from vegetarian places. I don’t want to ruin your palates, but if they aren’t, they usually contain animal lard/fat. ;( ;( ;(

      • I only eat at vegan and vegetarian places when I’m in Asia, most street spots use animal fat or sauces. Besides, I’m not so sure if the pans are well washed. The only time, in India when i had to eat at a non-vegetarian restaurant, my food came with pieces of mutton, which ended up in a big argument with the restaurant owner. I think Agness didn’t go to special vegan restaurants, but regular places.

  2. Great insights into veggie food. Being a vegetarian I do understand some concerns people have when travelling and the unknown when it comes to food. Years ago I think there was more of a problem – I remember travelling to Italy as a young girl and being looked at strangely because I asked for something with no meat in – nowadays I think it is far more widely accepted though! :)

    • Really? I think Italy is one of the most vegan friendly countries in southern Europe. When i was traveling there, had a blast with the vegan pizzas everywhere.

  3. Hate to be the one to say it, but congee, hot pots, and soups are almost guaranteed not to be vegetarian unless you are eating at a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant.

    • I think it’s safer to check if the congees and soups were cooked with meat stock or bones, which is very common.

  4. That’s a great article and very useful for people that like me are vegetarians (almost vegan), people always think (me included) that China isn’t an easy country for not meat and fish eater, but it’s good to know there are options :)

    • Yes ther eare option, I’m getting to the conclusion that absolutely every culture has at least a couple of vegan dishes.

  5. Great post! We loved the roasted sweet potatoes while in China. We found difficulty in explaining vegan, often still getting seafood or egg in our food. Asking for no MSG was another matter. At least 50% of the time, our request for no MSG was ignored because why on earth would someone not want flavor in their food. This was a common reaction. There were several vegetarian/vegan restaurants that we discovered and enjoyed so much, eating most of our meals there.

    • The problem with MSG is all over Asia…. as you’ve said, who on earth wants food without flavor??! I haven’t been to china, but in Penang – Malaysia, I had the best vegan food ever within the Chinese community restaurants.

  6. Thank you for the great food suggestions Yara and Agness! When I was travelling in China, I wasn’t vegetarian yet and I remember that all my food contained meat. Well, sometimes I had actually no idea what I was eating, but’s great to know that there is such a wide range of vegetarian food that can be found when actually looking for it…:)

    • China is definitely not a vegetarian country, but it is possible to find amazing vegan foods out there. It’s harder than most Asian countries though.

  7. I also never had any problems finding veggie or vegan food when I travelled in China back in 2010. A lot of the food I did have was really delicious, especially dumplings, although also I wasn’t fond of cold silken tofu (though I do love tofu). Also, loved all of the photos of Agness eating!

  8. Thanks for writing this! I am a vegan, and I am planning a trip to China. I’ve been concerned about how I am going to eat while visiting. May I also suggest checking out HappyCow.net which will tell you locations of vegan places around the world. I plan on using it when over there, but in haven’t tried it in China yet: https://www.happycow.net/asia/china/

  9. Wow, that’s THE post I was looking for !
    I’m going to China at the end of October, starting a big trip around Asia. I will stay 2 months in China and I was concerned about food, as I’m vegan. It helps a lot to know all these vegans dishes, thank you very much.
    However, I was wondering if, for instance, your hosts offer you food with meat and you explain that you’re vegan, would they be offended ?

    • Hi Noé, well, in many cultures people can’t understand the concept of vegetarianism, let alone veganism. Chinese don’t eat dairy usually ,so you’re safe on that one. Explaining why you don’t eat meat and eggs might be tricky. Sometimes, I what works better for me is to say I’m allergic to dairy and eggs, and I don’t eat meat for religious reasons. People never question health problems or religion. In many places, I say I’m highly allergic, and no restaurant wants to get in trouble if I get ill. Same with a host family :)

      Please, let me know about your adventures while you’re on the road :) Let’s stay in touch!

  10. Great article, thanks so much for the tips! I’m a vegan heading on a 2-year adventure to Asia next year, and have been wondering how viable it will be to sustain my diet over there. It’s great to get some well-informed advice from on the ground already!

  11. hi! Have you considered the problem of gutter oil when you chose to eat street food?? I am going to spend one year in Beijing and I am very worried about that.

  12. “Chinese people do not understand neither the concept of veganism nor vegetarianism”

    Really that’s not entirely true. Vegetarianism has existed in China for over 1000 years. Chinese Buddhist monks are forbidden from eating meat, and Taoism encourages it for purity reasons. Today, about 50 million people in China are vegetarian. Can’t say that it is well proselytized like it has been in the UK and North America, but it has a presence. Veganism on the other hand is more of a modern concept and is probably not going to be understood.

    Also, I’m not sure if Taiwanese are included in the definition of Chinese, but if it is, vegetarianism is huge in Taiwan.

  13. Vegetarian request is growing up in China, too. Our mission is to fill this gap, professionally.

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