Traditional Chinese food was never as meat-heavy as it is today. Dishes used to include a lot of vegetables, beans and tofu with rice as the central fare (see LOCAL FOOD page). But China recently “achieved” the record of consuming half the world’s pork. Like most countries in the world, increased wealth has been synonymous with increased consumption of meat, once a luxury item. So, in this respect, expect to see and smell a lot of pork cooking all around China, especially in cities where the smell of roasting meat is pervasive.
This being said, recent health worries around poultry and other meats as well as environmental concerns have woken people up to the vegan and the organic food agendas. To claim that it’s easy to be vegan in China would not be completely true, but with a few precautions and a willingness to be flexible with an occasional bad
surprise, one can enjoy the best of vegan food China has to offer and never go hungry or get bored.
China has almost 1.4 billion population with 56 ethnic groups (though most people are Han), with 8 major culinary areas each providing different tastes and food cultures: Sichuan is peppery and spicy or sweet and sour – or both; Cantonese prefer steamed dishes and stir fries; Jiangsu incorporates a lot of fish-based sauces and foods since it is by the sea; Fujian is known for its soups; Shandong is famous for its baos (bread steamed buns with a filling); Hunan loves spicy stews: Zhejiang, in contrast to many other states prefers mild and non-greasy foods; and Anhui specializes in braised dishes with lots of wild herbs. Each one of these culinary approaches include lots of traditional dishes made only with vegetables, always cooked to perfection, bright green or crispy and yet again melting in your mouth as some veggies like eggplants should be.
Beijing is a vegan paradise compared to the country-side. People understand better what you mean by vegan (most people have never heard about veganism, see and listen to the VEGAN WORDS to learn crucial words to be better understood), there are more vegan choices in regular restaurants and the vegan restaurants are among the best in the world. Outside of Beijing there will be much good will to cater to your needs but less opportunities. Plan on doing your own cooking as much as possible. You will love the open markets with vibrant greens as well as the different kinds of teas and soya sauces.
Precautions: In china do not assume that a “vegetarian” dish means it has no meat or is vegan. It usually will have eggs. Make sure to ask. Fake meats are not always completely fake. Beef or pork powders are added for taste. Only the ones served in vegetarian and of course vegan restaurants or Buddhist temples are trustworthy. Dairy is not an issue if you stick to traditional Chinese food since dairy items
were never used in the past for humans over the age of 4.
As in Vietnam and Taiwan, your best bets for finding vegan food are Buddhist temples/monasteries or their surroundings. Chinese Buddhist cuisine is usually vegan, typically containing home-made mock meats made from seitan and soya beans or shiitake mushrooms. As a 2000-year-old tradition, it has had a long time to perfect delicious vegan dishes that will leave you delighted. Indeed, some vegans organize their trip to China on the trail of monasteries just for the pleasure of the food. Nevertheless, menus are usually hung near the kitchen and do not include pictures, as opposed to regular restaurants. You might need
to point at some customers plates 😊 to get what you want.
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