Chinese Vegetarian Food

Written by Matteo Updated Apr. 7, 2021

One of the common questions frequently asked by overseas travelers is: “Is vegetarian food available in China?” Of course, it is!

Vegetarianism is not uncommon or unusual in China – there are over 50 million Chinese vegetarians and 40% of the world’s fruits and vegetables are eaten in China.

Top Ingredients of Chinese Vegetarian Food

The widely-used ingredients for Chinese Vegetarian food are soybean, mushroom, and sea moss fungus. 


The soybean, which contains more iron and calcium than meat, has been a vegetable staple for ages. Not only the ubiquitous sprout, but the bean itself is processed into myriad forms of tofu (bean curd).

In China, tofu is prepared and served in many ways: soft and custard-like, springy and chewy, dried and seasoned like meat or chicken, spiced and fried, or sweet or savory. The fu chu (roll of dried tofu strips) can be used for everything from spring roll wrappers to crisp “duck skin” (some vegetarian restaurants serve special Vegan Peking Duck, which imitates the flavor of real duck meat).


Mushrooms are another large presence in Chinese vegan cuisine. Fresh, dried, or preserved, they range from tiny baby mushrooms to large black mushrooms that are frequently dried. There are cultivated forms of mushrooms that have names that translate to “cloud ear”, “wood ear”, and more because of the shapes they have as they grow.

Sea-moss Fungus

Sea-moss fungus is often mistaken for slivers of seaweed but fa tsai is related to the other fungi and is favored in the dishes of Chinese New Year. One reason is that its name resembles fat choy, which means “to grow in riches”.

The flavor of Chinese Vegetarian Food

Over the centuries, Chinese vegetarian cooking has developed into a sophisticated cuisine in its own right. Cooks use a variety of protein-rich foods to simulate the flavors and textures of meat, known as “fake meat”, which may surprise your taste buds.

Such imitation meat is created mostly with soy protein and/or wheat gluten to imitate the texture, taste, and appearance of duck, chicken, or pork. Bean curd skin, for example, becomes mock poultry and wheat gluten stands in for all kinds of meat. Imitation seafood items, made from other vegetable substances such as mushrooms, are also available.

How to Order Vegetarian Food in China

Learn how to say “I am vegetarian” in Chinese! Chinese restaurants usually throw some small pieces of meat in their dishes, so all you have to do is to make it clear and specific to the waiter/waitress that you do not eat any meat:

In China, there are not many restaurants offering menus available in both Chinese and English. But if you travel with us, our local guides will save you from this confusing language barrier, as will the table below.

Menu of Chinese Vegetarian Food

Chinese Chinese Pinyin English
素麻婆豆腐 sù mápó dòufu Mapo Tofu (NO MEAT)
#糖醋排骨 táng cù pái gǔ #Sweet and Sour “Spare Ribs”
#素烤羊肉 sù kǎo yángròu #Vegetarian “Mutton Shashilk”
拍黄瓜 pāi huángguā Chinese Cucumber Salad
地三鲜 dì sān xiān Sautéed Eggplant with Potatoes and Green Peppers
醋溜土豆丝 cù liū tǔdòusī Hot and Sour Potato Shreds
番茄炒蛋 fānqié chǎodàn Fried Eggs with Tomatoes
干煸四季豆 gānbiān sìjìdòu Dry-Fried Green Beans
蒜蓉西兰花 suànróng xīlánhuā Broccoli Fried with Garlic
手撕包菜 shǒusī bāocài Hand-Torn Cabbage with Chili
罗汉斋 luóhàn zhāi Buddha’s Delight
素菜包子/饺子 sùcài baozi / jiǎozi Vegetarian Chinese Buns/Dumplings
紫菜蛋花汤 zǐcài dànhuā tāng Purple Seaweed and Egg Drop Soup
松茸野菌汤 sōngróng yějūn tāng Matsutake Mushroom Soup

#NOTE: The names in quotes “ in the above form mean that they are dishes resembling meat or seafood, i.e. mock meat. They are vegetarian cuisine, served in some specialty vegetarian restaurants (see below).

Do you want to know how to order other vegetarian food in Chinese? Contact us for help!

Recommended Vegan Restaurants in China

As a veggie, if you are planning to tour China on your own, the most trouble-free way to solve the dining issue is, to find a vegetarian and/or vegan restaurant!

Beijing Fuhuiciyuan Vegetarian Restaurant

Find more best vegetarian Restaurants in Beijing

Shanghai Godly Vegetarian Restaurant

Guangzhou Foo Yau Yuan Vegetarian Restaurant

Chengdu Zaozishu Vegetarian Lifestyle

Other veggie restaurants like Nengren Temple Vegetarian Restaurant in Guilin, Pure Veggie House in Hong Kong, and Tianlongbaoyan Vegetarian Restaurant in Xi’an are also recommended.

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Taste Chinese Vegetarian Your Way!

No one who loves food will say “no” to the delicacies of China, especially after admiring natural and cultural beauties – how would perfect travel be without delicious food? Below are three sample tours we hand-pick for your inspiration:

Back to the Chinese Food Guide

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