Chinese Vegetarian Food
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.
Chinese Vegetarianism Originated from its Religions
Historically, China was a major center of Buddhism and the founding nation of Taoism, two nature-oriented philosophies that promote vegetarianism. In temples, the monks ate and offered to the pilgrim only vegetable soups, and tea.
As from the dynasty of Qing (1644-1911), vegetarian cooking became widespread and was not only practiced in temples but also by certain city-dwellers, even in the imperial court. Therefore, cooks who specialized in vegetarian cooking appeared. Today, for whatever reasons- religious beliefs, being green, or simply for a light diet, vegetarian food is widely available in China.
Ingredients of Chinese Vegetarian Food
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 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”.
Meat-Like Vegetarian Food
Vegetarian “Mutton Shashilk”
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:
- I am a vegetarian. 我吃素 wǒ chīsù. /wor chrr-soo/
- I don’t eat any meat. 我不吃肉 wǒ bùchī ròu. /wor boo-chrr roh/
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.
Proposed Menu of Chinese Vegetarian Food
||sù mápó dòufu
||Mapo Tofu (NO MEAT)
||táng cù pái gǔ
||#Sweet and Sour “Spare Ribs”
||sù kǎo yángròu
||#Vegetarian “Mutton Shashilk”
||Chinese Cucumber Salad
||dì sān xiān
||Sautéed Eggplant with Potatoes and Green Peppers
||cù liū tǔdòusī
||Hot and Sour Potato Shreds
||Fried Eggs with Tomatoes
||Dry-Fried Green Beans
||Broccoli Fried with Garlic
||Hand-Torn Cabbage with Chili
||sùcài baozi / jiǎozi
||Vegetarian Chinese Buns/Dumplings
||zǐcài dànhuā tāng
||Purple Seaweed and Egg Drop Soup
||sōngróng yějūn tāng
||Matsutake Mushroom Soup
#NOTE: The names in quotes “ in the above form mean that they are the dishes resembling meat or seafood, i.e. mock meat. They are totally 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
Beijing Fuhuiciyuan Restaurant
- Chinese: 北京福慧慈缘素食餐厅
- Address: Xila Hutong, No.53 Dong’an Main St, Wangfujing, Dongcheng District, Beijing
- Features: Buddhist culture and decorations; dishes resembling meat or seafood
- Must-try dishes: Vegetarian Grilled “Eel”, Spinach and Mushroom Pancake, Vegetarian “Sausage”, Spring Rolls …
Shanghai Godly Vegetarian Restaurant
- Chinese: 上海功德林(南京西路店)
- Address: 445 Nanjing West Rd, Huangpu District, Shanghai
- Features: traditional veg restaurant in Shanghai since 1922, also famous for mock meat
- Must-try dishes: “Crab” Fried in Butter, Roasted “Duck”, Sweet “Pork Ribs”, Steamed Gluten …
Guangzhou Foo Yau Yuan Vegetarian Restaurant
- Chinese: 广州佛有缘素食馆
- Address: Xing Fu Xin Cun, Lai Wan Rd, Guangzhou
- Features: a Buddhist restaurant
- Must-try dishes: Vegetarian “Prawn” in Maggie Sauce, Taro Cooked in Coconut Juice, Deep Fried Taro “Fish”, Vegetarian Roast “Goose” …
Chengdu Zaozishu Vegetarian Lifestyle
- Chinese: 成都枣子树素餐厅
- Address: 27 Qinglong St, Qingyang District (4F, Building 2, Platinum Age City), Chengdu
- Features: near Wenshu Monastery, authentic Sichuan flavor
- Must-try dishes: Mashed Chinese Yam, Vegetarian “Steak” with Black Pepper, Twice-Cooked “Pork” …
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.
Taste Chinese Vegetarian Your Way!
Our Customers Eating Noodles in Xian
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:
- 8-Day China Experience Trip (Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai)
- 11-Day Glories of China (Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Yangshuo, Shanghai)
- 11-Day China Impression Journey (Beijing, Xi’an, Yangtze River, Chongqing, Shanghai)