Before we left for our travels, one of the things I was nervous about was being able to keep up with my vegan lifestyle- my diet to be precise. Although it’s not been possible to be 100% so far, my diet is still pretty much 98% vegan, and I do my best with what’s available to me (I would never eat meat or fish knowingly, and the times I am referring to as being ‘not vegan’ is in some cases where I thought I had a vegan dish, and it came with egg or meat which I picked out, and some snacks that have traces or milk or egg). Although I get nervous about writing this for fear of judgement, I really would not like to be the kind of person who sends a dish back in a small cafe in a developing country, and so wasting food, or taking money away from people less well off than me (my bf eats the egg etc, and quite often we eat in local venues in quiet parts of towns that are sometimes rural). Language barrier has also caused a bit of confusion when ordering food.
Anyway, carrying on, here are some of the amazing vegan dishes I managed to find in Beijing! 🙂 I often had to fall back to eating rice and greens, so these I do not list below, even though they are always lovely.
I know this might sound a bit bizarre, but I insist you must try this dish if you ever see it! It is so simple, but one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten, and I would eat it every day if I could. I can’t wait to get back to a place where we have a kitchen so we can make it for ourselves. The ingredients are quite simple: cucumber, garlic, chili, vinegar, sesame oil, and I think sugar.. A wonderful combination; Matt and I would generally buy one to split, to accompany our main meals.
Sweet and Sour Yam
Gotta be honest, I’m still not even sure what a yam is.. I’m going to go with some kind of potato haha. Anyway, it’s not too important, but what is, is how insanely yummy this dish was! We’ve all most likely had some kind of sweet and sour dish, and this was not too unlike that, but I’d say a lot more natural tasting, and just so comforting! A light spice, garlicky, nice and sweet, and slightly sour – coupled with the yammy, potatoey goodness, I think this dish would be enjoyed by all.
I know I know.. it looks like some kind of lettuce with a dull looking sauce – what could be special about that? Well, I wouldn’t have picked this for myself, so I am glad that Matt had already lived in China and regularly ordered this as a side dish. So, as it looks, this is some kind of green leaf, coated in a roasted sesame sauce; it is faaaarrr more delicious than it looks! It’s moreish, due to the slight saltiness, and comfortings, because well.. roasted sesame! Not to mention it’s mostly green, so it’s healthy of course! I recommend you get this as a side dish if you see it while in China.
A typical traditional Chinese breakfast food, Jianbing became something Matt and I loved and ate a few times over our stay in Beijing. A soft wrap made usually from mung bean or wheat flower is handmade on a rotating hot plate infront of you, then an egg is cracked over it (no egg for me and other vegans, but it’s easy to ask for without), and when cooked, the pancake is then removed from the hotplate and swiftly filled with hoisin sauce, greens, coriander, spring onion, garlic, and a crispy fried wonton cracker, which gives it a lovely crunch! All in all, this is a perfect, slightly salty, and also very comforting food for the morning which is light yet substantial at the same time. This food is made differently depending on where in China you are, so I would definitely be interested to try some more!
Handmade Flat Noodles (wheat), with Vegetables, in a Veggie Broth
This dish didn’t actually come off the menu, but seeing as Matt could speak Mandarin, even places that didn’t really list anything vegetarian, were able to cater for me when we ate there. As a result I got this yummy filling noodle soup. It tasted great, and I thought I would list this as it is typical of what you can eat as a vegan when in China. Please note though, if the language barrier is too much, you could well experience your ‘veggie’ food, come out in a meat broth, so please learn your key phrases, and cross your fingers haha. This only happened once to me, and it was in the very North of China, so I think you’ll be fine really; don’t let that put you off trying the really traditional, local Chinese places. The food is outstanding.
Braised Eggplant (served with rice)
Another comforting dish, that is easily found in many small local restaurants, is braised eggplant. I have to admit, that this one in particular lacked a little something. I think I would have liked garlic and spice, but this filled me up and was nice enough. Seeing as it’s an easily available dish, I have no doubt that different places will have their own recipe and turn up the flavours of the dish.
Street Food Finds – Spring Rolls, and Candied Fruits
Although when walking through Chinese food markets, the majority of the food will not be suitable for vegetarians/vegans, don’t be disheartened, as there’ll always be something you can have. One one evening, I got this giant spring roll type thing, that was so delicious I wish I’d gotten two, and decided to try the candied fruit I saw sooo many of the locals eating. Gotta say, I prefer my fruit without sugar, but I did try Matt’s hawthorn one when we were in Harbin, and because that was slightly frozen too, it added a whole new level to it, and I really liked that!
I don’t eat meat – Wǒ bù chī ròu
I don’t eat fish – Wǒ bù chī yú
I don’t eat egg – Wǒ bù chī dàn
A couple of times, when Matt tried to explain that I don’t eat meat, fish, egg, etc. the locals were very surprised and thought it was a strange concept not to eat these things haha! I have not listed the phrase to say I don’t eat milk, because it’s really not found often in Chinese cuisine.
I hope this post has given you a good insight into some of the things you can eat in China that are cheap and traditional and most importantly, vegan! I am almost certain this is just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce) when it comes to veggie dishes in China, so I really look forward to going back and eating my way round some more!
Let me know if there’s any dishes you’ve had while in China that are also vegan friendly, and I’ll hopefully try them my next time around! 🙂