When traveling or moving to a new country, such as China, it may seem that it’s nearly impossible to eat “健康 (jiàn kāng) healthy”. This is especially true in a country full of neverending varieties of deliciously tempting cuisines. Some “健康 (jiàn kāng) healthy” lifestyles are harder to accomodate and maintain than others such as having a strict plant-based lifestyle. Since numerous famous and popular dishes contain animal products to some extent or another, it may take a little extra planning on your part before visiting or relocating to China. But fear not, because there are an abundance of resources since plant-based eating trends are growing exponentially.
健康 (jiàn kāng)
If you live in a city such as Beijing, and you have the resources, even being vegan can be a no-brainer. However, even if you have all the resources at your fingertips and happen to live in the outskirts or beyond, being vegan can require more effort (and Possiblyrequire some language skills).
Despite the current struggle to eat with ease, China’s vegan food market is forecast to be worth nearly US$12 billion by 2023, up from just under US$10 billion in 2018, according to a report issued last year by Euromonitor International. One industry expert said he anticipated a global market value of USD 28 billion for meat alternative industry in 2025!
There are easy-to-use apps that make navigating restaurants easier, youtube videos that will point you in the right direction to popular chains, as well as some blogs. Beyond these, you might need to tone the muscles in your green thumb as you may find it necessary to start a rooftop garden. Or simple rely on the markets and street vendors which always have an array of affordable fruit and vegetable options.
When you do go out, these phrases are quite convenient to know.
●I am vegetarian – 我是素食者 (wǒ shì sù shí zhě)
●I don’t eat meat – 我不吃肉 (wǒ bù chī ròu)
●I don’t eat fish – 我不吃魚 / 我不吃鱼 (wǒ bù chī yú)
●I am vegan – 我是純素食者 / 我是纯素食者 (wǒ shì chún sù shí zhě)
●I only eat plant-based – 我只吃植物性食品 (wǒ zhǐ chī zhí wù xìng shí pǐn)
●I do not eat dairy products – 我不吃乳制品 (wǒ bù chī rǔ zhì pǐn)
●Happy Cow (as seen above) is my go-to for plant-based restaurant options
●YouTube channels often include travel vloggers who uncover some hidden gems and can give you the rundown of their experiences and the resources they tend to use.
●Buddhist temples and communities have amazing vegan cuisine.
●Food delivery apps
China has a long history of producing mock meat originating from Buddhist beliefs against harming animals that date back to the Tang dynasty but take into consideration that a lot of vegetable dishes include minuscule pieces of meat that are frequently used as “garnish” because people don’t really consider it as meat, but instead think of it as decoration or “flavor”.
This is why when you specifically ask for a dish without any animal products, in most cases, they will reassure you they will follow your requests, however, once your food arrives it’s often the case that your vegetable dish will still have some small pieces of meat or eggs so be sure to be very specific about your request.
And here are some wonderful recommended dishes to try in China:
1.地三鲜 (dì sān xiān) – Stir-fried eggplant, chili, and potato braised with soy sauce.
2.麻辣豆腐 (má là dòu fu) – Tofu bean curd flavored with hot spices
3.鱼香茄子 (yú xiāng qié zi) – Despite its name which means “fish-fragrant eggplants”, this dish is only made of crispy eggplants covered in a sticky sweet, sour, savory and slightly spicy sauce.
4.香菇青菜 (xiāng gū qīng cài) – Green vegetable with mushrooms
5.青椒土豆丝 (qīng jiāo tǔdòu sī) – Northern dish. Shredded green pepper and potato, lightly salted and fried with oil.
6.面筋 (miàn jīn) – China might be known as the land of soy and tofu, but seitan (aka, wheat gluten) is also one of its most delicious and underrated ingredients. A common dish at Buddhist vegetarian restaurants, seitan has been a documented food in China since the sixth century.
With these resources, you should be able to live comfortably with a plant-based diet in China.
Make it a point to meet up with more people that share your lifestyle in the area that you are stying. There’s sure to be Facebook groups or meetups for people to share ideas and have potlucks together.
Here are more sentence to know to better enjoy your plant-based lifestyle:
wǒ bù chī ròu，wǒ chī sù。
我 不 吃 肉 , 我 吃 素。
I don’t eat meat. I am a vegetarian.
fú wù yuán，zhè ge sù chǎo miàn lǐ tou zěn me yǒu cōng suàn a？
服 务 员 ， 这 个 素 炒 面 里 头 怎 么 有 葱 蒜 啊？
Waiter, why is there spring onion and garlic in these vegetarian fried noodles?
wǒ shuō wǒ chī sù，dāng rán shì fó jiào sù shí zhǔ yì zhě 。
我 说 我 吃 素， 当 然 是 佛 教 素 食 主 义 者。
I said I was a vegetarian, of course, I meant Buddhist vegetarianism.
méi bàn fǎ， wǒ chī sù a。
没 办 法， 我 吃 素 啊。
I couldn’t have done anything about it, I’m vegetarian.
duì le，nǐ chī sù ba？nà wǒ men qù chī yī jiān hǎo chī de sù shí cān tīng ba！
对 了，你 吃 素 吧？那 我 们 去 吃 一 间 好 吃 的 素 食 餐 厅 吧！
By the way, you are a vegetarian, right? Then let’s go to a nice vegetarian restaurant!
Now that you are confident about being able to continue your “健康 (jiànkāng) healthy” lifestyle, be sure to check out The Ultimate China Survival Guide ebook to help you make the transition seamlessly.