For those of you who don’t know I am a vegetarian. I have been for over 10 years and it was the easiest decision I’ve made. Sometime though, it become a struggle when travelling. The language barrier can be hard to over come, especially in China. But in saying that after travelling to over 20 countries I have definitely learned few tricks over the years to avoid starving. I’m one of those people who gets hangry when they’re hungry.. so for Aaron’s survival I needed to learn some basics.
Since there is no word for vegetarian in Mandarin you have to say “Wǒ bù chī ròu” which means “I don’t eat meat.”
An easier thing to do though, because you’re probably going to say it wrong, is to go on Google Translator and take a picture of the sentence in Mandarin. Also take a variation of “I don’t eat cow” “I don’t eat chicken” “I don’t eat fish” so if the translation is off they can get the picture that you don’t eat any animals.
But one thing that weirded me out by China was that my note trick didn’t work all the time. I usually get the hotel we’re staying at to write me a note in their language saying I was a vegetarian and this is what I won’t eat. My note trick worked flawlessly in Japan but China? Most of the time everyone would look at the note with blank eyes and look at me confused. I don’t know if it was because they didn’t understand the note or couldn’t read it, but I was stuck. And slightly frustrated.
So incase you find the note trick doesn’t work here is my guide to survive as a vegetarian in China:
Surviving As A Vegetarian In China
Convenient Stories: As soon as you leave Beijing or Shanghai you’ll notice it’s pretty hard to find grocery stores. In fact, I couldn’t find ONE after our first two weeks. I mean I wasn’t looking that hard, but the best I could ever find was little continence stores that only had the basics. These are great though to get some snacks so you don’t go hangry.
Market Stalls: Since there was never anywhere for me to cook in China, I went for fruit stalls. You can buy bananas and oranges really cheap in China. There are plenty of other fruits to eat but just be aware you can’t wash your fruit like you can in Canada. The water is not drinkable so you’ll get sick. This is why I chose fruit you can peel because if you’re starving you don’t have to wait for water to boil.
Instant Oatmeal: Before you leave to China bring instant oatmeal! I found a Walmart In Chengdu that had instant oats but if you’re having a busy trip just bring your own. I bought this glass container so in the mornings I could boil some water, let my oats sit and cook, and then I would chop a banana in it and sprinkle some cinnamon on top! I found peanut butter at one convenience store so I bought that and added it to my oatmeal as well.
Instant Coffee: Oh my god.. when I found that Starbucks in Dali I went bananas. I went everyday and got like two coffees at a time. But for the days when you can’t find coffee you can use instant. For creamer I found this drink with an almond on it so I was assuming it’s almond milk. I also brought my own Stevia drops because I’m crazy like that.
Get Google Translator: This thing was a hit and miss. For my coffee in a can I got in Beijing it translated to “help anal brown” so that was definitely wrong lol (I posted that to my Insta Stories so if you aren’t following you’re missing out!) But other times it was a good indicator to let you know if there was beef or chicken in it. But if you don’t know I just personally wouldn’t risk it. I’d just find something else to eat.
Find Monasteries: A gold mind for a vegetarian in China. Monks don’t eat meat or animal products, so if you find a monastery there’s a good chance you’ll find some vegetarian or vegan food. The best meal I had in China was in Chengdu at Wenshu Temple. There vegetarian buffet was to die for.
Vegetarian Hot Pot: I could have cried tears of joy in Lijiang when I stumbled into a vegetarian hot pot place called ‘Easy Zhilai Tea Pot Vegetarian Hot Pot.’ Their hot pot was black tea, mushrooms and dates and other goodies. I had ice lettuce, kabocha, this rice dish and this peanut sauce to dip everything in! It was an amazing find so be on the look out for these vegetarian hot pot places.
Vegetarian Breakfast Dishes
For breakfast it’s pretty easy to find vegetarian food but here are some choices.
Youtiao – This is a Chinese style donut/churros. It’s very greasy and not healthy but when you’re starving and trying to live a little it’s a great breakfast to get you out of the door!
Congee – Congee is pretty lacklustre but honestly, it wasn’t that bad. It’s a pretty bland breakfast starter but it does the trick. It’s basically rice that has been made with twice the amount of recommended water so it’s watery rice. Kind of like gruel or porridge.
Soymilk – Soymilk is actually a huge park of Chinese culture so it shouldn’t be to hard to find warm soymilk
Jian Bing (egg breakfast crepe) – I go through fazes of eating eggs and in China I was in the no faze so I never tried one of these but they were everywhere. You’ll usually find street vendors selling these. They’re sprinkled with green onions.
Green Onion Cake – Green onion cakes are very easy to find in Shanghai. They are vegetarian and delicious!
Being a vegetarian in China is more difficult that what you read. I read a lot of people saying there are lots of vegetarian dishes in China which is true, but when you can’t read the menu item or communicate with the restaurant it’s not as easy as people make it sound. I mean in most places in China they don’t even have a word for vegetarian.
In Lijiang I ordered this potato dish and the lady who helped was so chipper and was like “Yes! No meat!” With a big smile on her face. But when I got the potatoes they were loaded with ham. At another restaurant I got another potato dish from an English speaking lady and when I got the potatoes the dish was covered in chicken. So it can be pretty frustrating and I don’t know if it’s because I’m Canadian or what, but I feel bad. I feel really bad when people are confused and we can’t communicate properly.
So for some help at every single hotel you stay at in China get them to try the note trick as Plan A. Plan B is to ask them what are some vegetarian dishes in their province. Aka Szechuan has this ginger cabbage dish that is a staple so I would always order that. Or near Lijiang, Dali and Shangri-La you can find fruit pizzas! The best pizza I had was in Shangri-La and it had pineapple, apricots and raisins in it.
Plan C is to check out happycow.net. This is what I used to find a vegetarian buffet in Lijiang. Plan D is to make sure you hostel or hotel has their own restaurant. A lot of places we stayed at lied and said they had a restaurant when they really meant down the street. So make sure you hostel has one in the reviews! This way the restaurant will likely cater to Westerners and have vegetarian dishes available. And finally Plan E is to wing it. You can be as prepared as ever but if you are busy travelling and looking around you won’t always be on schedule. You can find pastry shops pretty easily so hop in and carb up!
PS. Most Chinese dishes are drenched in oil so be prepared to feel a little heavy
I am the snacking queen. At convenience stores you can stock up on dried fruit, dried vegetables, flower pastries, WATER, and nuts. These are great to have on hand for when you realize your starving.
Hope you guys found this guide helpful! China has so many great dishes to try but by far my favourites are the vegetarian buffets and the vegetarian hot pots! This way you can pick and choose what you eat and don’t have to worry if there is meat in it!
How many of you are vegetarians? Share in the comments! I’d love your veggie travel tips <3
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