Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Vegetarian or Vegan in China?

Perhaps the food-related question I get asked most is “What’s it like for vegetarians and vegans in China?” The same question came up again recently, so I put this together. Hope it’s useful.

For the sake of typing convenience I’m going to conflate ‘vegetarians and vegan’ into just ‘vegetarian’, except where it’s really necessary to differentiate.

First a declaration of non-interest. I am very carnivorous. I eat almost anything, but I have known many vegetarians who have passed through, some staying only a few weeks, others staying for years.

Being vegetarian in China is a complicated issue. In some ways, China is probably one of the best countries in which to be vegetarian. In other ways, it is one of the worst.

I spent some time in Gorbachev-era Russia and saw the empty supermarkets and markets. I saw people line up for hours to buy a bit of dry bread. So, when I first came to China, I kind of expected the same. Instead, the first market I visited astounded me. The place was piled high with food, including around 30 different types of tofu, countless varieties of steamed buns and flat breads and scores of different vegetables, both fresh and preserved, most of which I didn’t recognise. And so cheap I could hardly convert into any western currency.

Vegetable display

Vegetable display

If able to self-cater then China is heaven for vegetarians. For short term visitors dependent on restaurants or street food or for people who just can’t cook, the story is very different..

Despite the perception of a Buddhist tradition in China (which is actually not that strong), very few Chinese (including Buddhists) are vegetarian and many just do not understand the concept. Explaining in a restaurant that you don’t eat meat is no guarantee that you won’t be served meat.

Meat is seen in China as a status symbol. If you are rich, you eat more meat. And everyone knows all foreigners are rich, so of course they eat meat! Meat eating is very much on the rise as China gets more rich – even to the extent of worrying many economists, health workers, food scientists etc. who fear the demand is pushing up prices and is environmentally dangerous. But that’s another issue. Obesity is becoming more and more of a problem.

Banquet meals as served in large hotels and banquet dedicated restaurants will typically have a lot more meat dishes than a smaller family restaurant. Also, the amount of meat in any dish will be greater in the banquet style places

Traditional Chinese cooking is very vegetable orientated. I still see my neighbours come home from the market every morning with their catch of greenery. However, where meat isn’t the central component of dinner, it is used almost as a condiment or seasoning. Your stir fried tofu dish may come with a scattering of ground pork on top, for example. This will not usually be mentioned on the menu.

Simple stir fried vegetables are often cooked in lard (pig fat) to ‘improve’ the flavour.

Another problem is that the Chinese word for meat (), when used on its own, refers to pork. Other meats are specified, eg beef is 牛肉, literally cattle meat. What this means is that when you say you don’t eat meat, they often think you mean you don’t eat pork (something they do understand from the Chinese Muslim community), so they rush off to the kitchen and cook you up some stir fried chicken or beef or worse! I’ve actually heard a waitress saying to someone that chicken isn’t meat. Also, few Chinese wait staff or cooks seem to know that ham is pig meat. I have had another waitress argue ferociously with me that the unasked for ham in a dish of egg fried rice wasn’t meat.

(Note: hover your mouse pointer over the Chinese characters to see an enlargement and the Pinyin pronunciation)

Also, Chinese restaurant dishes are often given really flowery, poetic names which tell you nothing of the contents. Chinese speakers often have to ask, too. One dish on my local restaurant menu reads “Maternal Grandmother’s Fluttering Fragrance.” It is, of course, spicy pork ribs!

Away from the tourist places, where you probably don’t want to be eating anyway, very few restaurants will have translations of any sort. Even the best places’ translations will be indecipherable. I have been in restaurants where they have supplied an “English menu”, but if I didn’t know Chinese would have been unable to order anything. They were gibberish.

To go back to Buddhism and Taoism, it is a mistake to assume that genuine followers of either (or more usually a mix of the two) are necessarily vegetarian. Many Chinese Buddhists are not. In fact, the Dalai Lama states in his autobiography that he is not vegetarian. It would be very difficult, he says, to survive in Tibet on a vegetarian diet.

There are vegetarian restaurants in many places (although the ones in Liuzhou never seem to last more than six months. I’m not sure if there are any now). In the larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai they are more easily found.

Some Buddhist temples have vegetarian restaurants attached or nearby. Most don’t. In touristy places you may be lucky.

Curiously, many of these restaurants make a point of emulating meat dishes. The menu reads like any meat serving restaurant, but the “meat” is made from vegetable substitutes (often wheat gluten or konjac based).

A typical such menu is here (PDF File). Note: This restaurant is no longer in business, but the menu is illustrative of the kind of dishes on offer in such restaurants.

Some solutions.

I have seen several suggestions on the internet on how do deal with the problems of getting vegetarian food in China (and the near impossibility of getting vegan food). As ever, I am highly sceptical that many of them work. One reason is linguistic; the other cultural.

The most common suggestion is to learn the phrase 我吃素 which, they tell you, is probably the simplest way to say “I am vegetarian”. The first problem with this suggestion is that it doesn’t mean that, at all. It simply means “I eat vegetables.” Well, hey! I eat raw and cooked animals but I also eat vegetables. It is useless as a suggestion. Even if it weren’t, you would really have to get the pronunciation right and Chinese being a tonal language makes this difficult. The second thing is that even if you get it spot on, there is no guarantee that the waitress won’t say (in Chinese) “Oh I see. So you eat vegetables. I will bring you some very delicious vegetables with a bit of chicken to make them a bit more tasty! And scatter some dried shrimp over your fried rice. It tastes much better that way,” leaving you utterly bewildered by this barrage of incomprehensible and, to you, useless Chinese.

Many visitors have learned that people either just don’t understand (or don’t want to understand) visitors’ Chinese, or they get the three words you have painfully learned, then assume you understand everything and lay into a full length lecture on the folly of your failure to be sensible and eat the bounty of the animal kingdom nose to tail, while you sit there dying of malnutrition.

So, I’m trying here to avoid giving ‘useful’ phrases. As often as not, they just confuse things further. (Even speaking the language or travelling with native speakers to guide and translate doesn’t usually help. You still run into the refusal or inability to comprehend vegetarianism. Then there is the problem with the 10,000 dialects.) I recommend the pointing system.

Another tip I have heard, but never tried (I don’t need to; I eat everything) is to not say what you don’t want to eat; but to point out (perhaps literally) what you do want to eat. It is not considered offensive in most small Chinese restaurants to wander into the kitchen, open fridges and cupboards etc and indicate what you want. Don’t do this at peak hours, 12:00 to 13:30 here, but variable. Also, examining other diners’ meals (more or less discretely) and pointing to them if they take your fancy often works.


This is probably the easiest to deal with. Hit the street early enough (most Chinese people get up early) and you will find little stalls everywhere selling all sorts of stuff. Perhaps the most popular breakfast is dough sticks (油条), deep-fried dough sticks served with warm, sweetened soya milk (甜豆奶).

You tiao and soy milk

You tiao and soy milk

Other breakfast items include the many steamed buns. Some contain meat, sometimes signalled by the meat character (), but not always. Then there are the pancake type preparations. They are cooked in front of your eyes and you can see what they are putting in them. Usually egg, scallions, coriander/cilantro etc. Again no guarantee what the cooking oil is, but probably vegetable.

There are also the noodle places. Many of these set the ingredients out in front of you and you point at what you want to be included. Problem here is they will probably serve the noodles in a soup made from chicken or beef/pork stock.

Hotel Breakfasts

Many hotels (esp. tourist hotels) do buffet style breakfasts. These can be a good time to fill up for the day. You can see the food before you commit yourself. The amount of food I see people eat at these breakfasts is amazing. I’m sure they don’t normally eat such a big breakfast at home.

Boiled eggs, fried noodles (fried in what?), buns, breads, cakes, rice porridge. I forget. It’s been a while. Some even do cornflakes. Coffee will nearly always be instant, often pre-sugared and with whitener already added

If you are of a sensitive disposition in the morning like me (especially after a particularly liquidly refreshing evening), I suggest avoiding hotel breakfast completely. There is nothing many Chinese people, especially the more elderly, like to do more than go for breakfast and have a good shout. The breakfast rooms are cacophonous.

Which brings me to Yum Cha or Morning Tea.

Originally from the Cantonese speaking parts of China, but now available pretty much all over, Yum Cha (simplified Chinese: 饮茶; traditional Chinese: 飲茶) is what is generally referred to as Dim Sum in western countries, although strictly speaking dim sum (simp: 点心; trad: 點心) is the food served at a yum cha meal rather than the event itself.

Dim sum literally translates as ‘little hearts’ and consists of mainly small items such as filled buns, rice noodle rolls, cakes etc. In traditional places these items are wheeled round the restaurant on trolleys and you take your pick of what passes by.

Some of these ‘little hearts’ are vegetarian; most are not. It isn’t easy to tell just by looking however. Many a surprise may be lurking inside an innocent looking bun. Two of the three buns below are vegetarian. One certainly isn’t. But which?


The answer is: the front one. The two at the back contain sweet bean paste (left) and sesame and peanut (right) – the one in front is a pork bun.

Sweet Bean Paste Bun 豆沙包

Sweet Bean Paste Bun 豆沙包

Sesame and Peanut Bun 芝麻花生包

Sesame and Peanut Bun 芝麻花生包

Tread carefully and put in your earplugs.

Also, often available at yum cha and in small restaurants etc is congee or rice porridge (). This is eaten at all times of the day, but often for breakfast. It is a thinnish rice porridge, sometimes eaten as it is (白粥 – rice and water) but usually augmented by something savoury – usually meat based but sometimes pickled vegetables are all that is added. Another common addition is sweetcorn kernels (玉米粥). Sweet congees are more often vegetarian. One to look for is ‘eight treasure congee’ (八宝粥/八寶粥) . This is rice porridge with added ingredients such as peanuts, jujubes, lotus seeds, lily, Job’s tears, ginkgo etc. In my local porridge shop, the only vegetarian options are the sweet congees. Here is their menu:



Congee / Porridge:

Frog congee
Pig Offal congee
Fish congee
Beef congee
Chicken congee
Preserved egg and lean pork congee
Lean pork and leaf mustard congee
Rice field eel congee

Sweet congees

Mung bean congee
Eight treasure congee
Peanut, silver ear fungus, jujube and mung bean congee

Another possible breakfast option is noodles, predominantly rice noodles in the south and wheat in the north, although both can be found most places. Most small noodle places prepare these to order and have bowls of ingredients for you to point at. Beware, however, of them adding stock which will not be vegetarian. Dry noodle dishes are available, but not everywhere.

I think the best bet is to load up on some plain steamed bread from the supermarket or stalls such as this


then hit the streets and find the local snack people. They can keep you going on steamed or roast corn, roast red potatoes, pickles, roast chestnuts, peanuts, fruit etc etc.

Pickled Veg

Pickled Veg

The supermarkets sell yoghurt (酸奶) (usually very sweet and thin) and soy milk. Fresh cow’s milk (鲜牛奶) is more difficult to obtain outside of the large cities – few supermarkets carry it – try bakers’ shops. UHT milk is everywhere. Western style bread is also difficult to find away from major cities, although some places do French style baguettes which are passable if fresh.

The Problem

Before I get onto lunch and dinner, here is a quick illustration of the problem for vegetarians in China.

Celery, cashew nut and carrot - perfect. No. Not quite.Let's add some shrimp to perk it up.

Celery, cashew nut and carrot – perfect. No. Not quite. Let’s add some shrimp to perk it up.

What does a fruit salad need to beef it up? Yes! Beef!

What does a fruit salad need to beef it up? Yes! Sesame Beef!

Some simple vegetables to munch on aren't quite good enough. Lets add some chicken's feet!

Some simple vegetables to munch on aren’t quite good enough. Lets add some chicken’s feet!

Some beautiful stir fried oyster mushrooms. They are vegetarian. Nope. They were fried in lard (pig fat) to improve the taste.

Some beautiful stir fried oyster mushrooms. They are vegetarian. Nope. They were fried in lard (pig fat) to improve the taste.

A recent blog article on one of the travel sites (I forget which) listed “China’s five top vegetarian dishes”. Three contained meat. The article was withdrawn after scorn and derision was heaped on the writer.

The Solution?


Vegetarian “Beef” from one of the many Chinese Buddhist Vegetarian restaurants which specialises in dishes which look and taste like non-vegetarian dishes. Why?

Fake chicken from the same restaurant.

Fake chicken from the same restaurant.

Lunch and Dinner

China doesn’t really differentiate between lunch and dinner, in the sense that the same dishes could be served at either. Family home lunches often include leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner and dinner will have lunch’s leftovers. Also, I don’t remember ever coming across a restaurant in China which had separate lunch and dinner menus.

(In fact, last night’s dinner could equally well turn up for breakfast.)

Again, if you are self-catering there is no problem, other than being overwhelmed by choice. For those dependent on restaurants etc, again it becomes difficult, for the reasons given above.

I’ve been checking out the internet and the suggestions there.

One common suggestion is to try to find hot pot restaurants. These are basically self-catering in a restaurant setting. You order up the ingredients you want and cook them yourself in the boiling broth in the centre of the table. Common vegetarian ingredients include tofu in various forms (try frozen tofu for an interesting texture), mushrooms of all kinds (fresh and dried), noodles (often vermicelli or glass noodles), lotus root, potato, bean sprouts, broccoli, various marrows, pea leaves, coriander / cilantro, seaweed, taro, etc etc.

Tofu 豆腐

Tofu 豆腐

Sounds great, but there is a problem. They are going to bring you a big bowl of boiling stock to cook your goodies in. And it is 100% certain that the stock won’t be vegetarian. Most will be chicken based although the very popular Sichuan style spicy hotpot base traditionally uses both beef dripping and beef stock. I have a Chinese hot pot cookbook in front of me now. It has 34 different soup bases. Not one is vegetarian.

I had a conversation last night with a Chinese friend in which we discussed the best way to deal with this problem. We agreed that they aren’t usually going to go out of their way to make you a vegetable stock. They are far too busy. Even if you ask for vegetable soup, they are probably going to add chicken (probably in the form of stock cube or powder). So you ask for plain boiled water. They will understand that and bring you a glass of hot boiled water to drink.

Finally we settled on the clumsy phrase “要一锅开水代替汤底” which means “I want a pan of boiling water as a replacement for the soup base.” We are still highly sceptical that this would actually work. Someone in the kitchen will probably decide to perk it up with a bit of animal – and MSG.

And even if it did work, you would have to effectively make your own stock with the boiling water and some initial vegetation; otherwise you will just be eating boiled mushrooms – not quite the culinary experience you were after.

Perhaps a better idea is to find one of the many restaurants which hand you a ticket when you arrive, then you wander up and down a long line of cooking stations pointing and choosing the ingredients and food you want. They stamp your ticket and, in theory, when you get back to your table (don’t forget which number it is – these places can be huge) the food may well have already arrived. The ticket becomes your bill.

You will still have the problem of guessing what is in pre-prepared things like dumplings and steamed buns (almost certainly meat – see breakfast above). But the chances of hitting on something acceptable is slightly higher than choosing from a undecipherable menu.

Many places have picture menus which may help. But remember that pictures of food often hide a multitude of things. The pictures are not usually over-stylised or fake, but you can’t, in particular, know what oils or stocks are being used or what is lurking beneath or within.

Egg and Tomato

I have to mention “egg and tomato” 西红柿炒鸡蛋 aka 番茄炒鸡蛋 .

Egg and Tomato

Egg and Tomato

This renowned dish has kept many a vegetarian alive while in China, although one vegetarian friend who was here for three years has sworn never to eat “egg and tomato” ever again.

It may not be on the menu, but there isn’t a cook in China who doesn’t know how to make it. It is the first dish all Chinese kids learn to cook. Basically, just scrambled eggs with tomato and maybe some spring onion/scallion. Dead simple. There are a zillion recipes and videos on the web. Try this one. There is a soup version, too. Of course, it isn’t vegan though.

Noodle Places

Some noodle places do vegetarian options. One big chain is the Japan/China franchise operation – Ajimen. They have a few vegetarian options. Menu has pictures and English.


China seldom does salads as they are known in the west. Many or most people have a strong aversion to eating anything raw, mainly for hygiene reasons (see below).

Two exceptions.

1) Smacked cucumber with garlic (蒜泥拍黄瓜), originally from Sichuan but popular everywhere.

Smacked cucumber

Smacked Cucumber 蒜泥拍黄瓜

Tiger salad (老虎采). There are two versions: one from north-west China up near the border with Siberia and another from the far west. Both are very good. The one pictured is the NW variety. Not so easy to find, but if you do, I heartily recommend it.

Tiger Salad 老虎采

Tiger Salad 老虎采

Most supermarkets do a variety of Chinese style ‘salads’ or prepared dishes which can make up a great lunch. You can see what you are buying (usually).


Supermarket ‘salads’ and vegetable dishes.

Happy Birthday

Be very wary of birthday cake! I don’t think the Chinese ever really got the baking concept. Their ‘bread’ is nearly all cake and their cakes nearly all fat. Pig fat. Yes. They make birthday cakes using lard. Not always but often!

Travel Food

Accept it now. You are not going to get a vegetarian meal on a plane or train anywhere in China. Some airlines (actually they are all the same airline – they all belong to the government. We are communist here.) have claimed to offer vegetarian meals if you book them five years in advance or something similar. I’ve never heard of anyone ever receiving one.

Do what the locals do (for different reasons). Stock up on snack foods. Peanuts, potato chips/crisps, chocolate, candies, cakes and cookies. Work out how much food you need for the duration of your journey, then buy twice that.

You will see lots of people eating instant pot noodles on trains. Each carriage has a boiling water supply. The pot noodles aren’t vegetarian either.

A round up of photos

Buns (cakes) - Vegetarian

Buns (cakes) – Vegetarian

Street Food - Roast Corn and Roast Red Potato

Street Food – Roast Corn and Roast Red Potato

Mixed Vegetables

So to summarise:

Being a vegetarian in China is easy and exciting and interesting if you are self-catering.

If you are self catering and buying vegetation, be very sure to wash it carefully before using. Then wash it again. China still uses “night soil” as fertiliser. To cut a long story short, it is untreated human excrement.

Not that restaurants are necessarily more hygienic. Vegetables are often washed in dirty water or in Chinese style toilets. Here is one of my local restaurant’s washing stations.

toilet vegetables (Medium)

The problem is partly a language barrier issue – few restaurants have English menus or English speaking staff – but even Chinese speakers (native or otherwise) struggle.

Traditional Chinese cuisine and home cooking is still largely vegetable based, but not vegetarian. Animal fats are widely used for frying and animal products often added to pimp up the veg.

You won’t starve in China, but you have to be prepared to work at finding acceptable food. Some people take that on; others give up and leave; some give up and go back to carnivory for the duration.

Try to see the cooking being done. Sometimes possible – not always. Point out what you want – not what you don’t want. But be wary of animal fats being used and what is that strange looking ‘spice’ being added? Pork floss? Shredded dried shrimp?

I have deliberately avoided recommending specific dishes. What is available varies enormously from place to place. The few dishes or foods I have specified are those I think are available pretty much everywhere.

I have no experience of it, but I think being vegan in China would be very problematic unless you were self catering. It’s not that the food isn’t there. It most certainly is. Veganism is just not understood in China at all.

Finally, let me relate an anecdote. Several years ago, I was in a little-known town near the Guangxi – Yunnan border. I was invited to a full scale banquet. (My heart usually sinks when that happens – the food is usually second rate at best. People are only there to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible.) But to decline the invitation would have been inexcusably rude, so along I went.

The food was divine. The hosts and guests were polite, sober and interesting. It was, without doubt, the best banquet I have had in near-on 20 years in China. And it was entirely vegetarian.

Or so they told me!

. This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 at 1:52 pm and is filed under Food and Drink. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

18 Responses to “Vegetarian or Vegan in China?”

  1. Tony Masiello Says:

    Ken, great job as always. I was vegetarian for 13 years, but stopped just shy of my first trip to China in 2002 because I decided I wanted to get the full culinary experience and not have to stress about sticking to the diet. You should be getting paid to write for travel guides, because in my experience, what you have laid out here is very accurate and would serve as a great starting point for vegetarians or any one paying close attention to diet, that was planning a first visit.

  2. carl johnson Says:

    Are there really any Buddhist in China? The only Chinese person I know who practices Buddhism lives in Bangkok…and her favorite place to eat is MacDonalds…

  3. Liuzhou Laowai Says:

    Yes. The main Buddhist temple in Liuzhou is very active. But not in cooking dinner.

  4. carl johnson Says:

    The best article from Liuzhou Laowai that I have read! And I enjoy them all! I love vegetables, but a meal is lacking without some sort of meat.
    Doing construction work for many years in small out of the way places, the food was very seldom spectacular. But I find I can eat almost anything if I doctor it up with Louisiana hot sauce!
    First thing that goes in my suitcase! LOL

  5. Vegetarian Life in China | The World of Chinese Says:

    […] Here is another interesting blog about vegetarian life in China: Vegetarian or Vegan in China? […]

  6. Nanninger Says:


    15 years a vegetarian in the UK succumbed after two weeks in China. ‘I made you some vegetable dumplings, dear’

    ‘Did you? Wow, thanks. Whats the brown stuff?’


  7. Angela Bachini Says:

    Hello Ken, your daughter-in-law here! I remember all of those problems from our visit to China and think I ate meat unintentionally more than once. I also managed to eat a lot of pizza… The best meal I had was when we went off to the little tourist town in the countryside and went to a Buddhist restaurant, everything was completely vegetarian. Oh, and one of the banquets we went to where they were very accommodating (and loved R’s bib!). x

  8. Liuzhou Laowai Says:


    It wouldn’t surprise me if you accidentally ate meat, but I did try to avoid it. I don’t remember you eating pizza!

    I remember people liking R’s bib, though. And when she decided to help the staff in one restaurant move the dirty plates to where they wash them.

    Happy times.

  9. Steve Says:

    Thank you. I’ve been living in Shapingba, Chongqing for 3 months and boy do I feel the sting of being vegan here. There is no cultural undertstanding at all. The kitchen my employer has provided is a shambles and now I just soak mung beans. Mung bean sandwiches forever.

  10. Gilles Says:

    I am researching some serious references (in English or in Chinese) about traditional vegetarian “Chinese” cuisine, such as Taoist cuisine, Sichuan Buddhist cuisine (recipes, method of preparation of various doufu or meat-looking proteins…)… I have read some of your posts here and on egullet, which are interesting and let me think that maybe you’d have some book references to share ?
    I’ve only found a book by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (From the Earth: Chinese Vegetarian Cooking) so far. I found nothing in Chinese (at least nothing traditional).
    Would you have some suggestions ?

    Thanks in advance,

    Best regards,

  11. Liuzhou Laowai Says:

    Sorry, I’m not really interested in the history of vegetarianism in China, so I have no suggestions. I merely attempted to write a guide for vegetarians visiting China, today. But I wish you well in your endeavours.

  12. Gilles Says:

    I understand, thank you for your answer anyway !

  13. Louise Says:

    Currently living in China as a vegan. It’s very doable just takes a bit of work. Main recommendations are:

    1. Print off a ‘vegan passport’ before you come. You can find a pdf online for free and it says in Chinese (you want simple not traditional Chinese) what you do and don’t eat. Solves the language barrier problem as you just show it to the staff and 9 times out of 10 they’re super helpful. Had to get a Chinese person to add to mine ‘please do not cook my food in meat fat’ though as that was missing.

    2. – this is amazing and not just for China. Type in where you are and it will show you the vegan, vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants near you. Found some absolute gems using this!

    3. Google translate app – need to download this before you come as google is banned in China. Make sure you download the Chinese-English content too. You can use it to translate the ingredients in packages.

    4. Nuts – bring a bag of nuts (my preference is cashew nuts), then you can add a bit of protein/excitement when you need it. Be prepared for some meals to be rice and cabbage.

    5. Patience – this is the most important. It won’t always be easy and you can’t eat everywhere but you can eat.

  14. Liuzhou Laowai Says:

    Not sure how useful your suggestions are.

    1) Vegan map. For all the reasons I gave in my article, this may or not may not work. As I indicated, the cook at the back of the restaurant may totally ignore the instructions. “Meat fat” in Chinese means “pork fat”. “OK we won’t use that – chicken fat will do instead.” Then there are the problems of which variety of Chinese do they speak. Names of dishes and ingredients vary hugely from place to place.

    2) happy Fine if you are in one of the larger cities or a provincial capital, otherwise useless. For example, it lists a mere one restaurant for the whole of Hunan province (in the capital, of course). It lists my nearest restaurant as being a three hour drive away. No thanks.

    3) If you can’t read Chinese, how do you even find the ingredients list on a package. But supposing you do, how do you then get that Chinese into the app to get it to translate for you?

  15. Louise Says:

    1) The vegan passport is not flawless, I will admit that. However, if it means that my meal is vegan in every other way than it’s been cooked in chicken fat then yes, it’s bad that it’s cooked in chicken, but at least it doesn’t have egg or milk or pork or meat or any of the other non-vegan foods in it. To be a vegan in China you have to be pragmatic. At least using a vegan passport I can explain in 2 minutes 99% of my dietary requirements.
    It doesn’t matter what Chinese they speak as it is all written and read the same therefore the vegan passport works in China.

    2) Yes, is only really useful in the big cities but if the vegetarians and vegans reading this blog are in big cities then that’s at least some people we’ve helped. I live in Shanghai, so yes it’s a lot easier for me, but I have also been to Beijing and will be travelling to other cities and rural areas; I’m sure other people will travel around too. It doesn’t just help people who live in big cities but also those who plan to visit them.
    Also, as a vegan I cook most of my meals so travelling to eat out is a treat and as such travelling for an hour or going somewhere for the weekend is feasible.

    3) The Google translate app doesn’t need the Chinese putting into it. You hold the camera over the label and it translates the ingredients there and then. It’s a simple as that.

  16. Liuzhou Laowai Says:

    Wait a minute. You are saying that it’s better to have “vegan food” cooked in chicken fat than to use egg or milk etc?

    “It doesn’t matter what Chinese they speak as it is all written and read the same”

    That utterly misses the point (and isn’t even true). I’m not talking about different pronunciation of the same characters, but totally different terms. But thank you for explaining Chinese to me. I speak Chinese. You don’t.

    Google translate is notoriously inaccurate, sometimes hilariously so. It doesn’t speak Chinese, either.

    Go on。 Try this and tell me their translation. I guarantee it is wrong.


  17. Liuzhou Laowai Says:

    Recently there have been a number of attempts to post racist and, in some cases, homophobic comments on this blog although I have no idea what one’s sexual orientation has to do with dietary choices.

    If you feel like following suit, go ahead. You are only wasting your own time. Not only will they not be published, but your comments will be marked as spam and automatically reported to the largest email anti-spam organisations, thereby compromising your email account.

    Sensible comments, respectful of everyone, are very welcome, even if I don’t agree with them. Abuse isn’t.


  18. Constance C. Luo/罗春兰 Says:


    I loved this post. As a 2nd generation Chinese American, you hit a LOT of Chinese cultural practices on the head regarding food, regardless of whether it’s in China or elsewhere in the world. (We Chinese diaspora are everywhere!)

    You wrote this post with a lot of humor, which I deeply appreciate. You have an interesting and humble perspective as a foreigner on Chinese behavior, attitudes and hospitality towards vegetarianism. And you’re right: meat is a HUGE part of the culture!

    I have had such a difficult time putting into words why being vegetarian has NEVER come naturally to me. I wasn’t raised in that culture. My mother, originally from Chongqing, has always cooked meat with such tenderness and appreciation. When we could afford to eat meat, it was definitely the centerpiece. When we couldn’t afford meat so much, it was used economically and with dignity, such as sprinkled ground pork/beef on green beans or small dried shrimp in fried rice.

    番茄炒鸡蛋 is a big staple of my childhood. Deeply comforting, very economical and completely delicious piping hot over fresh white rice.

    Screw it, I’m proud of our meat-eating culture. That cake baked with lard sounds absolutely delicious. Lard is a wholesome animal fat, very filling and delicious. We also eat a LOT of vegetables (cooked, nearly never raw) and prepare them in a loving manner. Chinese culinary tradition is truly outstanding.

    I feel bad for the vegans (not vegetarians) visiting China. That’s a difficult way to fully immerse yourself in Chinese culture, and you will be missing out on a lot of opportunities to socialize and bond with locals.

    Thanks for your post! I will continue to be a reader.


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