Feb 01, 2018

Living in China as a Vegan or Vegetarian

This guest blog post comes from Mariantonietta who writes for LTL Mandarin School. This week she gives us an insight into what life is like in China for a Vegan or a Vegetarian with some useful key phrases you can use at the restaurant or out and about in China.

Being vegetarian or vegan in China appears to be a real challenge. Eating meat, in Chinese culture, in fact, is considered a sign of prosperity. Furthermore, in a lot of vegetable dishes minuscule pieces of meat are frequently used as garnish and people don’t really consider them as meat, but just as a mere decoration.

That’s the reason why, when you specifically ask the waiters for a dish without any animal products, in most cases, they will first reassure you they will follow your wishes. However, after your food arrives, there’s a really good chance it is just a vegetable dish with some small pieces of meat, eggs etc…

If this is giving you the feeling you will be a hopeless vegan condemned to hunger in China, you might be pleased to know that a lot of vegetables are used in Chinese cuisine. Even though the majority of the population is not vegetarian, there are some popular Chinese dishes you can easily find and eat because they are 100% made of food which is of plant origin.

Before listing them, let’s learn how to say you’re vegan or vegetarian in Chinese.

The Chinese word for the vegan is 純素食者 / 素食者 (chún sù shí zhě) literally “a pure vegetable-ist” or “a pure vegetarian”. The word for vegetarian is 素食者 (sù shí zhě) literally “a vegetable-ist”. The 純 / 纯 “chún”(pure) defines the difference between vegan and vegetarian.

When in China, you might also need to explain that you’re a vegetarian or a vegan as well as needing to specify what you eat and what you don’t. All you have to do is learn the following expressions to make your life in China much easier:

  • I am vegetarian – 我是素食者 (wǒ shì sùshí zhě)
  • I eat vegetables – 我吃素 (wǒ chī sù)
  • 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 eat only products of plant origin – 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)

And now let’s see 5 dishes both vegan and vegetarian can eat in China:

  1. 地三鮮 / 地三 (dì sān xiān) – Stir-fried eggplant, chili and potato braised with soy sauce.
  2. 麻辣豆腐 (málà dòufu) – Tofu bean curd flavored with hot spices
  3. 魚香茄子 / 鱼香茄子 (yú xiāng qiézi) – 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. 青椒土豆絲 / 青椒土豆丝 (qīngjiāo tǔdòu sī) – Northern dish. Shredded green pepper and potato, lightly salted and fried with oil.

For more from LTL Mandarin School feel free to visit their blog or if you wish to try out one of their Chinese Courses in Beijing, visit their website!

By Mariantonietta Fornabaio | A Super Chineasian

Marie is an Italian national currently living in Spain. She has years of experience living in China and enjoys studying Chinese avidly.

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