Being a vegetarian is tough, or at least that’s the way it seems to a guilty bystander such as myself. You need to be a strong person and very resolved to keep it up. But the Chinese language suggests that might not be how Chinese people see it. If somebody is picking on you in China, you can say something like “Hey! I am not a vegetarian you know!” and it will be like warning them you are not gonna take this lying down.
Regardless of the paragraph above and how vegetarianism is perceived in China, the fact of the matter is China is a vegetarian-friendly country and there is a wide selection of excellent dishes which do not contain dead animals. You just need to know where to look and what to look for. The following list will help you get started (All the dishes are available on FOODragon Free).
This dish is a kind of myth buster because many people believe they don’t serve fresh vegetables in China. But this dish is exactly that – assorted fresh vegetables roughly chopped and mixed together.
Every restaurant makes it slightly different – some put a lot of lettuce for volume while others prefer to use cabbage, some add peanuts while others sprinkle sesame, some pour vinegar into the mix while others use a kind of sweet salad dressing (not the best way to go).
A very simple dish yet it can be surprisingly good when made by chefs who know what they’re doing. It’s lightly braised broccoli stir-fried with garlic bits.
If you are hungry this dish will probably not suffice by itself, but it will make a neutral side dish which will complement any main dish you’ll choose to have.
Sweet and Sour Tofu
There are many sweet and sour dishes but almost all of them contain meat or fish. Therefore vegetarians rarely get a chance to enjoy this unique flavor which is a Chinese-classic. The Chinese name of this dish isn’t sweet and sour tofu and it literally means crispy-skin Japanese tofu. Japanese tofu is how Chinese refer to soft tofu with creamy texture. Don’t I ask me why…
Sometime the dish is served with the souse on the side and you need to dip the tofu yourself. If the skin is not made very thick it may prove to be quite a test of your fine motor skills.
Deep Fried Potato Shreds
This dish is pretty much the Chinese version of French Fries and it will make you feel right at home. Though the potato shreds are mixed with chili peppers and coriander the flavor doesn’t stick and they are not spicy. That being said, be careful of mischievous peppers hiding between the potato shreds you are loading onto you chopsticks.
If you don’t like coriander you might want to use this card.
Steamed Potato Shreds
Not as delicious as the deep fried potato shreds above but if you are counting calories you might prefer this dish. Except steamed water, the only other liquid involved here is vinegar.
Steamed Potato Shreds is more common than Deep Fried Potato Shreds and since there’s no oil it’s also cheaper.
Red Braised Eggplants
Red braising, or red cooking, is a Chinese cooking technique which gives the food a shade of red. In the case of this dish it might also be because of the tomatoes. This dish is made in the faster technique out of the two braising technique, so you usually don’t have to wait long for it to come out of the kitchen.
This dish is not at all spicy and like many other eggplant dishes, it goes great with a bowl of plain rice.
If you like your eggplant with a lot of flavor, this Sichuanese dish is exactly what you are looking for. Like most dishes from Sichuan, this dish is also a full blown assault on your taste buds. It’s sweet-spicy and a bit salty all at the same time.
The Veggie Trio
The trio consists of three vegetables: potatoes, pepper (long peppers or bell pepper) and eggplants. It’s a very simple dish and usually not spicy.
Scrambles Eggs and Tomatoes
You simply can’t go wrong with scrambled eggs and tomatoes. Everyone likes it and unlike most dishes whcih are heavy in content or flavor, this one is suitable for any time during the day – first breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper…
If you don’t like tomatoes, maybe you would like to try the one with spinach instead.
Dough Drop Soup
The Chinese name of this soup is not very sexy. Best case scenario it can be translated as lumpy soup, but you could also take it to far worse places and translate it as pimple soup. Anyway, do not be deterred by the Chinese name. This tomato and egg based soup is delicious and serves as an excellent starter. Just be careful not to get stuffed on dough drops.
Now that winter is upon us it’s all the more reason to enjoy this fine soup.
Other than these dishes there always the option of going back to the basics. Fried rice, fried noodles, dumplings and fried bread shreds – all of them are usually vegetarian-friendly and have versions which are solely based on eggs and vegetables. You will find them here and here.
By the way, this week’s update was Xinjiang Salad, another great vegetarian dish found in Muslim restaurant. You can see its photo on FOODragon’s Facebook page, where updates, photos and other interesting links which don’t make it into FOODragon’s blog are published. Like the page to stay updated.