For those who don’t know I’ve moved … to China! For someone who has never been outside of Europe, it has definitely been a shock to my system but in a good way. More than anything I’m excited to share my experiences while I am here so be prepared for a bit of a shift in my blog content.
Although, I did research before coming to China about how vegetarian friendly it is, the results were still a bit of a mixed bag and not what I was expecting. For someone who is used to living in such a veggie friendly place like the UK, not being able to find a vegetarian option all the time came as a surprise (despite knowing this would likely be the case).
If you’re staying long term in China and cooking at home, finding food is not as difficult (as long as you’re a fan of some of the more ‘basic’ meat substitutes like tofu, chickpeas and beans, though I’ve even found mock beef!), as groceries are cheap, especially if you stick to Chinese dishes.
Eating out is where it can get more difficult.
Tofu, for example, is often included in meat dishes in China – when I was eating out the other day, some of my friends in China found pork at the bottom of their tofu dish and from what I’ve heard that’s very common.
It is not all bad news though as although dishes will often be in Chinese, everyone provides pictures and if you stick with just plain vegetables and rice you will usually be ok (though maybe not the most satisfied). As there are vegetarian dishes in China, you just won’t find them labelled as such unless you go to chain restaurants (typically found in malls here). However, be warned there will often be hidden animal-based ingredients in sauces (you have to decide yourself if this is a risk you want to take). It can also be useful to learn how to say I am a vegetarian in Mandarin.
If you want to be 100% sure about what you’re eating when eating out, then my advice is to go to exclusively vegetarian restaurants, which there are more than you might think – at least there are where I am staying in Shenzhen. However, these restaurants will tend to be more expensive to eat out than other places in China.
Overall, my experience has been a struggle and an adjustment while I’ve been here which is why I wanted to share a sample of what I ate in a day in my first week here. At the time I was currently eating out, as I was still staying in a hotel so I didn’t have the facilities to cook but eating out for most meals is common in Shenzhen, as it’s so cheap (though as a vegetarian it will probably work out cheaper for you to cook).
Breakfast: Holiday Inn buffet
The breakfast buffet at my hotel is essentially legend among the English teachers I’ve met here and for good reason, it has great variety and it’s delicious. Although, the dishes aren’t labelled as such, there is a great vegetarian variety from buns to vegetables to noodles and rice.
I typically have been pilling my plate sky high with vegetables, typically with some rice or noodles underneath and accompanying it with some watermelon and a red bean bun (my favourite so far apart from mushroom). For those who haven’t had red bean paste before, it’s a sweet paste that is often used in deserts in China – best served steaming hot!
The breakfast buffet is definitely been responsible for me hitting my 5 a day (I think a lot of the time it’s been even more than that!) while I’ve been there and I 100% miss it whole heartedly!
Price: Complimentary as part of my hotel stay so I’m not sure!
Lunch: Din Tai Fung
I’m not going to lie this restaurant appealed to me largely because it one of the very few places I’ve seen here that had vegetarian dishes actually labelled. It was more however on the pricy side and there still wasn’t a whole lot of options.
I had a stir fried mushroom dish, with some vegetables, which was ok but didn’t quite hit the mark for me (it really was more of a side dish to be honest – which in fairness was what it was but I didn’t have main dish option!) and a red bean steamed bun shaped like a peach!
I really wish I’d got more than one of the buns as it was delicious (honestly, I thought I ordered a few and when only one came out I was devastated).
Overall, the experience was fun, especially the little bibs they gave us but if you wanted a lot of food you’d struggle as a vegetarian and it was a bit pricy!
Price: ££- I spent about 50 RMB here but you could easily spend 100-200.
This is probably one of my favourite places to eat and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in Shenzhen, it’s especially a good shout if there is a group of you as then you can share dishes (which, is very common in China).
I was lucky enough to visit here with my boyfriend Martin and two friends I met in China (who I won’t name in case they don’t want to be named!) and it was great. The menu was huge but in the end we decided on a dish each (and we weren’t able to get through it all). I think this might have been because we’d all got used to a lot of vegetables and this was quite mock meat heavy – we wished we had ordered two vegetable dishes instead of one! We also did have rice to accompany this (charged as an extra), as well as some tea.
My favourite had to be the mock chicken skewers (I only wish they’d come with a dipping sauce of some kind) as well as the garlicky vegetables. Overall, I left feeling completely satisfied (especially as mock meat can be harder to come by in China).
Price: £ – Depending what you order you could spend from 30 RMB to 100 upwards here.
So there it is – a glimpse into what I’ve been eating while I’ve been in China. I hope this is useful for my fellow vegetarians. Sorry that I can’t give a lot of info about which products are specifically vegan (if you click on the earlier link about how to say you are vegetarian, it should also cover if you are vegan) but I will have some reviews of places that specifically accommodate vegans coming up, as well as tips for cooking at home.
You can also check out my reviews on Happy Cow here (I’m hoping to update it with lots more content soon).
April (April is the Cruellest Month)