China is one of the toughest places for a non-Chinese speaker to be a vegetarian, as there is not only a language barrier, but also the interpretation of the word vegetarian and what it really means. Fish is often considered part of being vegetarian here. Sometimes cooks would consider vegetarians to be vegans, and you might be served only some boiled cabbage as an entire meal! However, one thing going for the vegetarians is the fact that there is an awareness of Buddhism in China, as ardent practitioners of Buddhism tend to be vegetarians. Regardless of whether Chinese locals are aware of vegetarianism or not, there are some things you can do, which will help you in communicating your dietary needs and allow you to experience great Chinese cuisine while staying vegetarian.
1) Learn to say “I am vegetarian” in Chinese. (Print out the image below if you need to show it to the Chinese locals)
2) Carry a translation cheat sheet
Carry along with you, a print out of the following. They have English and Chinese characters written, so that you can show these sheets to the waiter, who can read and understand that you are vegetarian.
If you are traveling to Taiwan or Hong Kong, then simplified Chinese may not be understood and you may need translation sheet in traditional Chinese, as in the sheet below:
3) Visit the Vegetarian-China website
This website is one of the best resources out there, and list a whole range of things from translations, to methods of food preparations and vegetarian dishes in Chinese cuisine. Best of all, information is written in English and Chinese characters. I recommend that you take a printout of the entire page and show it to your server/cook when ordering food.
Make sure that you do check out:
– Methods of preparation
– Various vegetarian dishes list
– List of vegetarian restaurants in various parts of China
4) Visit the happy cow website
Another incredible resource, this website has a city/town-wise listing of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. There is a cool map feature as well, which allows you to see which restaurants in your vicinity serve vegetarian food.
5) Join the Vegetarian China facebook page
Join this facebook club to connect with an entire community of like minded individuals. Even though Facebook might not be accessible in China, it is a good idea to join the group before you get to China, take in all the information that you can and make friends/contacts that can help you out.
6) Choose restaurants that traditionally serve vegetarian food
You can never go wrong with an Indian restaurant, as they have some of vegetarian options. Italian pasta can also be vegetarian and a plain cheese pizza at a Pizza Hut is also another option. Globalization has some positive effects as far as vegetarian food choices are concerned.
7) Learn numbers in Chinese
You need to know this while ordering dishes, paying bills and for anything else in general.