Before deciding to move to China I thought it would be a place where veganism would be quite popular. After all, the main religions practiced here advocate a plant-based diet and I could always find veggie dishes in the Chinese restaurants back home. However, after being accepted at York English I started to do a bit of research on Chinese diets. I found that many dishes have meat or other animal products added to them, which was worrying. This is my story on how to be a vegan in China!
The hardest part of being vegan in China
The main difficulty I have had is making sure the veggie looking dish that I have ordered will not have any meat or animal by-products in it. Meat is expensive and therefore Chinese people see eating meat as a sign of wealth. Therefore, at restaurants and other food places meat is often included even though the picture had nothing that looked even remotely like meat.
Not being able to communicate well with waiters makes this even more difficult and I am always grateful when I eat out with other teachers with a better understanding of the language. Even with this help there is still always the chance that the cooks have just thrown in some sort of animal product. I have been lucky and this has only happened to me once in the two months I have been here.
Biggest advice I can offer
If you are vegan in China, the easiest way to do this is to cook yourself. This means you don’t have to worry about surprise additions to your food. Plus, it is also a great way to save money. That being said, you can still enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant, it just takes a little more grasp of the language.
What to order
Foreign teachers tend to go for places where the menus have pictures and/or English, so that we know what we are ordering. This also means that many of the places we eat are western restaurants. Or has western options. If the place you are dining has western options, it is more than likely that what you will order will be chips/fries. Not much different to eating out back home, right?
When you opt for the Chinese food often you will find yourself filling up on rice. There are, however, a number of dishes that seem to be a popular option and available at most places. My personal favourites are the shredded potatoes and the green beans with black pepper. Whenever I have eaten out with others and shared plates these two items are guaranteed to be on the table and they often come out first. Though be careful with the beans they are served with chilli and can be quite spicy!
Eating out is easier when you know where to go. This can be difficult when you have just moved to a new country. Most vegans in China know of Happy Cow. For those who don’t it is a site which helps vegans and vegetarians find places to eat out wherever they are.
For Fuzhou there is about 14 restaurants listed on the app. I am yet to try any of them but they all look delightful! The first place I want to try is a dumpling place, because when in China you need to have dumplings.
Happy cow is easy to download and use. You can filter your searches to include places with veg-options, or that specialise in vegetarian or vegan food. It also lists stores selling vegan products nearby, although Fuzhou seems to be lacking in this last bit!
Many of the listed restaurants for Fuzhou have at least a couple of reviews. The app also lets you know the distance, how expensive a place is and what payment methods are available. Genius!
The difficult items and where to find them
So being in Asia there are a few Western staples that are a bit difficult to find, though not impossible if you know where to look. The first thing I searched for and had difficulty with finding was (brown) lentils. Fortunately, after asking a couple of people I managed to find them. I have since found them in three places – Metro (a supermarket with many imported food items but need to sign up for), Carrefour (probably the easiest place to find these delicious legumes) and Taoboa (on online shopping service).
Metro is also good for chickpeas, plain corn chips and tortillas. For me, the thought of not having chickpeas widely available was horrifying but many people here don’t even know what chickpeas are! It’s just not a part of the Chinese diet. I was so excited when I was told that Metro stock chickpeas and my first adventure there I filled my bags with as many cans as I could carry.
The hardest thing for me to come across has been a vegan alternative to butter. I looked everywhere I could think of and asked other vegans that I know in Fuzhou but couldn’t find anything anywhere.
That is until someone found a vegan brand on Taobao called Loving Hut. Loving Hut has a range of mock meats, dumplings and deserts and also sell vegan butter and nutritional yeast!
The importance of WeChat
If you have been reading a lot about living in China, you have probably read about WeChat. WeChat is a great app to keep in touch with people and for paying for almost anything. It is also helpful for vegans and vegetarians for three main reasons.
Once my Gu Tian family (the branch I teach at) found out that I am vegan, the first thing they did was put me in touch with “the other York vegans and vegetarians”, through WeChat. Not only was this great to have people I could ask where to find things, but knowing that it is possible to be vegan here relieved a lot of stress for me.
WeChat also has group chats and I was happy to learn of the Vegetarian vegan tips group. This group is filled with York teachers who are vegan/vegetarian or interested in being vegetarian. It is a place where we can share home-cooked recipes, ask each other for recommendations, where to find certain products and get support and advice for all things vegan. When I have been looking for an item that is a little hard to find this is the first place I’ll go. Chances are someone knows where to find it or has an alternative!
There is also a WeChat store that specialises in vegan products, called ‘Go Vegan’. Though I am yet to buy anything off here other York teachers have. In addition to selling food, they also sell skin care, personal and homecare products!
The Gu Tian family
Fortunately, most people from Gu Tian are very understanding of those of us who don’t eat meat. When we have gone out to eat together everyone has made an effort to make sure that first there are options for us and that there will be enough to fill us up.
Though there are many challenges to being a vegan in China, it is possible. There are people here who are more than happy to help with any difficulties you face. Feel free to reach out and ask any questions and advice you feel you need 🙂
This blog post is part our our mini series on Vegetarianism and Veganism in China. This post was written by Mickey Aldridge, our Australian teacher at our Gu Tian Cheng branch. You can check out Mickey’s personal blog at www.never-coming.home.com