I’ve said this before: there is hope for vegetarians in China, but nobody believed me. So when I was in China last week, I took photos of completely vegetarian food that appeared for one dinner. This is not food that is available next to every Buddhist temple in China, although that is definitely a good option for vegetarians. No, this is every-day food, your garden variety veggies. The photo above is of two vegetarian dishes: sauteed Chinese cabbage, served in a soya gravy, and bread with a molasses dip. Both are wonderful dishes.
The next thing is not gobi Manchurian. That is about as authentic as Jain Bombay Duck. This is a stir fried cauliflower with Szechuan chilis. Nice and warm on the tongue. I love cauliflower made Indian style, and I loved it Chinese style. This is definitely something you can find every day.
This is one hell of an exotic dish: boiled celery and red peppers with cashew. Everything in this dish has a terrific crunch. It was a dish that I helped myself to every time it came around. I haven’t even mentioned the various things called pancakes in China: these are what would be called stuffed parathas in India.
Those were four dishes clicked during one single dinner! There’s also rice, and other great stuff like lotus stem: pickled in brine and chilis, or stir fried, or even made into a soup. The soup may be a little suspect, because you do not know what stock has gone into it. But there is always this ultimate in vegetarian delights: the red wine. The Great Wall which we had was not super smooth, like some of the new Indian wines, but it is quite palatable.
A couple of months ago I invited a staunch vegetarian for a beer, and I was surprised when he refused. "Beer has yeast", he told me by way of explanation. I reminded him of various breads, including naan, which I’ve seen him eat. He refused to believe me. I told him that yeast does not belong to the animal kingdom. That did not cut ice, either. So, if you are one of those who do not drink fermented alcohol, then take heart: the Chinese love distilled liquor. Say the magic word baijiu (白酒, meaning white alcohol) and you get a bottle of grain distilled alcohol immediately.
Be warned that some dishes are suspect. During the meal where I took the other photos, I also got the noodle soup whose photo is just above. I love the floury taste of this kind of plain noodle soup, but I’m certain that this is not vegetarian. These noodles have certainly been boiled in a meat stock.
With a little bit of common sense, and a picturre menu, a vegetarian can live very well in China. I talked about this to my fellow learners of Mandarin. There are many vegetarians in the class, and some have been to China. They all agree.