Especially in the countryside, the emphasis on fresh vegetables makes Chinese cuisine perfect for vegetarians. The pillars of Chinese cuisine, noodles, rice, tofu and vegetables, are fine for vegetarians. Soy, which contains more iron and calcium than meat, has been a staple plant food for centuries. Not only the ubiquitous sprout, but also the bean itself is processed into countless forms of tofu (bean curd).
Another good start to the meal is spring rolls with vegetables that often come packed with mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, and spices such as ginger and garlic, inside a spring roll wrapper. The exact filling and sauces may vary, so always ask for the ingredients if you're not sure. FREE 5-day intensive Chinese cooking course. Over the centuries, vegetarian Chinese cuisine has become sophisticated cuisine in its own right.
It's not just about avoiding General Tsoa's chicken and other obviously meat-focused dishes; many Chinese sauces, broths and condiments contain animal products. The scarcity of meat during certain periods of China's collective past may contribute to the reluctant attitudes toward vegetarianism that prevail today among many people in China. Following a vegetarian diet in China can be difficult or simple, depending on your expectations. Fortunately, vegetables (shūcài), cereals (gwù) and beans (dòuzi) are staples of Chinese cuisine, so surviving as a vegetarian in China is certainly possible.
Vegetarianism is not uncommon or unusual in China: there are more than 50 million Chinese vegetarians and 40% of the world's fruits and vegetables are consumed in China. Kao fu is a form of wheat gluten, or seitan, that has been cooked this way in Chinese cuisine for years. Despite the relatively low number of full-fledged vegetarians in China, there is some evidence to suggest that attitudes toward meat may be slowly changing. Therefore, meat was eaten once or twice a month at most, and sometimes only once a year, during the China Spring Festival.
For example, the waiter may insist that a tofu dish is vegetarian even when beef was used to season the sauce. In many Chinese homes, the tables are filled with hearty and tasty meatless dishes, from sautéed bitter melon to oven-roasted tofu. These hot green peppers are marinated in black Chinese vinegar and then thrown into a very hot wok until their skin blisters, wrinkles and the inside is brimming with flavor. Since China was historically an epicenter of Buddhism and Taoism, it is widely accepted that these two religions, both based on the principles of compassion and harmony, influenced the country's first vegetarian trends.
Interestingly, many Chinese who tend to consume meat choose to abstain from consuming animal products on certain dates, including the first and fifteenth days of each lunar month, as well as the first day of the Lunar New Year, a custom rooted in Chinese Buddhism and related popular beliefs. But once you know what to pay attention to and what questions to ask, it's easy to order and enjoy vegetarian Chinese food with confidence. As we will soon discover, the vast majority of vegetarians in China choose to do so for religious reasons.