I remember my first visit in China. I remember the first bite of the tender pork. The first slice of the delicious Beijing duck. The savoury noodle soups with beef and chicken. I was dreaming about those unique Chinese flavours for several years, planning to return one day and indulge in the food fiesta once again. And then, in the meantime, I became… a vegetarian. A pescatarian actually, because seafood is still on the menu. Can’t live without them shrimps.
So the story goes, almost a year into my meat-free life, an opportunity to return to China has arrived. Yay, I was super excited. But wait… what would I eat there? I remembered some veggie dishes only vaguely from the previous trip. Yet, I embraced the challenge and discovered there are endless options for people like me to enjoy the Chinese cuisine without harming your ethical standards.
Before I get to the good stuff, just one word of warning. If you see a photo like this one below on the menu, of black marinated eggs – RUN! I’m all about trying everything at least once, just to know whether I like it or not and I usually encourage you to do the same. But this! You really don’t need to try this! It felt like someone vomited in my mouth with a rotten egg. Lovely, I know. But it needed to be said and you needed to be warned. You’re welcome.
Now that this is covered, let’s talk about the mouthwatering, amazing vegetarian foods that the street food stalls and restaurants in Beijing have to offer. A vegetarians guide to Beijing based on my experiences.
Tu dou si
Those are basically stir fried hot and sour potato shreds. Dried red chilies are the key ingredient. It doesn’t resemble any other potato dish you had before. Due to the fact that they are soaked in salt water before they are stir fried, their texture remains fresh and crispy. The dish may look pale and plain, but is very rich in flavour, you’ll love it.
Yu Xiang Qie Zi
My favourite variation of an eggplant dish in China is Yu Xiang Qie Zi. Tender and smokey, spicy and with garlic, soaked in a sweet and sour sauce… My taste buds are dancing on the mere thought of it.
Eggplant is also prepared in combination with many other vegetables, f.e. green beans, as shown below. No matter what accompanies the aubergine in the dish, go for it. You won’t be disappointed.
Paozi (or Baozi)
Good snack for any time of the day, though I particularly enjoyed Paozi for breakfast. Super cheap and super popular, you can find them in plenty of places, from hole-in-the-wall style spots to “normal” restaurants. Those steamed buns are often filled with meat too, so make sure you ask for ‘gen cai’ (meaning ‘with vegetables’, pronounced ghen tshay).
Wonderful for breakfast too, to wash down the Paozi. A bit watery, but therefore very light for the stomach and lovely when you add a bit of that rice vinegar standing on every restaurant table.
Street food pancakes (no clue about the Chinese name)
One of simplest, cheapest, yet most delicious street food snacks I had in China. Calling it a snack might be an understatement thought, because the pancake is huuuuge. A scrambled egg adds to the outer layer, while the filling consists simply of some fresh coriander, dill, chilli and a crunchy kind of waffle.
Not your typical seafood experience
(skip this one, if you’re a strict veggie and don’t eat fish and seafood too)
I never ate shrimps in their shells before, but the stir fried Chinese dish makes them delightfully crunchy and soft at the same time. Yum! As for the octopus, it’s usually served spicy as hell, but once you get used to the initial burning sensation it’s really good.
The sweet life
Soaked in syrup, fatty and incredibly sweet – that’s usually my kind of treat. Admittedly, the Chinese version of it wasn’t a winner. However, there are plenty of other sweet sins to commit. I loved the buns from the local bakery, deep fried (but not fatty!) and filled with a sweet red bean paste. A local favourite were also cupcake-like pastries, which resembled the Portuguese pasteis de nata. An ice cream in between the meals was always a good idea, obviously. And finally, not to go home empty –handed, all local stores offer big packs of various candies consisting mainly of dried fruit.
I can tell you, doing this research for you was a significant sacrifice, so I hope you appreciate and share this post 😉
Some general tips:
– Always pay the exact amount in a restaurant. Tipping is considered an offence in China.
– I usually avoid restaurants with photos in the menu, but in a country like China, where the language barrier is this big, those pics really help. Either way, now it’s almost a standard in Beijing’s tourist areas.
– 10 RMB (yuan) are approx. 1.50 USD or 1.30 EUR
– Street food snacks cost around 5 RMB and meals in restaurants range from 10-50 RMB.
– A bottle of beer is 8-10 RMB in a restaurant. Tsingtao is the better option in my opinion, Nanjing not so much (unless you prefer your lager a bit sweeter).
– Baijiu is the Chinese schnapps, which you can try almost everywhere. It tastes like a very sweet vodka.