Vegetarianism in China is the equivalent of finding a mythical creature out in the open. You marvel at it and never leave it out of your sight and when you want to tell others about it, they somehow don’t believe you. Firstly, they won’t understand the fact that you don’t eat meat, secondly they will ask if you eat fish and thirdly, even when you can visibly not see any meat, there will most likely be some traces of it somewhere, even in the vegetables.
Many vegetable dishes are cooked in animal stock or animal fat or sometimes even the blood of an animal. So be careful when trying to order something purely vegetarian or vegan. That’s the next point, if you do find something vegetarian, chances are they will use eggs in the dish, so being a strict vegan can be rather challenging. Luckily, China loves their vegetables and adores their tofu, so there will be some amazing options to choose from, but don't expect too many. It’s always handy to have a Chinese friend on your side to make sure it wasn’t cooked in any pig fat or have some pork sprinkled on top, which happens more often than you think.
Another tip is to learn some basic Chinese phrases to make sure it’s a veggie dish and not some hidden agenda meat dish. Once you find a restaurant or a certain dish that fits your veggie standards, hold on to it for dear life and exploit it till the end of your time here.
The best suggestion to make, is to cook at home. There are bountiful markets and supermarkets with a plethora of fresh vegetables at extremely low prices and the range of tofu is plentiful.
A few vegetarian and vegan friendly places in Nanjing do exist and a few places will be mentioned, but first it must be stated that many of these places have the oddest business hours and usually comprise of a two hour nap time in the afternoon. Many of them can be quite pricey too, but always trust that if you see a Buddhist temple (and there are quite a few), they will most likely have veggie options.
A favourite place to go is Jimingsi Vegetarian restaurant, by the Jimingsi temple. They serve popular Chinese dishes with mock meats so you won’t feel like you’re missing out too much on the Chinese food experience. After eating there, you can take a stroll by Xuanwu lake as it is by one of the entrances. Another suggestion is to be adventurous with Chinese food, as it was said, they love their vegetables and tofu. Rice and noodles are always an option and it can very easily be done with no meat. Many steamed buns and dumplings have amazing vegetable options and are great for snacks or in between meals.
In conclusion, it is entirely possible to be vegetarian in China and Nanjing, some challenges will arise but it is totally worth it when you taste the food on offer. And of course lastly here are some places that are strictly vegetarian or vegan. Wujie Vegetarian, Jimingsi and Tiandi vegetarian. If you type in Sù into any delivery APP, you will also get some options to choose from. So good luck on your veggie journey in China and don't become too despondent when difficulties arrive, there will always be something for you to eat.
By Maxine NJ1
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