Traveling in China as a vegetarian impossible?

Traveling in China as a vegetarian impossible? From chicken claw to deep-fried grasshopper.

Written by Lisanne Sas

Eating in China as a vegetarian is sometimes literally a challenge. Do you have guts? Go ahead! Chicken claws are in everything: in a soup with vegetables or in a sweet and sour sauce as a snack with your beer. In Yunnan province, wild honey bees are the delicacy. Local farmers, not without risk, go out at night to catch whole nests and because of the sweet taste (fried) they love them. And then you have duck embryos all over China (the more they crack, the better) and lots of craziness on a stick: from grasshoppers and starfish to scorpions and centipedes. Well … then how do you survive a trip through China as a vegetarian? Is it impossible and becomes starvation leading? Traveler Lisanne, natural vegetarian shares her adventure in China.

Food is China is not like the Chinese around the corner

Let’s get one thing straight. Food in China cannot be compared to the Chinese around the corner. Foe Yong Hai and Babi Pangang? I think the Chinese must be laughing hard at how we prepare it here. When I think of the Chinese around the corner, I think of greasy sauces, lots of rice and few fresh ingredients. When I think of food in China, I think of fresh produce, lots of vegetables, lots of flavor, shared-dinners and real feasting. Every night.

But then again, I don’t eat meat … I really don’t!

Actually as a child, I protested whenever my parents put a piece of meat on my plate. And when I heard there was fish in fish sticks, I still refused to touch them. No, my parents really love a piece of meat – but I scale myself under the “born vegetarian” category. But that shouldn’t be a barrier to travel, right?

Ok, let’s start with step one as you leave for China:
Or in other words: I’m a vegetarian, I don’t eat meat or fish. Thank you!

Print it out and keep it in your pocket at all times. It was my travel Bible. This bill in my wallet saved me. Maybe otherwise too, but this made it very easy. Because I like eating places where locals come too. I prefer to avoid the tourist restaurants. So really diving into the local culture.


Often then there is a menu in English, but sometimes not. And then how can you be sure there really is no meat and fish in it? Because letting myself be surprised by something exciting is fine by me, but I won’t eat it if it has meat or fish in it. So tadaa: right, there came my bill again. Of course, sometimes you get into a situation where the cook in question is illiterate, and the whole family is called in to read the bill and understand what you now mean. But then again, I love such a situation.

So what do you eat in china as a vegetarian?

Prepare to feast every night. Chinese cuisine is enormously versatile. China is a huge country, so each people and region has its own cuisine. Chinese attach great importance to the right taste and how it is presented. Eating in China is also sharing food. You don’t order your own meal. You choose from the menu rice/ noodles and some dishes. Your table is full and together with your traveling companion you feast on everything. With chopsticks, of course. And choices for vegetarians plenty: you’ll often find dishes with eggplant, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, Chinese cabbage on the menu, with a nice (but not too greasy) sauce. Tofu (in many forms), soybeans and eggs are plentiful, and sometimes you’ll come across a dish with peanuts in it.


Tips for china as vegetarian

Print my translation (translated by a Chinese acquaintance) and always keep it in your pocket. You never know when you might need it, but I’ve used it quite often myself.

Tibetan cuisine

Certain populations in Tibet do not eat meat, and many Tibetans have since emigrated to China. So search your Lonely Planet for vegetarian Tibetan restaurants. They prepare the most delicious things and often it is a full vegetarian meal (with tofu, beans, etc). Apart from the fact that Tibetans are generally super sweet people and I loved eating there.


If you go to Yangshuo: look for Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant (fingers crossed that this place still exists!). I myself ate here every night during my stay in Yangshuo because I liked it so much.


In Chengdu, you have Jinli Street. The place to sample street food. You have all kinds of stalls with the weirdest things too. Fish balls, hotpot with chicken legs … I skipped it. But you can very easily walk past the stalls (with your bill) and judge for yourself what you want to taste (for little). Nice bites, then.

Have you also been to China? I’m very curious to know how you experienced being a vegetarian. If you have any good additional tips, let us know below!

And are you inspired by Asian cuisine? Check out all the Asian recipes >>

Or try the Chinese sweet and sour chicken, all vegan!

Lisanne Sas is a traveling vegetarian and was working for China online (part of Rickshaw Travel) when she wrote this blog. Blog is not sponsored.