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Perhaps the food-related question I get asked most through my blog is “What's it like for vegetarians and vegans in China. The same question came up recently on another thread, so I put this together. Hope it's useful. It would also, be great to hear other people's experience and solutions.
For the sake of typing convenience I’m going to conflate 'vegetarians and vegan' into just 'vegetarian' except where strictly relevant.
First a declaration of non-interest. I am very carnivorous, but I have known vegetarians who have passed through China, some staying only a few weeks, others staying for years.
Being vegetarian in China is a complicated issue. In some ways, China is probably one of the best countries in which to be vegetarian. In other ways, it is one of the worst.
I spent a couple of years in Gorbachev-era Russia and saw the empty supermarkets and markets. I saw people line up for hours to buy a bit of bread.. So, when I first came to China, I kind of expected the same. Instead, the first market I visited astounded me. The place was piled high with food, including around 30 different types of tofu, countless varieties of steamed buns and flat breads and scores of different vegetables, both fresh and preserved, most of which I didn't recognise. And so cheap I could hardly convert into any western currency.
If you are able to self-cater then China is heaven for vegetarians. For short term visitors dependent on restaurants or street food, the story is very different.
Despite the perception of a Buddhist tradition (not that strong, actually), very few Chinese are vegetarian and many just do not understand the concept. Explaining in a restaurant that you don't eat meat is no guarantee that you won't be served meat.
Meat is seen in China as a status symbol. If you are rich, you eat more meat.And everyone knows all foreigners are rich, so of course they eat meat! Meat eating is very much on the rise as China gets more rich - even to the extent of worrying many economists, food scientists etc. who fear the demand is pushing up prices and is environmentally dangerous. But that's another issue. Obesity is also more and more of a problem.
Banquet meals as served in large hotels and banquet dedicated restaurants will typically have a lot more meat dishes than a smaller family restaurant. Also the amount of meat in any dish will be greater in the banquet style places.
Traditional Chinese cooking is/was very vegetable orientated. I still see my neighbours come home from the market with their catch of greenery every morning. However, whereas meat wasn't the central component of dinner, it was used almost as a condiment or seasoning. Your stir fried tofu dish may come with a scattering of ground pork on top, for example. This will not usually be mentioned on the menu.
Simple stir fried vegetables are often cooked in lard (pig fat) to 'improve' the flavour.
Another problem is that the Chinese word for meat (肉), when used on its own refers to pork. Other meats are specified, eg (beef) is 牛肉, literally cattle meat. What this means is that when you say you don't eat meat, they often think you mean you don't eat pork (something they do understand from the Chinese Muslim community), so they rush off to the kitchen and cook you up some stir fried chicken! I've actually heard a waitress saying to someone that chicken isn't meat. Also, few Chinese wait staff or cooks seem to know that ham is pig meat. I have also had a waitress argue ferociously with me that the unasked for ham in a dish of egg fried rice wasn't meat.
Also, Chinese restaurant dishes are often given have really flowery, poetic names which tell you nothing of the contents. Chinese speakers have to ask. One dish on my local restaurant menu reads “Maternal Grandmother's Fluttering Fragrance.” It is, of course, spicy pork ribs!
Away from the tourist places, where you probably don't want to be eating anyway, very few restaurants will have translations of any sort. Even the best places' translations will be indecipherable. I have been in restaurants where they have supplied an “English menu”, but if I didn't know Chinese would have been unable to order anything. It was gibberish.
To go back to Buddhism and Taoism, it is a mistake to assume that genuine followers of either (or more usually a mix of the two) are necessarily vegetarian. Many Chinese Buddhists are not. In fact, the Dalai Lama states in his autobiography that he is not vegetarian. It would be very difficult to survive in Tibet on a vegetarian diet.
There are vegetarian restaurants in many places (although the ones around where I am never seem to last more than six months). In the larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai they are more easily findable.
Curiously, many of these restaurants make a point of emulating meat dishes. The menu reads like any meat using restaurant, but the “meat” is made from vegetable substitutes (often wheat gluten or konjac based).
To be continued
Chile Rellenos. Every Mexican or Mexican type restaurant we've ever been in almost, I've chosen Chile Rellenos. I keep thinking I'll pick something different...and then I don't. I've made them. Once. So much trouble. And deep fat frying. And of course in the Far Frozen North where we live, we've been able to get Poblanos (that's it) for only about five years now.
Imagine my delight, the appeal to my very lazy side, to discover the following recipe just a few days ago: https://www.homesicktexan.com/2018/09/chile-relleno-casserole-el-paso-style.html . And yesterday I made them and served them to guests with Mexican rice and black beans. Died and gone to heaven.
OK. Truth time. I used Poblanos and I did not roast them to remove the skins. In an electric oven, it's not a nice job. And besides the skins have never bothered me or Ed at all. But I did roast the Poblanos in the oven. And then I used commercial salsa because we had one we liked. (Did I say that I can be lazy sometimes?) And I used Pepper Jack cheese. Jack cheese is not always available in the small Ontario city we live outside of and pepper jack is even less common. Buy it when you see it. I defrosted some frozen guacamole I had in the freezer. But by heavens the casserole was delicious and now it's on our menu permanently.
So shoot me. But I thought I'd share my joy anyway.
I lived in Phoenix AZ a total of 24 years and during that time I found what the local restaurants call a Green Chili Burro. I have also lived and worked in 48 states and the only ones who have them is either in Arizona, Western New Mexico or Southern California. I am now retired in Northwest Washington State. I have searched the internet for recipes and have found that none of them taste the same. I have also written to many Mexican restaurants and either did not receive a reply or was told that they could not give out the recipe. I am now going around to blogs/forums dealing with Mexican foods hoping that someone would have the actual recipe from one of the restaurants. Its not like I am going trying to compete with them since I live along way from those areas and only wish to serve it in my own household.
This is one of my daughter favorite dishes, being mild and less spicy she loves this rice dish. Its super easy to make and goes well with most Indian curries.
Do try this out and I am sure you will be happy with the results.
Prep Time : 5 mins
Cook Time: 5 mins
1 cup rice(basmati), cooked
1/2 cup coconut, shredded or grated
1 green chili, slit
1 dried red chili
1 1/2 tablespoon oil/ghee(clarified butter)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon chana dal(split chickpeas)
1/2 tablespoon urad dal(split black gram)
1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
A pinch of hing (asafoetida)
Few curry leaves
Salt to taste
1) Heat oil/ghee(clarified butter) in a pan in medium flame. I used coconut oil here because it tastes best for this dish.
2) Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, chana dal(split chickpeas), urad dal(split black gram), green chili, dried red chili, ginger and curry leaves. Fry this for 30 seconds in medium flame. The trick is to ensure that these are fried but not burned.
3) Add a pinch of hing(asafoetida) and mix well.
4) Now add the cooked rice and coconut. Stir well for about 15 to 20 seconds and switch off the flame.
5) Finally add salt into this and mix well. You could add peanuts or cashew nuts if you prefer. Goes well with most curries.
I had completely forgotten about our dinner there in December.
Anyone who is a serious eater here on eGullet needs to come here soon. Highly recommended. @MetsFan5 - here is one place you might love over Gary Danko. You too @rancho_gordo.
I'll let the pix speak for themselves...
Horchata - Koshihikari rice, almonds, black cardamom, cinnamon.
Scallop chicharrón, scallop ceviche, crème fraîche.
Jicama empanada, shiso, pumpkin, salmon roe.
Smoked mushroom taco with pickled wild mushrooms.
Dungeness crab tostada, sour orange segments, sour orange-habanero salsa, Castelfranco radicchio, tarragon.
Pineapple guava sorbet
Fuyu persimmon, habanero honey, tarragon
Tasmanian trout ceviche, dashi, Granny Smith apple
Aguachile, parsnip, red bell pepper
Black bean tamales steamed in banana leaves, with salsa on the side
Smoked squab broth, pomegranate seeds, cilantro flowers
Tres frijoles with sturgeon caviar, shallots and edible gold leaf
Black cod, salsa verde, green grapes
Wagyu beef, pickled onion
Smoked squab breast served with spiced cranberry sauce, quince simmered in cranberry juice, pickled Japanese turnips and charred scallion, and sourdough flour tortillas
Yes, it's the same squab from which the broth was made.
And now the desserts:
Foie gras churro, with foie gras mousse, cinnamon sugar, served with hot milk chocolate infused with cinnamon, Lustau sherry and coffee.
By the time I remembered to take a pic, I'd eaten half of the churro. Dunk the churro into the chocolate.
Dulce de leche spooned atop pear sorbet with chunks of Asian pear, macadamia nut butter
Pecan ice cream, candied pecans, shortbread cookie, apples, clarified butter
The cookie was on top of the apples. Break the cookie and spoon everything over.
Cherry extract digestif, vermouth, sweet Mexican lime
We'll definitely return. I'm an instant fan.
Prepaid tix were $230 per person, plus there were additional charges due to wine pairings. It's worth every cent you'll spend.
3115 22nd Street (South Van Ness)
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