The Ultimate Guide to Being Vegan in Beijing
Home or abroad, maintaining a vegan lifestyle can require considerable effort. The ability to find satisfying meat-free meals depends, in large part, on location, with some destinations proving far more vegan-friendly than others. If you’re interested in visiting Beijing, however, there’s no need to let your status as a vegan stop you.
As in Chinese cities, Beijing’s vegan landscape can be equal parts impressive and frustrating. While the local diet has long relied largely on vegetables and grains, western influences have granted meat — and increasingly, dairy — a greater role in the region’s culinary scene.
Still, as with almost any large metropolitan area, excellent vegan cuisine is available; you simply need to know where to look. The following suggestions will help you navigate Beijing’s surprising array of vegan options:
The Perils of Hidden Animal Products
The veggie-based nature of Beijing’s top meals may initially seem like a boon to vegan visitors, but this emphasis on vegetables can actually be some vegans’ undoing. In Beijing, meat is often subtly integrated into dishes, rather than forming the meal’s centerpiece.
Even dishes that purport to consist entirely of vegetables and grains may include small amounts of meat. This is often not visible and might only be discovered while eating.
Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants
Vegan restaurants remain somewhat rare in Beijing, but a growing number of vegetarian establishments offer menus entirely free of meat. As you order, check that your preferred meal is also egg and dairy-free, as these ingredients often stand in for meat at local vegetarian restaurants.
Not sure where to start? Excellent options include:
- Vegan Hut
- Blossom Vegetarian
- Vege Tiger
Explaining Your Order
Don’t expect to use the terms ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ and receive a meal that fits your requirements. These terms are often confused in China and may mean little to the person preparing your meal.
The phrase “wo chi chun su” (I am a pure vegetarian) may help, but you still risk eating dishes with eggs or dairy if the restaurant’s staff members do not understand the extent of your restrictions. It may be easier to highlight the exact types of food absent from your diet.
Keep in mind that definitions of meat vary between cultures. If you ask for a meat-free meal, locals may assume that you simply don’t want the muscle tissue with which meat is typically associated. While they’ll happily leave this out, they might not realize that you also prefer to avoid chicken stock, lard, or oyster sauce.
Opt For Grocery Stores
Some traveling vegans prefer grocery stores or produce markets, as these locations provide greater dietary control. This is a particularly helpful option for those staying in apartments or hotels with kitchens. Still, grocery stores do not remove all risk of consuming animal products.
As in restaurants, meat, dairy, and eggs can be included in a variety of dishes. Avoid packaged foods when possible and stick with ingredients you can use to create meals from scratch.
Maintaining a vegan diet is by no means easy in Beijing, but it’s definitely possible. Once you know where to visit and how to make special requests, you’ll be amazed by the sheer variety of flavors available. Your efforts will be rewarded with some of the healthiest and most delicious meals imaginable.