Being Vegetarian in China

by Evan Williams - HCE Mentor

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 6 years, so I was a bit nervous about not being able to eat much in China. That ended up not being the case, and the first two phrases I learned when I got to China were 我饱了 and 太饱了。 Respectively, I’m full and I’m too full. Food is a huge part of Chinese culture, and food is served and eaten differently than it is in America. In China, a variety of Chinese dishes tend to be placed in the center of the table (often on a rotatable lazy-suzan) where everyone helps themselves to the dishes they want (with chopsticks). It’s also very normal to serve others at the same time as yourself without asking people if that’s what they desire.

It took a few days to let my host family know what I considered meat and what I do not consider vegetarian. The first day my host mother prepared seafood for me, which I explained I didn’t consider vegetarian. After a few days, they understood what I was comfortable with and since then they’ve been amazingly accommodating. My host mother always prepares (at least) two vegetable/ egg dishes which she places on the side of the meat ones.

The first two phrases I learned when I got to China were 我饱了 and 太饱了。 Respectively, I’m full and I’m too full.

Eating out can be a bit of a stressful experience for me. I know my host mother understands what I’m comfortable with when she cooks dinner, but almost every time I go to a traditional Chinese restaurant it’s often necessary that I mention 我不吃肉 (I don’t eat meat), so they don’t put meat in the vegetable dishes. Many of the newer, Western, and “Fusion” (pan-Asian/ multi-cultural) restaurants have picture menus and English descriptions of each dish, but for traditional Chinese restaurants, it’s best to specify that you don’t want meat in certain dishes The quality of vegetarian food here is quite good though. They cook everything in China (often in olive oil or sesame oil), so I haven’t had a salad in a long time. I think one of the strangest and most exciting parts of China for me has been trying so many new (or slightly dif-ferent) fruits and vegetables. Chinese grapefruits are the size of basketballs, Chinese oranges are half the size of American oranges, and I’ve had many fruits here that I’ve never even seen before. I’ve tried many many new vegetarian foods here and it’s been quite an amazing experience. Two days ago I had Lotus root (which was fantastic), but I’ve also been eating a lot of rice, pumpkin, these black cap things I think are mushrooms, and purple sweet potatoes.

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