In response to Alex’s appetizing and photo-heavy food post:
The Chinese eat a lot of meat. Apparently not as much as Americans on a per-capita basis, but I suspect any per-capita statistic for this country is skewed due to China’s vast divide between rich and poor.
Before coming to China, I had never intentionally eaten meat (and I’ve, like, totally reaped the karmic benefits, man). I mentioned my dietary preferences to my handlers at UPDIS prior to our arrival, and when we had our first meal in China they were gracious enough to order some delicious greens for me and I wasn’t pressured into eating the chicken feet.
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep it up, in part because I don’t want to be rude by refusing to eat from the ostentatious platters laid out for us, but mostly because I didn’t want to starve. It’s difficult enough to order a meal when your language skills are on par with those of a toddler or clever dog. Further complicating the situation is typically a frustrating and risky endeavor.
So, I’ve dabbled. It’s been fun asking friends to identify meats for me. So far I’ve had shrimp and chicken and ground beef and not-ground beef and sausage and pork and boar and liver and lamb and some kind of fish and fried squid and sea-snail. And then there’s the unsettling mystery meats, stuffed into otherwise-wholesome vegetables and sweet rolls. I’m going to politely refrain from posting photos of chained-up dogs at a countryside agritourisy restaurant I was taken to. And I didn’t manage to get pictures of the lady dashing frogs against the wet concrete in Yangshuo, though that sound will stick with me for some time.
And honestly? Meh. The best I’ve had just reminds me of the good fake meat, though the real stuff is probably much better for you. Except for the sausage. And the Calamari. I think I can ethically support eating squid, just because humankind has killed nearly all of their natural predators in the ocean, leaving the squishy things to rule the seas.
Anyway. The original intent of this post was to describe the vegetarian-friendly places that have made eating less of an exercise in moral compromise. Behold!
- India Inn (¥ ¥ ¥) has a whole vegetarian page on their menu and is mere meters from Yannan station, exit C. Their TV is always showing Bollywood dance compilations.
Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Noodles (¥) can be found in all kinds of dirty, out-of-the-way places. Some cleaner versions are in mall food courts, but you probably won’t get to sit on tiny plastic stools. You get a basket to fill with whatever you like for your soup, and it’ll be your own fault if you accidentally pick the bush meat.
- Shao-Kao (¥). See above, but with barbecue. This has been a staple of our diet, for a number of reasons, and will definitely get its own post later.
Awakening (¥ ¥) is a jen-you-wine vegan restaurant in the heart of Futian’s CBD. Their food is delicious, the staff is super friendly, and they have pictures of famous vegetarians all over the walls. I think it’s run by a cult, as all good vegetarian restaurants are. They do cafeteria-style lunches as well. I haven’t been able to figure out who their clientele is really, but I’ve met some Chinese vegetarians here.
- Bars and Western Restaurants (¥ ¥ ¥) cater to foreign crowds, so their menus are in English. Don’t expect the food to be like you remember it, or to show up in a reasonable amount of time (it’s often biked in from somewhere else). These places are typically in malls, and “expensive.”
- Szechuan Food (¥ ¥) can be a boon or a total bust. Get a sympathetic local to help you find the eggplant mashed potatoes and sticky peanut sauce noodles, as they are incredible.
- Delicious Noodles Fine Kitchen (¥ ¥) has a great vegetable noodle soup dish that makes for a pretty good lunch. ‘Nuff said.
- Thomas’ Place (¥ ¥) doesn’t actually have any vegetarian food on the menu, but he will cook special dishes for you because he loves foreigners. It’ll probably be an omelette of some kind. His restaurant is half a block from UPDIS and is known for its fancy coffee, which he is convinced will catch on in China someday. Thomas will teach you the proper way to drink it, as well as how to make the best of the bitterness in the cup and in life.