Sophia Verma reports back on how she fared as a vegan travelling in China, and how you can do it too.
Having just spent three amazing and eye-opening months living and travelling in Asia, I’ve come back with tons of stories and unforgettable experiences. But the most common question I get asked is “what was it like being vegan there?”. This is a hard question to answer in a few sentences. As someone who eats a whole food, low fat diet, it was pretty easy to just stick to the standard fruit, veggies, grains and legumes. Being vegan was harder in the sense that it’s just such an alien concept over there and I was virtually the only one.
Our Chinese friends who volunteered to host us while we were staying in Sichuan University were made aware of my dietary choice beforehand, and the interesting thing is, I think due to the western influence, they had already formed opinions on me based on this. Their idea of a vegan was basically a typical LA girl who’s a picky eater, totally obsessed with body image and, generally spoilt. But in the end, they loved my unexpected curiosity for Chinese food and quickly realised that as long as it was vegan, I would love it. As it turns out, a lot of traditional Chinese food is vegan, and it’s delicious.
As for what I could eat, the choices were amazingly vast. Stir fried veggies and rice, vegetable bao zi (giant dumplings), fried noodles, noodle soup, spicy tofu dishes, veggies in black bean sauce, man tou (steamed bread) green bean moon cakes, different kinds of peanut and rice sugar cane snacks, and Asian dried fruits. The most amazing fresh fruit such as dragon fruit, persimmons, the best apples I have ever tasted, Asian pears, melon, mangos and small bananas imported from Thailand. One of my favourite dishes was sweet and sour cabbage, which is incredibly cheap and delicious. Most dishes could even be made vegan just by removing the added egg and meat.
The Sichuan province is also well known for hot pot, which basically consists of a huge pot of spicy, oily broth that sits in the middle of table surrounded by foods that you can add to your taste. Chengdu has many interesting vegetables on offer; from various mushrooms and root vegetables like pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, to edamame, pak choy, lotus root, and much more. Just throw them all together and experience a different way of eating. Tofu was also very common, as you can imagine. All meat dishes are usually served half meat and half veggies, probably to cut down on costs due to the price of meat. Veg, on the other hand, is dirt-cheap and you can go to a farmer’s market to get even cheaper rates for extra fresh and organic foods. In the supermarkets, they also have a section where ‘off’ and damaged fruit and veg can be bought for a reduced price, far better than the reduced sections in UK supermarkets.
All in all, being vegan in China can be amazingly easy and cheap if you’re able to cook for yourself and can speak some rudimentary Chinese. Admittedly, if it weren’t for my Chinese-speaking friends, I would have found it a bit harder to eat out and would have been confined to my basic dorm room cooking skills, but being a vegan abroad was a totally interesting and worthwhile experience and definitely doable wherever you go. So banish those worries and pack your suitcase!
Featured image: Pixabay