Vegetarians Survival Guide for China

January 2, 2020
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In a big country like China, one might imagine that everyone can find something to eat, as China is abundant with delicacies, and Chinese cuisine is a delightful mixture of flavors and smells. So why don’t many vegetarians find the Chinese food culture “vegetarian-friendly”? We have checked whether they are right and learned about developments in this area. Here is a vegetarian survival guide for China.

History of Vegetarianism

Although in Chinese cuisine a large variety of vegetables, legumes and tofu can be found, it is not always well prepared for vegetarianism. Chinese people tend to add meat to almost every dish or cook with non-vegetable oil, which makes it very difficult for vegetarians. But that has not always been the case.

Ancient China was a fertile ground for the growth of Buddhism and Daoism – two philosophical streams which fostered the connection to nature and promoted a vegetarian lifestyle. The situation changed only in modern times, and today meat-eating has already become a status symbol. The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s-70s created a very large layer of proletarians who could not afford to eat meat. Today, as a result of the advancement of living standards in China, many are seeking to “make up” for those years when meat was a scarce product, so meat consumption is on the rise.

Lingual “mines”

Chinese language, as well as the Chinese cuisine, is not considered as “vegetarian-friendly”. For instance, Chinese language does not have a literal translation of the phrase “I am vegetarian”. If you still insist on trying to explain yourself, you can use the following:

  • I do not eat meat – Wǒ bù chī ròu (我不吃肉)
  • I do not eat fish – Wǒ bù chī yú (我不吃鱼)
  • Absolutely no meat inside – Lǐ miàn wán quán méi yǒu ròu (里面完全没有肉)
  • I only eat vegetables – Wǒ zhǐ chī sù (我只吃素)

You will not stay hungry

If you’ve chosen to give up trying to express yourself in broken Chinese, you may look for Buddhist restaurants (usually located near temples), or download one of the following apps to help you navigate your way to one of the nearby vegetarian restaurants, and ask for the right dish for you.

Happy Cow

The app is available in English for download on iPhone and Android devices and works in over 180 countries. In China alone you can choose one of the 1293 listed restaurants. The app will help you find vegetarian restaurants, get directions, filter search categories (price, distance, opening hours, etc.), rate dishes and share your own photos.


This app is available in English, currently for iPhone users only, and allows you to search restaurants by relevant categories in 9 major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

Veg Restaurant Guide – In order to access the guide, search on Wechat: sùshí cāntīng zhǐnán (素食餐厅指南).

The English Vegetarian Restaurant Guide was launched last July and is actually a mini-program within the Wechat app, available for use in over 200 cities in China. The system spots your location and displays nearby vegetarian restaurants accordingly. Clicking on the map will show you the restaurant’s information, directions and price ranges. The app also lets you rate dishes and share reviews.

Eating in company in restaurants has a significant role in the Chinese business world. It is an opportunity to develop a network of relationships and build trust, but it also requires adaptation to Chinese eating culture and to etiquette. In order for you to feel as comfortable as possible on such occasions, it is important to at least make sure you find something to eat …

Once you are already in the area, you are welcome to visit us and learn about the business services we offer to foreign companies in the Chinese market.


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