Hi guys! Today I want to reveal the secrets of surviving China as a vegan. From August to December 2015 I spent 4 months living in Suzhou, China. Suzhou is a medium-sized city (11 million people) located near Shanghai in the province of Jiangsu in the east of China.
*** The meat dilemma ***
A few of the most famous dishes in China are the Beijing duck, meat-filled buns called Baozi, meat-filled dumplings called Jiaozi, chicken feet and various pork and chicken dishes, but also a lot of vegetable-based dishes. In Suzhou fish and seafood dishes are very popular as well. Lucky for me, they don’t use eggs for many dishes. Dairy is not used for cooking at all. Thus, the only problem for me was the presence of small meat chunks in nearly every dish.
*** No Chinese, no communication ***
I had learned Chinese for 2 years very intensively before I moved to China. I knew the basic sentence structures and I knew the words for meat, milk, eggs and fish. In addition to that, I also had an app which enabled me to look up Chinese characters I didn’t know. Most Chinese people still don’t understand a single word of English!! Not even bartenders or staff that work in restaurants.
*** Food I ate and my Weight Gain ***
In the first weeks we went to the restaurant each single day because it was so cheap compared to restaurants in Germany. Usually, I ate vegetables and rice. This doesn’t sound very spectacular but the way Chinese chefs prepare vegetables is impudently delicious. Everybody loved and enjoyed the vegetable dishes. Further to that, they have dozens of different sorts of tofu. And the Chinese tofu tastes so much better than the packaged stuff we get here in Europe. After 1 or 2 months I started discovering more vegan things you could find on the streets. Street food is a big thing in China and many business people eat breakfast and lunch on the streets. Vegan street food that I enjoyed was: Baozi filled with green vegetables, tofu or cabbage, wood-oven baked sweet potatoes, sweet corn cobs, roasted chestnuts, grilled soft tofu. They offer a lot of noodle dishes and stir fries as well, but most of them contain eggs or meat and are made with WAY too much oil. We all had to get used to the ridiculously high amounts of oil used in Chinese restaurants, we all felt a little sick after eating a lot of food (and we always ordered too much food but finished it anyway) and we all gained weight during our stay in China. Even though I was eating a lot of mangoes and papayas and many raw meals I prepared at home, my body could not cope with the overall high-fat diet. Of course, I went straight back to High Carb Low Fat when I returned home to Germany. After 2 months I had lost all the weight I gained in China.
*** Veganism in China? ***
So far, there are barely any vegan restaurants in China. However, the Chinese have been adapting Western trends so fast that they will very likely adapt the vegetarian and vegan trend as well. Since most of the traditional dishes are vegetable-based, due to the lack of meat in the past (there was a famine not too long ago), they have the perquisites to move away from the Westernization of food and return to a plant-based diet. Perhaps China’s inhabitants are even more likely to become mostly vegetarian than any European country, considering that cheese, dough made with eggs and meat are major components of most traditional European dishes. With the increasing access to the Internet, the food scandals in the news and the rising willingness to actively improve the environmental situation (the smog is very bad in many Chinese cities and the main air polluter is the livestock industry!!), a large number of Chinese is very likely to change their eating habits in the upcoming decades. At the moment, an increasing number of Chinese are becoming obese due to the distribution of fast food chains from the Western world. With the rising awareness, the growth in obesity is projected to cease and hopefully health issues will do the same. The Chinese may be able to eat a lot of fats (because they stay so slim even though they eat the same stuff we did in the restaurants!), but to me it seems the environmental situation will kill them if they don’t wake up soon. The number of vegan restaurants is rising and simultaneously people are becoming aware of the importance of a healthy diet. The number of vegans and vegetarians in China is constantly rising. This is a very good thing and I am looking forward to my visits in future. China has been changing so rapidly! Who knows what will be in 10 years?