Unlike the San Francisco Bay Area where vegetarians roam, or graze freely, some travelers and fresh expats come to the capital city of China unable to resist the meaty temptations of Nanluoguxiang and Guijie. To those unfamiliar with the cooking style of Beijing otherwise known as Mandarin cuisine, a diet of bean curd, broccoli and bai zhou (white porridge) may sound less than pleasing. Instead, many move to indulge in Peking’s finest duck, cheap straight-off-the-grill chuar (lamb kebabs), and boiling sheep-based huo guo (hot pot).
Having lived in Beijing for almost six months now, I reassure you that being a vegetarian in this city is not as hard as one would expect it to be. In fact, there are many options, and with some research and effort, Beijing can be an omnivore’s oasis.
Around the Beijing city center and marginal suburbs, one can find bounties of delicious and affordable restaurants that welcome vegetarians, and even vegans. If you are more of a home cook, that is fine too. It may require a bit of a scavenger hunt to find some of your ingredients depending on what you are making but it is manageable. Whether you prefer street stalls and open-air markets or you are a loyal Carrefour customer, finding fresh produce should not be a major concern.
Vegetarian-friendly food options
Breakfast: If your morning palate is craving Eastern, head to a nearby restaurant or street stall for a quick no-hassle Beijing breakfast. Opening as early as 5AM, vendors selling cai bao zi (vegetable steamed buns) that come in all types of fillings including Chinese Cabbage, Mapo Tofu and san xian or Three Delicacies are easily spotted. The delicious pairing of soymilk and you tiao (fried donut) is also a Beijing staple. If you feel like having Western, head to Vineyard Cafe to find a neatly prepared “Ben-evolent,” which is an eggs benedict atop a bed of fresh arugula and drizzled with Hollandaise.
Brunch/Lunch: On your lunch break, try a spring wrap filled with tu dou si (shredded potato), bean sprouts and carrot strips. If you have a bit more time to spare, I recommend trying the pizzas [The Peasant Pizza (65rmb) or The Geek (55rmb)] at Mao Mao Chong or Cafe Alba’s pesto-based lasagna with mushroom and eggplant filling, both of which require some extra time to prepare.
Dinner: For dinner, try a popular Northern Chinese noodle dish and my childhood favorite called za jiang mian (fried sauce noodle). Easy on the eyes but complex in flavor, this Mandarin spaghetti dish is served at most Chinese restaurants in town, and is also doable for beginner cooks. Here, try for yourself!
Time: 20-25 minutes
- dried noodles (2 oz per person)
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 4oz dried mushroom preserve
- 1 (6oz) can sweet bean sauce
- 65ml veggie stock
- 2 tbsp yellow bean sauce
- 1 tsp
- thinly sliced cucumber; bean sprouts and other vegetables (optional)
- Heat oil in large pan or wok, saute scallions until lightly golden
- Add in wet ingredients including mushroom preserve, bean sauces, and stock
- Add in sugar, flavor as needed
- Stir occasionally
- Serve over noodles and top with cucumber and/or bean sprouts (garnish liberally)