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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Healthy Living - Vegetarian Food in Beijing
After all the excessive eating over the Chinese New Year, it's a good time to eat something a that's bit easier on the stomach. Of course, Chinese eat many vegetable-only dishes anyway, but nevertheless there are many good vegetarian and vegan restaurants in town, and I went to one of my favourite ones recently, see photos.
Now don't get turned off by the thought of bland vegetarian food which you get in the West, such as beans, lentils, raw carrots, alfafa or plain tofu even. Here in Beijing you can find many different vegetarian dishes, with different styles and different tastes. They can be quite different to the mock meat dishes you get in Hong Kong, where it can be too oily or too sweet.
China has a long tradition of vegetarian food starting over 1500 years ago in Buddhist temples, and no egg, garlic or spring onion was allowed. Confucius was probably vegetarian as well. From there it spread to the imperial family and then to ordinary citizens. The main ingredients used are soybean products such as tofu, fresh vegetables and even some flowers and tea leaves.
There are several dozen different restaurants to choose from in Beijing, some near tourist sites, some in outlying temples, some easy to find, others hidden down narrow hutongs; some with character and charm, some decorated like fast food cafes; some with cheap buffets, and a few with expensive a la carte menus. Some are state-owned with minimal service and traditional dishes, and some are privately-owned with innovative fusion food; some cater to foreigners whilst others don't have any English-speaking staff at all.
Some have Buddhist inspired names such as "Lotus in Moonlight", "Pure Lotus", "Still Thoughts", "Sea of Mercy" and "Bodhi-Sake", so you can expect calming and tasteful decor. Others have more common names such as Veggie Love Kitchen, Loving Hut, and Vegetarian Tiger (particularly appropriate for this year). Some, such as Wo Xing Wo Su and Xu Xiang Zhai, are unpronouncable and won't mean anything to you unless you know Chinese and the pinyin system of 'spelling'. Talking about pinyin, perhaps the phrases 'wo bu chi rou' or 'wo chi su' for "I don't eat meat" and "I am vegetarian" will come in handy for you.
There are some good vegetarian restaurants near the National Museum of Fine Arts, Lama Temple and Confucius Temple (see blog on Ancient Scholars July 2009) or MOMA, which you might be visiting as part of an architectural tour (see blog on Beijing Architecture Jan. 2010). Try Roast Beijing Duck without the duck, or Chicken in Chili Sauce or Stir-fried Prawns or Grilled Fish Country Style, all meatless. Another dish I saw on the menu, Steamed Sliced Pork with White Gourd, said it can "....promote weight loss, reduce inflammation, release heat and purge pollution and toxins....". We certainly need that with all the recent sandstorms!