What’s even more challenging in China? Being a vegetarian or just simply not liking meat, like me. I took some instant food with me just in case but I was sure I’ll find my way around Chinese food easily. Before I left I found an excellent website about the vegetarian food in China which was a really great use for me. Not only I printed all nine pages of various meat-free dishes with pictures, descriptions and Chinese names but also I wrote down couple of addresses of veggie restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai. I thought that being prepared so well I won’t have too many problems!
Well, I couldn’t be any more wrong. I admit it: one of the biggest problems of my time in China was the food. I was full of enthusiasm of trying new dishes, discovering new tastes as that’s one part of visiting new places I always enjoy the most. After all I will never get such a good pizza or kebab here at home.
First few days, when I was in Beijing, I just couldn’t deal with the awful smell that was coming out of all these street bars. That stopped me very well for eating out, even if I hated myself for that. I only was able to get a hot corn and it was pretty good. There were so many various Western chain restaurants around that I just preferred to eat there, even if the food tasted exactly like back at home. The smell, the dirt and Chinese people staring at you were just too much for me at that point. But I knew once I get out of Beijing I’ll be better food-wise.
And I was right! The walled old town of Pingyao was more tourist friendly as there were menu in English (with pictures) outside of almost every restaurant. Pictures helped a lot as sometimes Chinese translation is hilarious but tells you nothing about the food you’re about to eat. I suddenly was so brave that pretty early I’ve decided to give a try to some Chinese food. My first choice was fried green beans with aubergine and oh my, how delicious it was! It was a completely new taste to me and I loved it so much! I even wrote down what I think might be inside to try and do it at home (but I highly doubt I can find these spices here). It was maybe a little bit too greasy but still tasted amazing! I was so very excited that on the same day I went for another food, simpler this time but still very tasty: a rice with vegetables. You can get it in all kind of “Chinese” places here but it tastes nowhere close to the one in Pingyao. They used a different vegetables there which made it a new dish to me.
After this good Pingyao food experience I was more confident and decided from now on I’ll try to only eat out. In Xian and Shanghai Lonely Planet guidebook came as a big help as they covered vegetarian restaurants and also showed them on the map so I didn’t have to walk around trying to find them.
In Xian it was a big and popular noodle place that had a lot of vegetarian options in the menu. I really felt like eating noodles on that day but eventually went for spicy tofu and mushrooms. Oh my god, for the 3rd time in my life I was crying over a food, it was so hot. I loved the taste but still it was so damn hot! Even if it was so tasty it made me realize I don’t really like tofu, it tastes like nothing. So, with tears rolling down my face I focused on the spicy sauce with rice that neutralize it a little bit. The mushrooms I also ordered were fine but nothing really special. I liked the hot food much more. I think I can even put it in my top 10 of best food.
Even if I hadn’t tried noodles in Xian I did that in Shanghai. Fried noodles with vegetables were also amazingly delicious, just a little bit too greasy from too much soya sauce (that’s a Chinese thing I guess). Just eating it with chopsticks was a challenge but after few miserable attempts I worked my own method ;)
Then, on my last day in Shanghai I went to check the last vegetarian restaurant covered by Lonely Planet that was supposed to be the oldest vegetarian place in Shanghai. So far I loved every single dish I tried so I thought it’s gonna be awesome in here too. When I entered there was no one inside, just waiters and cooks sleeping with their heads on the tables. And the lights were off. That was pretty awkward, considering the place was in the middle of the most touristic area of Shanghai. But I’ve decided to stay anyway. When I started reading the menu it turned out almost everything consists fake meat. Since I don’t eat meat because I don’t like it, not because of other reasons I didn’t really feel like ordering something like a fake chicken. Instead I went for mix of vegetables and what I got? Mix of various kinds of fake meat with few carrots, nuts and mushrooms. Believe me, it wasn’t good at all… I ate it only because I was really hungry. At least the rice that came with it was pretty awesome so the whole meal wasn’t ruined. But I know I’ll never ever try any kind of fake meat again as it tastes really awful! Too bad it was my last Chinese food experience as it ruined all of the previous awesome ones!
Besides eating out you can find many small shops everywhere around. They’re so different and don’t sell usual things we can find in shops here. The big majority of their assortment are instant soups or noodles. And people do buy these! Just go to any train station and you’ll see lots and lots of people carrying plastic bags full of these. When Chinese people travel they constantly eat, it’s crazy!
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What I actually loved in China, food-wise, was how easy to get delicious and cheap fruits! On every street there were shops that sold only fruits and vegetables. I hate the smell of mandarin on my hands and there it didn’t bother me at all, not to mention how delicious, sweet and juicy they were. There were days when my breakfast and dinner consisted only on fruits!
So yes, eating in China was a huge challenge for me but I survived. And I couldn’t be more happy that I finally was brave enough some food there as it was really amazing. Well, maybe except the fake meat ;) never ever again!
Have you ever been to a place where you had a problem with finding a decent food to eat?
If you think of visiting China or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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