Veggie foods trending at Chinese restaurants Photo: CFP
Summer is a great time to get healthy, so what better to delve into vegetarian cuisine in this season? Below, we will take you for a brief tour of some famous vegetarian restaurants in the cities where most our reader reside, followed by a recipe to try in your own kitchen.
There is often confusion between Buddhist food and Chinese vegetarian cuisine, perhaps because in almost all vegetarian restaurants one can find Buddha statues and scriptures on display, and lotuses in large porcelain pots in the corner. However, what is served in most vegetarian restaurants is drastically different to traditional Chinese temple food, which is prepared without cooking oil, spices or herbs.
In most vegetarian restaurants, dishes are just as flavorful and savory as regular dishes, only the meat is replaced with "mock meat," which is made with either wheat, gluten, soy or a combination of assorted vegetables. There is great variation in mock meats in terms of taste and texture, which allows for an array of delectable vegetarian dishes.
Traditionally, vegetarian restaurants in China have carried dishes with mock meat featuring prominently. However, today there is a larger range available, from Chinese regional dishes to world ethnic foods. Restaurant owners have not hesitated to jump into the foray and introduce international dishes to the local market.
The new dishes are allowing the local palate to adapt, and provides an alternative to heavy meat meals. For example, vegetarian sushi, Thai, Sichuan hotpot or vegetarian lamb skewer have all jumped to the top of the list for many restaurant-goers.
A cluster of vegetarian restaurants can be found around Lama Temple and the Confucius Institutes area, and many serve quality food in amongst some lesser venues which operate as lower end tourist traps. If you want to find a venue close to the subway and do not have the time to stroll about looking at menus, Xu Xiang Zhai (), right across the street from the Confucius Temple, is a good choice.
Many of the restaurants in this area are quiet and easy-going with relaxing décor. Sit next to charming Chinese calligraphy art on the walls, while soaking in a comfortable modern-feeling setting, in amongst preserved hutongs and historical sites.
Throughout the hutongs you can find menus boldly containing Sichuan hot pot, various regional stir fried dishes and a grand selection of Cantonese desserts.
For those on less of a budget, and who are looking for spectacular food presentation, Jin Xin Lian (静心莲) lives up to the price of the bill. According to dianping.com, a Chinese restaurant website, the price per person should be about 200 yuan($31.7).
If you're under budget but have "done" the hutongs and want a stimulating culinary experience elsewhere in Beijing, Tian Chu Miao Xiang (天厨妙香), which has two stores in town, carries a wide range of vegetarian stir fried dishes.
Possibly the largest and oldest vegetarian restaurant in the country, Gong De Lin (功德林), opened its business in Shanghai in 1922, and now has branched to Beijing and Hong Kong.
The company not only covers the catering business but also takes up a substantial market share of retail. Products range from veggie-buns to an assortment of desserts and bakeries.
Its oldest store in Shanghai is located on West Nanjing Road, and once there, you will get the most authentic taste of classic vegetarian dishes. Several dishes are original Shanghai regional food, but in the vegetarian version.
For example, the classic stir fried eel slice is made from mushroom, and the crab meat stew is created from a paste mixture of potato and carrot.
Another popular place is Zao Zi Shu (枣子树), by Middle Huaihai Road. Here the names of dishes are diverse and part of the fun in ordering is voicing the name of your food.