A land with a diverse range of cuisines, China is home to some incredible traditional dishes that are vegan. Here are a few of the best.
China is one of the largest countries in the world, featuring an extensive range of cuisines and diverse dishes. In fact, using the blanket term Chinese cuisine is a bit misleading, as each province contributes its own unique flavours and signature foods.
Luckily for vegans, not every dish relies on meat or seafood — there are plenty of traditional Chinese favourites that are naturally plant-based.
Dim sum is a Cantonese treasure, comprised of steamer baskets full of bite-sized foods, and is usually enjoyed as a social experience with loved ones. Most well-known dim sum aren’t vegan- or even vegetarian, as meat is often the star of the show. However, there are a few hidden gems.
Cheung Fun (腸粉)
These are steamed rolls made of rice, with plenty of options for the filling, although they can be eaten unfilled as well. The main vegan options include Ja Leung (炸兩), which is a fried dough stick wrapped in the classic Cheung Fun roll. The dough stick — essentially a savoury doughnut — is crispy and chewy, which works well to contrast against the silky Cheung Fun. The rolls are then doused in slightly sweet soy sauce and topped with chopped fresh scallions.
Another vegan way to enjoy Cheung Fun is actually a local Hong Kong favourite. Plain Cheung Fun rolls are first drizzled with hoisin sauce, then peanut sauce, then chilli sauce, and finally sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Jin Dui (煎堆)
For something on the sweeter side, there’s Jin Dui, which are deep-fried sesame balls. They’re made with glutinous rice flour, stuffed with a sweet paste and rolled in sesame seeds. The filling can range from the classic red bean, to sesame, and even lotus seed paste.
Keep an eye out for meat-free dumpling options. Some are filled with a mixture of mushrooms, whereas others — such as crystal dumplings — may be filled with chopped vegetables and chives.
For those who love spice, Sichuan food is a haven, featuring ingredients not usually found in other cuisines, such as the beloved mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. It’s one of the more vegetarian-friendly cuisines in China.
Suan La Fen (酸辣粉)
Suan La Fen directly translates to “hot and sour noodles”, which is an apt description for the dish. It comprises sweet potato vermicelli, vinegar, chilli oil, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, chopped peanuts and coriander. Some variations include Sichuan pickles or other toppings. These noodles are mouth-watering, and not only because of the peppercorns.
Wood Ear Mushroom Salad (凉拌木耳)
Although the name might not be the most appetising, this salad is a flavour bomb. A far cry from Western salads, this dish features black wood ear mushrooms tossed in a mouth-tingling and tangy sauce. Like most other Sichuan dishes, the flavours revolve around chillies, Chinese black vinegar, sesame, and garlic.
Yu Xiang Qie Zi (鱼香茄子)
The name of this dish directly translates to “fish-fragrant eggplant”. Oddly enough, there is no fish to be found, and the name actually refers to a Sichuan flavour profile known as “fish-fragrant”. The sauce features some essential Sichuan ingredients, such as Doubanjiang — a fermented broad bean paste — and pickled red chillies. The eggplant is then braised in this sauce, which includes a host of more familiar ingredients, such as garlic, black vinegar, and scallions.
Tiger Skin Peppers (虎皮尖椒)
For this dish, green chilli peppers are blistered in hot oil, giving them dark spots that are (faintly) reminiscent of tiger skin, and then tossed with sauce to give them a tangy bite. The sauce is simple, relying on Chinese black vinegar for the most part, and enhanced with soy sauce and garlic.
Di San Xian (地三鲜)
Originating from the Shandong province, this dish features potatoes, peppers and eggplants, earning its name that translates to “three treasures from the ground”. These brightly-coloured vegetables are first individually fried, then stir-fried together in a rich soy sauce-based sauce flavoured with garlic and scallions.
Salt and Pepper Tofu
As its name suggests, this dish comprises of deep-fried coated tofu cubes tossed in seasoning. At its simplest, the tofu is flavoured with white pepper and salt, but can be flavoured with other aromatics too, such as chillies and scallions. This is simple comfort food at its best.
For those brave enough, try this infamous dish. Stinky tofu is made by fermenting tofu in brine, leaving it with a pungent aroma that lingers. To let the tofu shine, it’s often served deep fried with a simple array of sauces or Chinese pickles on the side. Stinky tofu is particularly popular in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan. Some swear that the smellier the tofu, the better the taste.