The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Vegan Chinese Food

Posted on August 27, 2015 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Emily Li

Growing up in a Chinese family in America, I always felt a certain degree of embarrassment regarding my Chinese heritage. I hated celebrating Chinese holidays, eating Chinese food and, most of all, speaking Chinese. I wanted to Americanize as much as I could of myself and distance my identity from my ancestors. It wasn’t until I moved to China when I realized just how silly I was. Only when I started to accept my background as a part of me had I truly begun to understand the roots of my culture and appreciate the richness and diversity of it.

As with any culture, food is an essential aspect in China. One of my favorite staples, besides rice, is mantou or steamed bun. Mantou, similar to Western bread but lighter and airier, is a staple in northern China, whereas rice is the staple of southern China. Mantou is made of just flour, water and yeast and steamed until it is big and fluffy. It is served alongside vegetable dishes, dipped in soup or even eaten plain! My favorite variation of mantou is adding in a bit of fresh pumpkin, which adds a hint of sweetness as well as a beautiful tinge of orange.

Youtiao, deep fried dough, drenched in doujiang, soymilk, was a childhood pastime for me. With a similar texture as a cruller, youtiao is a golden crunchy stick, but the dough typically does not contain any milk or eggs. It may sometimes be fried in animal fat, so be sure to ask what kind of oil they use. While this isn’t the most nutritious way to start off your morning, this combination is typically eaten as a quick breakfast meal.

In China, holidays are usually synonymous with lots of food. During Chinese New Year, large family reunions are a must. Whether celebrating the holidays at home or at a restaurant, there will always be a table full of food. A favorite dessert of mine is Tangyuan, small glutinous rice balls filled with sesame paste in a sweet soup. Eaten on the Lantern Festival, the last day of Chinese New Year, Tangyuan symbolizes the reunion of families, happiness and good fortune. The white balls bear some resemblance to a full moon, hence why it is eaten on the first full moon of the year. While Tangyuan is traditionally filled with black sesame seeds, you can easily find or replace the fillings with ones of your choice, such as red bean paste, peanut sauce, or even plain sugar. In some restaurants and pre-packaged tangyuan, they may use animal lard in the filling, so always double-check the ingredients before indulging.

Another one of my absolute favorite sweet treats is Zongzi, eaten on Duanwu Festival, also known as Dragon Boat Festival. When opening the triangular shaped Zongzi, which is wrapped in a bamboo leaf packet, you’ll find a dense layer of sticky glutinous rice covering the inner filling. The fillings vary from sweet to savory depending on where you are in China. In Beijing, jujube dates and red bean paste are traditionally used. Traditionally, no animal products will be used when making this dish.

My last favorite is another sweet dish: lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice and guihua (osmanthus) syrup. When served, the lotus root is sliced into thick slices with small rounds of sweet sticky rice and drizzles of guihua syrup. Since guihua syrup is not that common, some restaurants may use honey instead, so don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant to leave out the honey. This dish is truly delectable, and is a must-try when in China.

Emily Li is a Vegetarian Resource Group volunteer living in China.

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