‘Oh no, what will you eat?! Vegetarians struggle enough, veganism is unheard of in China!’ This was the standard exclamatory response I was met with when I first came to China and mentioned my eating habits. I mean, vegetables and fruit are bioavailable in most places, and I could always get a side of rice/potatoes, I thought… Flashback to both my vegan struggle and survival in Hungary this past month…
But those people who cried China=vegan struggle were nothing short of accurate. In China, meat and fish are often at the centre of every dish. Even a tofu dish with rice/noodles (which in the West often equated to the vegetarian option) was generously topped with some minced meat. There is not even a word for vegan in the Chinese vocabulary; resulting in me weirdly declaring “I eat vegetables” to a confused Chef one too many times.
However, this post is not some exhausted and meat-deprived cry for help (Vitamin B-12 pills are really a savior) but how I stayed/will stay vegan in China.
1) Always carry food! Wherever you go carry some nuts and seeds or fruit with you. For the first week or so I carried a bag (possibly verging industrial size) of dried bananas. Not only are they loaded with fibre, potassium and carbohydrates, it satiated my sweet tooth! Once I broke my dried banana addiction I moved onto dried mangoes and almonds, great for on-the-go snacking and protein packing (gotta get those protein gains in). Now, I try to mix it up a bit and every day I have some form of fruit (dried/fresh) along with nuts in my bag.
2) Learn how to ask for tofu without meat- a guaranteed meal-changer! I for one love tofu, either grilled or baked with some rice and soy sauce and I am happy! It packs a mean nutritional punch providing you with a source of calcium, iron and amino acids (perfect for a post-gym protein meal).
3) Sushi! I often get fresh cucumber or avocado sushi (minus the mayonnaise dressing on top) with tear-inducing wasabi paste. It is one of my favourite fail-safe vegan eats. Mango and banana sushi (I’m sure you can guess my favourite fruit) sounds like an odd flavour combination but is very refreshing and light!
All in all, it is hard out here for a vegan with limited Mandarin speaking abilities. However, it just requires a bit more effort and forward thinking. And, when I do find good vegan food I do end up eating my body weight in food. So, you know, survival and some is possible!