Chinese Language Blog

Being a Vegetarian in China Posted by on May 11, 2017 in Culture, Vocabulary

China loves meat. There’s no doubt about it. In such a carnivorous place, one might think it would be difficult to be a vegetarian. While it’s true that there’s a whole lot of meat in the Chinese diet, it’s not only possible but actually quite easy to be a vegetarian in China. In this post we’ll learn how to tell people you’re a vegetarian along with some common dishes.

Telling People You’re Vegetarian

Being a Vegetarian in China

Look at all those veggies!

First of all, you’ll need to equip yourself with some words or phrases to let people know what you’re a vegetarian (素食主义者 – sù shí zhǔ yì zhě). That’s a good word to know, but it’s too long and rarely actually used. You’re better off saying one of these:

  • I eat vegetables/I’m a vegetarian. (我吃素 – wǒ chī sù)

  • I don’t eat meat. (我不吃肉 – wǒ bù chī ròu)

Most places will understand either phrase to mean to you don’t want any meat. However, many dishes on Chinese menus that may look vegetarian actually have a bit of ground meat in them. It’s not a bad idea to ask to clarify:

Does this have meat? (这个有肉吗? – zhè ge yǒu ròu ma)

Hopefully this clearly expresses the point that you really don’t want to eat any meat. Often times, people in China will be confused by this. Vegetarianism isn’t huge in the Middle Kingdom yet, so it’s hard for some to fathom why you wouldn’t want to eat meat. Nevertheless, using the above phrases should ensure you get a meal free of meat.

10 Common Vegetarian Dishes

There are quite a few common vegetarian dishes in China, so it’s never too hard to find something to eat without meat. Here are 10 of the best Chinese vegetarian dishes:

A classic Chinese veggie dish.

西红柿炒鸡蛋 – xī hóng shì chǎo jī dàn
scrambled eggs and tomatoes

地三鲜 – dì sān xiān
potatoes, eggplant, and peppers

The best Chinese starter.

拍黄瓜 – pāi huáng guā
smashed cucumber with garlic

干煸四季豆 – gān biān sì jì dòu
stir-fried green beans

Some tasty taters.

土豆丝 – tǔ dòu sī
shredded potatoes

Don’t let the name throw you off.

鱼香茄子 – yú xiāng qié zi
fish-scented eggplant

Be sure to ask for it without meat.

麻婆豆腐 – má pó dòu fu
Mapo tofu

香菇油菜 – xiāng gū yóu cài
sauteed cabbage with mushrooms

Yummy broccoli.

清炒西兰花 – qīng chǎo xī lán huā
stir-fried broccoli

蒜泥菠菜 – suàn ní bō cài
spinach with garlic


It should be noted that two of the dishes above often come with ground pork – Mapo tofu and the stir-fried green beans. As I mentioned earlier, China likes slipping a little meat into dishes that would otherwise appear to be vegetarian. Just be sure you make it very clear that you don’t want any meat when ordering.

In addition to the dishes mentioned above, it’s always possible to get your staples like rice, noodles and dumplings in a vegetarian style. Order up some egg-fried rice (蛋炒饭 – dàn chǎo fàn) or some cold noodles (冷面 – lěng miàn) and neither will have meat.

Have you tried any other vegetarian food in China? We’d love to hear your comments!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. Eli:

    Just back from Beijing and found the perfect strictly vegan street snavk. In many green grocers and nut/dried fruit vendors have sweet potatoes or chestnuts baking in a small oven. Sold by weight, no additives and very satisfying snack on a cold day….

  2. Julie Thirl:

    Really useful information to have !

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