Vegan in China – Weifang in Shandong

The land of Confucius, Shandong peanuts and mantous. Being a province in north China, the food can be different from what you’d associate with ‘Chinese food’, which is mostly from southern China due to the bulk of emigration from there. Wheat, in the form of bread, buns and pancake items are the staple compared to rice in the south. Weifang is a small city in Shandong hence no Happy Cow entry – but the traditional food I had at locals’ homes are worth sharing.

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Handmade by a distant aunt – wheat pancake jiazi stuffed with chives and mushrooms, cooked without oil on a metal pan. Just one is very dense and filling because it’s farmers’ food. Bread items are always eaten with millet, corn or rice porridge because they can be too dry on its own.

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Wo wo tou – steamed corn bread with a pinch of baking soda to bring out the sweetish fragrance of cornmeal and soy flour! Gluten – free. It’s meant to be conical shaped with bigger hole but my uncle was lazy! The hole can be stuffed with stir fries for a savoury bun.

Other types of steamed buns are mantous (plain wheat bun) and huajuan (spring onion and wheat twisted into a bun). What I love most about Chinese steamed breads are the simple base ingredients – yeast, wheat flour and water.  Easily vegan and goes well with any dish!

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Of course, the iconic northern food, dumplings! Making them is a family event. This is stuffed homegrown chives and gourd with tofu! Large bamboo trays are used to hold wheat – based foods because they are naturally anti-stick.

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Pickled foods are in every meal in Shandong. It can be any crisp or juicy plant from cucumber to peanuts, and fermented in water or wine. It’s VERY SALTY but also very umami – best nibbled with porridge!

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Raw, minced garlic is a popular dressing for cold dishes. There’s even a saying that Shandong people can sing well because raw garlic make voices good. This appetizing steamed french beans with garlic, sesame sauce and vinegar made by my cousin in law is creamy, tangy with the famous Shandong – grown spicy, garlicky kick.

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菇汤素食馆 (literally ‘Mushroom Soup Restaurant’. Address 高新区东方路与福寿街交叉口东南) is one of the vegetarian restaurants I visited in Weifang – the best one! Choose anything you want (The pictures show only half of the buffet) and it will be boiled in rich mushroom broth. Such an overwhelming selection of noodles, ingredients and sauces – from seitan sticks to sweet yam balls to arrowroot noodles. 99% vegan except for the (very little) mock meats!

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Lastly, 2 traditional, handmade snacks from a second-generation shop where the son learnt the art of making from his father and is continuing the tradition, but isn’t optimistic about passing onto his son. Melt-in-your-mouth, rustic green bean cake and the crispiest, most fragrant sesame candy I’ve had. Definitely supporting them the next time.

Here ends my Vegan in China series. My travel itch is still there – look forward to more discoveries! Meanwhile, recipes. Thanks for reading these long posts and hope they help in your travels!

Vegan in China – Beijing

The capital of China, other than the air pollution, it is wonderful in many ways. Strolling through hutongs you can tell the local residents really love their pets. Perfectly groomed and well-fed, even being carried in their human parents’ arms like babies.

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In one of the hutongs near Yonghe Lama Temple, there’s a vegan gem – The Veggie Table, serving an extensive menu of mostly Western food with the best environment I’ve entered in Beijing. Maybe its the air purifier, or the occasional cats running in and out, a wonderful selection of books and potted plants lining the window sills. And gosh, they are amazingly popular and almost always fully seated, sometimes by cats. Once there was a cat napping on a sofa seat and refused to move despite coaxing from many people, so the customer just got another chair!

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Everything I ate here were excellent – even better quality than what I had from similarly priced restaurants in Singapore. Wholesome, clean, and made from scratch hence a bit of a wait but definitely worth it. Plus I really appreciate the accurate English translation in their menu!

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Safe to say these are the best hummus and baba ganoush I’ve ever had!

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They have only a few soups – pumpkin, chilli, lentil, tried them all and can’t find a single fault!

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My favorite will be their fluffy cous cous with a heaping of veggies in tomato sauce with crunchy almond bits. Being someone from a tropical country, I wasn’t quite used to the too generous portions!

I truly wish there’ll be more restaurants who really care like this in China!

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‘Stumbled’ upon a new vegetarian noodle place, Good Earth, after my friend did a check for veg places near the popular Sanlitun shopping area. It’s opened by a famous food blogger and the reviews were great so we were excited to try!

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Some dishes have egg, otherwise menu is super vegan-friendly, everything exquisitely handmade. Choose your noodle type and then the sauce or soup. In a country with food safety issues, transparency is really valued. You can look through glass panels into a clean kitchen and watch chefs making your noodles. This guy here is pulling a single strand of TEN METRES long noodle from dough!

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Yes, a single strand of 10 metres long! My friend loved it. And look how big the bowls are – specially designed so that soup and sauces won’t spill out when you slurp!

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I got a warm noodle salad with sesame sauce and my friend an eggplant and tomato soup base noodle. The nice waitress told us that the soups are stewed over many hours, so flavourful that my omni friend was suprised that it’s made purely with veggies! With everything handmade and made in-house, is there’s any need to say that taste is superb and wholesome? Plus the place had clean vibes and lovely interior that made dining very pleasant. A bit hard to find being nestled in a hutong, but a MUST try in Beijing.

I greatly enjoyed the city despite being quite sick from the air. The quality food and good service was a major comfort to my swollen throat. Highly recommend to bring a N95 mask when you visit there, and a good appetite 🙂

Vegan in China – Fuzhou, Fujian

Fuzhou, capital of Fujian – a province of immigrants who brought their culture all over the world. Coming from a country with many Fujian descendants, yet Cantonese cuisine being more dominant, the new dishes were an eyeopening and biggest treat to the taste buds! These are favorites picked from 2 of the best restaurants I went to.

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First, from Ji Shan Zhai Restaurant – a Fuzhou specialty is lychee pork. This meat-free version is made from monkeyhead mushrooms, an unique mushroom used in Chinese food for its juiciness and similarity to fatty meat – smooth, tender and melt-in-your-mouth sweet and sour pieces!

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Fuzhou is also know for bamboo shoots! Crunchy with a subtle sweetness – this one is done with savoury Chinese olive sauce.

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This is what the vegan world loves – seitan, or mian jin (wheat gluten), has been used since thousand of years ago as protein for vegetarian monks. One main characteristic of this spongy protein is that it can absorb flavours fully, and magnify them.

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Most excellent meal was from Lotus Teahouse – a posh kind of place that I won’t usually go. But fine dining has its merits, every dish was full of surprising combinations with some ingredients I’ve never heard of. Soup must be in every meal in the south – I thought this was a chrysanthemum flower but it turned out to be soft tofu skillfully cut into this flower shape, sitting in a superb truffle broth.

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I never knew things like these existed – a cold dish of a type of fungi that grows on bamboo! The crispness and crunch was indeed reminiscent of fresh bamboo shoots, addictive and refreshing!

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Lotus roots are common but baby lotus roots is a first time – this was made into crunchy pickles. Those cute little holes soaks up the sweet vinegar perfectly!

Next post will be Beijing 🙂

Vegan in China – Hong Kong

2 days in Hong Kong is too short to try the 200 over veg food places! Had no problem finding nice places within walking distance wherever we were. Just don’t expect good service from most places – its all about the money!

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They have an excellent range of smoothies with no additives in every convenience shops! Envious because the only natural drink you can get in ours are overpriced coconut water and plain water D:

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From one of the canteens in Chinese University of Hong Kong, probably one of the least vegan friendly spots but they had my favourite type of noodle soup!

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And Green Fresh just happened to be right near our hotel. The staff there are superbly friendly for HK standards, welcoming me like family when I came back a second time (and literally swiped their desserts).

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Generally their mains are on the very healthy side, less oil, salt, seasoning etc. A bit light for salt loving person like me, but you can feel each dish is refined and detailed. This refreshing pesto rice was my fav!

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The absolute BEST is their sweets. Cakes, puddings, mango tarts, muffins..they have something new every couple of days!

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The raw ones are so-so, but the tarts..are the BEST vegan fruit tarts I had! The crust perfectly crumbles and melts in your mouth with generous amount of whipped cream.

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Chanced upon Gaia Veggie Restaurant while in bustling city area of Nathan road. Typical Buddhist Cantonese vegetarian style with lots of mock meat dishes. I feel it’s pretty overpriced for the average quality. One thing I didn’t enjoy was the fact that the ever-smiling and polite staff didn’t tell us the 3 dishes we ordered for 2 is enough for 5! Capitalism at its finest 🙂

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Po Lin Vegetarian is a small restaurant selling traditional Cantonese dishes with good portions and prices. Taste wise is average to me since we also have plenty of Cantonese food in Singapore.

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But wow, the mouth-watering selection of traditional sweets and cakes surprised me again! Rice dumplings, sticky rice cakes, mooncakes, jellies and pastries shaped like ducks and lotus! (Non-vegan butter may be used in some baked items so I avoided them.)

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These were some excellent sweets and cakes. I got the coconut jelly cake, glutinous rice balls of peanut, red bean and sesame fillings, savoury seaweed sticky rice roll and lotus paste wife cake. Compared to those sold in supermarkets back in Singapore, everything tasted much fresher, sweetness not overdone and very, very flavourful!

Didn’t find very amazing Cantonese dishes this visit, but that’s because we have excellent ones here! But the sweets are truly not to be missed if you are visiting Hong Kong 🙂

Vegan in China – Kaiping, Guangdong

A short post from my short stay at Kaiping, a small town in South China with a UNESCO heritage status. These are castle tower clusters from the 1920s built by rich merchants who came back from the West, hence the blend of Chinese and Western architecture. However in my books, these are the type of architecture that looks great from outside but pretty blah inside.

The landscape is the main thing making the place beautiful – lotus ponds with ducks, rice fields, smiling grandmas, wooden bridges and stone paths flanked with mango trees with a cluster of towers in the distance.

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Lots of small shops selling homemade beancurd desserts (kinda regret not trying it because I was concerned about hygiene) and wild grown jambus. (photo from mom)

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We stayed at the only hotel in this town, and for breakfast there is an interesting kueh (the Southeast Asian and Southern China term for cake). Seems to be simply rice and sugar, but baked in a tiny clay dish! Certainly had this warm, earthy taste that I’ve never experienced from our kuehs.

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Being a South Chinese town, various rice noodles are common. In their restaurant I had the BEST EVER fried hor fun (flat rice noodle). The light soy sauce not overpowering sweet crunchy onions and chives, the tender slippery noodles coated in the right amount of oil, and the wok hei – ness was so memorably perfect.

Next up, Macau!

Vegan in China – Shenzhen, Guangdong, Part 2

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Shenzhen is considered a new city by China’s historical standards, is a bustling metropolis. Located in Guangdong province and right next to Hong Kong, it is the major financial power in South China. When I visited it was lychee season, thus lychees of all sizes where at every corner.

Chains of fast food kiosks such as 邓老凉茶 (Denglao Herbal tea) and 永和豆浆 (Yong Ho Soymilk) usually have breakfasts of you tiao (fried dough fritters), mantou (plain wheat buns) bao zi (stuffed buns but commonly with meat) and dou jiang (soy milk). At one 邓老凉茶 they just happened to have yummy handmade vegetable and mushroom buns!

There are cold and hot dishes in Chinese cuisine; cold dishes are not like chilled cold but are usually pre-cooked and served at room temperature. They are mostly appetizers or sides and hence savoury-sweet and tangy. We Chinese can’t stand much cold foods so the mains are piping hot!

These are from 福田林 (Fullness Vegetarian Restaurant on Happy Cow), the best place I’ve tried in Shenzhen. Almost everything is above average and here I’m only listing the 3 cold and 3 hot dishes that blew me away!

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Smoked beancurd skin. Basically it’s the layer of protein that is formed on boiling soymilk, dried, flavoured, rolled and steamed together into a roll.

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Silken tofu with sweet soy sauce is my favourite way to tofu. Theirs redefines the meaning of soft tofu! Melts in your mouth with the savoury sweet sauce.

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Looks scary but trust me it’s the best cold dish there. Soft, slippery and springy noodles made from kudzu root tossed in a spicy soy sauce. Gluten-free too!

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Mashed yam stuffed in fried beancurd skin and soaked in sweet sour sauce. Crisp, creamy and sweet haven in a two-bite parcel.

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Zha jiang mian (fried sauce noodles) is a famous dish from China with its Korean counterpart called jajangmyeon. Here the fried sauce is excellently rendered with textured soy protein minced with lots of peppery spices and fermented bean sauce. The only thing that’s slightly unsettling was the saturated green of the spinach noodles.

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French beans stir-fried with preserved Chinese olives and fried chilli. The rustic wok hei taste was rich and the beans, so so juicy! Which is amazing considering how much heat was used to achieve wok hei which will have turned any veggie dry. A highly skilled chef indeed! For the uninitiated, wok hei is a most unique taste in Cantonese cuisine. Not achieved by adding any ingredient, instead it is given to the food by the highly heated wok itself.

That’s the end of Shenzhen, there are much more places on Happy Cow that I couldn’t visit. More Cantonese food coming up from my travels in the south!

Vegan in China – Shenzhen, Guangdong, Part 1

38 days grad trip in 10 cities and towns with some of the most simply amazing food, places and people. China, despite popular assumptions, can be very vegan-friendly. Because China had a long history of religions that advocate vegetarianism, and is the land where tofu and seitan originated. With agriculture produce and cuisines as diverse as the cultures and the most of the cuisine traditionally don’t use dairy, China should be on the good vegan food radar – if you know where to go and what to say. Happy Cow was a great help but there are some places I stumbled upon, or so hidden that only locals knew. Click on the Chinese restaurant names for links to their address and details.

So here’s my picks from Shenzhen, a bustling city in the southern province of Guangdong.

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Refreshing and creamy coconut juice from the tropical island of Hainan is available in almost every supermarket, convenience shop, roadside drink stalls in the cities!

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First meal out was at 大秦面馆 (Da Qin Noodle House), a chain of non-vegetarian noodle restaurants that serve traditional Xi’an style noodles  – we simply told them “no this and that” and the staff recommended 油泼面 (Youpo noodles), a (traditionally vegan) handmade noodle dish that’s generously drizzled with a very high temperature chilli oil that cooks and caramalises the toppings, giving its unique spiciness.

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 怡新素食 (Yi Xin Vegetarian Restaurant) at Foshan, another city near Shenzhen. The only dish I liked is this stew spiced with Chinese red peppers, chilli oil, holding generous amounts of veggies and pieces of chewy Baiye tofu soaking up the soup! I’m sure usually the quality should be good but we went near 2pm when the kitchen crew was having break time..

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法味轩素食馆 (Fa Wei Xuan Vegetarian Restaurant ) has a focus on charity – they have a 10 yuan lunch buffet and free flow of soy milk and porridge for anyone, poor or rich. You can have this if you want quantity. For quality go for the excellent menu!

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Stir fried glass noodles (made from green bean, not glass!) with fermented black bean bits – springy and savoury with sweet crunch from the capsicum bits – a must try, gluten free too.

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Spinach noodles in soup was a favourite! The clear broth is so richly umami with a slight smokiness.

锅巴 (guo ba) – think rice crispies freshly deep fried with salt and cumin spice mix generously sprinkled on it. A traditional gluten free snack that’s common and easily made vegan.

Next post will be the part 2 of vegan in Shenzhen! Then it shall be Macau and Hong Kong and more! If you need help with Chinese or are going to these places in China and need info please PM me 🙂

Vegan in Suzhou

I visited Suzhou last month with course mates on a landscape architecture study trip. Beautiful rustic place – black and white houses lined with canals crossed by petite stone bridges. Suzhou’s heritage love their gardens and plants, evident from the famous Suzhou gardens to the numerous potted plants that dot residential streets.

 

Some of the street food we had:

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Sticky rice rolls coated with peanut powder and filled with anything from jam to lotus paste.

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Steamed goodies along Pingjiang Road, not all are vegan though. Luckily they do write out what it is, both in English and Chinese.

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I bought a couple of sticky rice cakes, the purple ones are taro flavoured rice cakes. The pig is actually a red bean bun! Lastly the cupped cake is soft black rice with taro topped with a hazelnut and that’s the yummiest!

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Fresh lotuses are sold for one or two yuan at many places on a pushcart. You have to break the shell, then peel the green coating off the seeds to reveal a white seed that tastes like a juicy almond.

Restaurants usually have a good selection of veg dishes like stir-fries or salads with rice or noodles. It’s still best to remind them not to use any animal oil, just as a precaution.

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Edamame, red capsicum, button mushroom and wood’s ear fungus stir fry. You’d find this fungus in Chinese dishes a lot, doesn’t look pretty but it’s full of minerals!

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Lightly stir fried potato strips. Unlike the Western potato dishes, this is not the starchy type but a very crisp one. You can find this in many places in China, not only Suzhou.

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Cold noodles are sold everywhere in the summer. Usually tossed in sweet vinegar, soy sauce and chilli oil, topped with coriander, sesame, crushed peanuts and sometimes shredded cucumber.

We had our last meal in a Cantonese restaurant at the airport.

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Wood’s ear salad for appetizer. The juicy fungus is tossed in a fragrant vinegar and bamboo shoots and served chilled.

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Soy milk tea! Full marks for presentation, and taste too because it’s rich and not too sweet.

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Stir-fried veggies in a fried taro ring. A common dish in Singapore Chinese restaurants too, yet this is better done than those I’ve had. What I loved most is that they used fried enoki mushrooms to line the dish, unlike the usual fried rice noodles which local restaurants use. Crunching on them is as addictive as potato chips!

Hope this helps you in your travels to China. It’s not impossible if you dine at restaurants, ask and communicate well 🙂

A peek at vegan food in Beijing

Recently I visited Beijing with the family. Due to the short time we stayed we didn’t venture out in search of veg restaurants, so we braved a couple of non-veg restaurants and asked for vegan food. And it wasn’t a problem at all when we communicated clearly! What we had was delicious, refined and eye-opening. So here are those that I especially loved, do look out for them if you visit Beijing.

Top picture – Steamed cake with raisins. Ovens aren’t used in Chinese cuisine, so cakes are usually steamed to a light, fluffy texture.

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Pickled radish stir fried with vermicelli and chilli. My favourite, not only because I love anything sour and spicy, but this is not overly done on spiciness. Vermicelli is a transparent noodle made from green bean or sweet potato starch, the thinner type are made from rice.

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This may look a little scary but it’s refreshingly cool and chewy – The noodle is made from Kudzu root, used in Chinese medicine to clear excess heat. Tossed in light vinegar, sesame oil and garnished with chilli and chives.

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Chinese toon sprouts tossed with smoked tofu strips. The sprouts resembles the taste of onions, but has an uplifting quality and doesn’t cloud your breathe.

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Deep fried yam rolls – the ends are dipped in white sesame which makes the first and last bite most interesting.

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These look like pears but are not! The ‘stalk’ is a strip of dried sweet potato.

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Surprise, surprise – it’s fresh red bean paste wrapped in sticky rice dough and deep fried.

Traditionally Chinese food does not use dairy, so those without animal ingredients are usually vegan. Just beware of hidden ingredients like lard, gravy and meat stocks. Three points for those wanting to travel there:

  •  Go to a restaurant that is clean, not some roadside stall or eatery. Not only it lessens your chances of an upset stomach, restaurants have well – trained staff too. We went to a place that specializes in roast duck because there weren’t any other places to eat, but still had our fill. The waitress looked puzzled to why we would not order any duck, but asked no questions.
  •  Communicate clearly – because some people classify shrimps or chicken stock as vegetarian. Best is to write a list and show it to them – no animal fat, meat stock, milk, eggs, seafood.
  •  Most restaurants provide wet tissue, you can use it to clean your utensils. And many use disposable chopsticks – so no worries about using anything with a faint fishy smell.