Plant-Based Travel in Japan – Preparation

Japan is not as friendly to vegans and vegetarians, compared to other developed countries. Despite that, we never went hungry! I’m sharing my experience as a vegan visiting Japan + what I’ve learnt in my 28 days trip, and the places where we had incredible food!

Notes:

  • Veg*n is a shortened, inclusive term to refer to vegans and vegetarians.
  • We visited Sapporo, Asahikawa, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kamakura, Kyoto and Osaka. These articles are solely based on my own experiences and research, thus may not represent the whole of Japan.

 

Problems you may FACE in Japan:

Lack of idea ABOUT what vegan/vegetarian is

Japan is full of Buddhist temples, but don’t expect to find Buddhist vegetarian food as easily as in Singapore. In large cities, there’s better understanding due to a more international population, but you still can’t expect every place to have veg*n dishes. A quick browse in all the vegan/vegetarian Japan facebook groups shows that most of the members are expats or tourists. Veg*nism seem to be a new concept to most local Japanese.

The word for “vegan” is ビーガン or ヴィーガン. But, not everyone knows what it means. There’s also no vegetarian or vegan labelling for packaged foods, and most of the ingredients are in Japanese. Slightly easier if you can read Chinese. But if you can’t, join the Is It Vegan Japan, Vegan Supermarket Finds in Japan and Vegan Japan Facebook groups to familiarise yourself with how the vegan foods look like.

The Chinese word commonly used for vegetarian does not carry the same meaning in Japan! This is shellfish stock.

Fish is a common seasoning

Since Japan traditionally depended greatly on the sea for sustenance, fish as a basic seasoning is already ingrained in society, mainly in the form of katsuobushi. Fish is in certain soy sauces, miso pastes, soup stock and other seasonings. Sometimes dried fish flakes (bonito) are used on a topping even in vegetable dishes. Fish parts are also used to make dashi, a traditional soup stock used in many dishes. It’s so common and invisible that even servers who may know what veg*n means may still forget about the little bit of fish in sauces. Which is why being specific helps more instead of saying “vegetarian”.

Miso soup can often contain fish sauce or stock, so it was one dish that I ate only at veg*n places.

Communication

The level of English varies between age groups – generally younger Japanese people seem to have better English. 90% of Japanese people I met understood basic to moderate English; the other 10% of the time I used gestures, Google Translate or pictures (I highly recommend getting a good connection on your phone). So that wasn’t a major issue through my trip. The main issue is that most people don’t understand “vegan” and many still think fish sauce is okay for veg*ns.

VEGETABLE-BASED doesn’t mean veg*n

Japan loves veggies (yasai). Even the convenience stores stock fresh produce. Cafes proudly advertise that they use a large variety of veggies. Just because something looks like only veggies and tofu doesn’t mean it’s automatically vegan. It’s likely to be cooked in meat or fish stock, with small bits of meat. Common dishes like “vegetable curry” or “vegetable soup” from a non-veg place, very likely have pork or fish in the soup base.

“Summer Veggie Bento” that has chicken, egg and milk listed in the allergens.

Alliums

Japanese use a lot of alliums in cooking to give the umami and pungency. The good thing is that awareness of allium-free diets seems quite common in the veg*n places. “Oriental vegetarian/vegan” is the term used locally to describe this requirement. I realised it’s quite common for servers at veg*n places to double check if you can take alliums, or have labelling of such information in the menu. Many places also can do allium-free meals if given advance notice.

The words for each type of allium to help you in a pinch:

  • Onion = 葱, ねぎ (negi)
  • Garlic = ニンニク (ninniku)
  • Leek = ネギ, ねぎ (also negi)
  • Chives = ニラ (nira)
  • Asafoetida = アサフェティダ (not commonly used in Japanese cooking)
  • Without = なし (nashi)

Alcohol

90% of eateries serve alcohol like beer or sake. Japanese use a lot of alcohol ingredients like sake, mirin, sake lees and amazake in food. Also, fermented foods like miso have small amounts of alcohol which is a result of the natural fermentation process. So what you can eat depends on how strict you need to be. I’ve also seen alcohol used in packaged foods too. The kanji surely means alcohol is present. For my list, I will try my best to indicate if alcohol is present.

Some common alcohol ingredients:

  • 酒 = sake, generic word for alcohol
  • 味醂, みりん = mirin (a type of rice cooking wine)
  • 甘酒 = Amazake (low alcohol content fermented rice drink)
  • 酒粕 = sake lees (pulp left from sake production)

Note for vegan Muslim friends: I’ve not seen halal certifications displayed in Japan. Thus if you visit a non-veg place, there’s high chance of cross contamination with pork, since such ingredients are very commonly used in foods there. Halal Media has a guide for Muslims visiting Japan, but note that most of the eateries listed may not have veg*n food.

getting easier to be veg*n in Japan!

Japan is full of wonderful experiences which you can enjoy regardless of what your diet is. Awareness of veg*nism is spreading thanks to:

2020 Tokyo Olympics

The Olympics will bring even more veg*n tourists to Japan. NGOs like Tokyo Smile Veggies and Japan Vege Project are campaigning for more local restaurants to offer veg*n dishes. The Tokyo government is actively pushing for locals to learn English. Pretty sure if you visit closer to 2020, there’ll be more options available with less communication barriers.

Vege Project is now actively helping veg*ns live easier in Japan.

Allergen information

Japan takes food allergies seriously and is very transparent in regards to allergen information. Allergens are clearly labelled in almost all food places and on food products. The allergens that are required to be declared include egg, dairy, certain seafood and meats. Thanks to this, it’s pretty easy to spot the veg*n option. Note that some Japanese may not know the English word for allergens, so use “arerugi アレルギー” if needed. This helped me once while searching for vegan breads on a supermarket shelf. The store assistant only understood “arerugi information” and even helped read out the ingredients!

Allergies = アレルギー (arerugi)

Very common to see food allergens listed, like this vegan bento from Tokyo Station.

It’s really quite easy – if you stick to tourist areas

In most areas where tourists or expats visit, you’ll have the least problems finding veg*n food. People there are more used to communicating in English and might have served a few veg*ns before you. But if you go outside of these areas, you have to be more prepared by packing something in advance. Note that some areas that serve mainly domestic or China tourists have very little or no veg*n food due to lack of demand. Eg: Tomamu Ski Resort in Hokkaido.

Food in Japan is SO GOOD.

Japan’s food is the best quality food I have ever had so far. Although it’s more expensive than Singapore’s, I seldom felt disappointed as the taste, freshness, service and creativity are MUCH better! This alone is worth looking forward to and doing more research on.

One of the best Japanese style meals we had from Aoi Sora Cafe.

 

To-do before GOING:

Have a list of the places to eat at

1.Happy Cow Japan’s listing

Note that Happy Cow has its limitations. They prefer to list vegan or vegetarian places to support them – which is a great initiative. But, it excludes many non-veg places that may offer veg*n dishes, and in certain situations (eg, your non-veg family want to eat seafood) that’s not the most practical. Sometimes the information (eg hours, address) listed may not be updated, as restaurants tend to prefer to update their own website or social media first, so follow the restaurant’s Facebook page for updates.

2. Facebook groups

Join the Facebook groups for more information and get the latest news on which products are vegan, events, new places opening, new menus, places closing etc. Also great way to know which packaged foods are vegan so you can buy them without worries!

3. Japan Vegemap

I think this map is constantly updated by Japan Vege Project, and is currently not fully complete. There’s places I visited in Hokkaido that aren’t listed. Thus I will share my own google maps but I recommend that you check back to this map in future. They also provide printed maps for Tokyo and Kyoto.

4. abillionveg

This is a new platform that helps you find vegan and vegetarian dishes from anywhere in the world. The last time I checked, there’s plenty of reviews from Tokyo. Download it for free from the app or play store. I highly recommend posting your dish and product reviews. Not only each post contributes $1 to an animal welfare group, you’re also helping others to find food easily and you can give private feedback to businesses through the app too. Here are my reviews from Japan.

Plan around food

One main reason for my visit was to enjoy foods that I can’t get in Singapore! So I planned all our accommodations and schedule around veg*n places that are highly recommended by locals and expats. I had half a year to plan, so I found plenty of places to explore. In fact I only visited 60% of my to-eat list in the end.

If you don’t have control over your schedule and place to stay, don’t worry too much. Most convenience shops (konbinis) in cities have good and cheap options, such as rice balls, sushi, salads, snacks and ready-to-eat tofu. As usual, be careful of hidden animal ingredients in seemingly vegan foods. Konbinis are everywhere (sometimes 4 together in a spot) and literally do everything for you, including heating the meal for free. Here’s the most complete list of vegan finds at konbinis. Here’s a video of vegan food in 7-11.

 Budget more for food

Eating out is generally pricier in Japan compared to most Asian countries, and pure veg*n places are usually more expensive. Veg*n cuisine is seen as healthy and organic food with Western influences. This is the main reason I booked Airbnbs so that we could cook. An average meal for one in Tokyo can be $10-$20, while $20 groceries can make about 2-3 meals for one person. We could also do laundry without additional costs.

If you really don’t wish to cook (although I’d recommend it if you’re on a budget), you can depend more on konbini foods, or dine at the chain eateries which offer veg*n dishes.

Some places that serve meals below 1000Y:

  • Cocoichibanya (some outlets have vegetarian menu),
  • Chabuton (all outlets have vegan ramen and gyoza, soy sauce at the table has fish)
  • Soup Stock Tokyo (at least 1 vegan soup)
  • Kyushu Jangara Ramen (all outlets have a vegan ramen that can be done without alliums)
  • Afuri (Only Tokyo outlets have seasonal vegan ramen)
  • Sushi belt places (Often have veggie sushi. Bring your own soy sauce – usually provided ones have fish. Some konbinis and supermarkets have this mini soy sauce!)

Learn Basic food-related lingo

Here’s some handy language card. If you have to go to a non-veg place and may face communication issues, flash this.

Printable vegan card.

You’ll likely need packaged foods during your trip. Almost all labels are written in Japanese and there’s no vegan labelling there. Here’s where you can learn useful words and phrases:

Important note for those who look like Japanese people

Most locals, at first sight, seem to automatically assume that those with East Asian features are Japanese. Sometimes, even if I spoke English to them in the first place, they still thought I’m Japanese – so they replied in fast Japanese or gave Japanese printed materials. This caused some miscommunications and awkward moments. If you’re not confident speaking their language, I suggest you speak English first and ask for English menu from the start. You can use Japanese words to assist if needed. This is so that they know that you aren’t local and adjust the service to help you better.

During your visit, please double-check information

Many veg*n restaurants are small businesses run by individuals or one family. Their opening hours may be irregular as they have less manpower compared to large chains. For example, in Hokkaido, most places only do lunch and require a reservation if you want dinner. In Tokyo, some places are only open for weekday lunch. Some can be closed for few days during public holidays. Before visiting, best to contact, or at least check their social media pages for latest updates. I used Facebook messaging to check directly if they were open. All of them could reply in English, and were very friendly and welcoming!

A message I sent to confirm opening time.

Although it seems like quite a bit of work to prepare for a holiday, these are guaranteed to make your visit in Japan incredible. You’ll be rewarded with a richer experience and your taste buds will be delighted at what Japan has to offer!

Next – Plant-Based Travel: Hokkaido

 

DIY Dairy-free Teh-C/Kopi-C

My friends at Souley Green had relaunched their shop and kindly gave me some items to try. Souley Green is Singapore’s first vegan online mart with quality lifestyle products like groceries, snacks, body care and fashion items from across the world.

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They sent me:

  1. BSKT Maca Espresso Chocolate Bar – Dark & rich, loved it. Best eaten at room temperature.
  2.  Acado Avocado Oil – First time trying avocado oil, too strong for my taste.
  3. Nature’s Charm Sweetened Coconut Condensed Milk – Just amazing.
  4. Handmade Heroes’ Beauty Warrior Face Mask – Cooling on skin, perfect for hot days.
  5. MOFO Chilli Level 7 Gun Powder – Incredibly spicy which is perfect! Contains onions.
  6. Mekhala Living’s Roasted Sweet Chilli and Roasted Sesame Garlic Dressing – Easy to use, good as flavour base.
  7. Winter Organics Chamomile Facial Cleanser – Very gentle on skin and did not strip off all natural oils.
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Stir-fried noodles and veggies+chickpeas made with Mekhala’s sauces, topped with MOFO Gun powder.

Out of all these, the coconut condensed milk was my favourite. It’s thick, creamy with slight caramel tones. Slightly thicker than full cream condensed milk but not as sweet (which is great). The coconut flavour is not strong and melds well with the main flavour, adding a slight nuttiness. Condensed milk is used in many of our local teas and coffees, after going vegan I simply had them as “O”, meaning plain (dark) version. I will say this is a great dairy alternative to be used in kopi-c, teh-c, bandung and ice kachang.

Ingredients: Coconut milk (Coconut cream, Filtered water), Cane sugar, Calcium carbonate, Salt

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Viscosity is slightly thicker than condensed milk.

 

DIY Teh-C/Kopi-C

Serves 2 cups

  • 1-2 tbsp tea dust (for more authentic kopitiam taste) or red/black tea leaves, or ground coffee (depending on how strong you like)
  • 4 tbsp Nature’s Charm sweetened coconut condensed milk
  • 3 cups boiling water

Put tea/coffee in a strainer and immerse in the boiling water for 2-3 mins. Remove strainer and stir in coconut condensed milk. Serve hot or over ice, add sugar if preferred.

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Teh-C without the hormones and stomachache-inducing properties!

Note:

  • For iced version, brew the tea/coffee longer and add a bit more condensed milk. As ice melts it will dilute your drink, so start off with a stronger flavour.
  • For bandung, simply mix with roughly 1 tbsp rose syrup or 1/4 tsp rose water + 1 cup water. Use a few drops of beetroot juice for natural red colouring.

 

Sadly it did not fare well as our favourite frothy teh tarik. When I “pulled” the tea, the bubbles did not stay longer than 2 seconds so I could not achieve the frothy top. I’ll figure out another way! But it still conveniently makes a great cup of creamy, sweet caffeine boost. I really wish one day hawker centres and restaurants can offer this as a dairy alternative for us. Though I definitely can’t afford to use this daily, I’m happy to support Souley Green as they are trying hard to bring in good products for us.

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My discount code is valid till 9th December 2017. Happy shopping!

Dark Chocolate Brownies

This is not only a recipe post, but a message to all girls.

Some girls have the habit of rejecting dessert, counting calories to a T, avoiding certain whole foods like coconut, nuts or avocados for the sole goal of “I don’t want to look fat.” What I find even more disturbing is the number of slim girl friends saying that they are “fat”, and the increasing number of eating disorders among young girls in recent years.

Firstly I’d like to question, with my usual frankness that’s notorious among my friends:

  • Why do you want to avoid being “fat”?
  • Is being bigger than “normal size” a bad thing?
  • Do you think there even should be a “normal size”?
  • Are you truly happy counting calories everyday?

My take on this is very simple:

  • Humans have survived millions of years thanks to genetic diversity. A smaller body that lived in a warm climate would not have survived well in a winter climate compared to a larger body. A larger body could be better at intimidating away predators than a smaller one.
  • Fast forward to modern times, body size was suddenly assigned positive or negative values purely based on appearance.
  • In most developed countries, anything that jiggles is bad. In some developing places, like my family’s hometown in North China, a bigger body = richer pocket = promises financial security (for men) and in good health to bear children (for women).
  • Your body is a result of the complex and practical evolutionary story – there’s no good and bad to your size. Diversity is to be celebrated and there should not be a “normal size” as a benchmark to judge yourself against.

Whole foods that contain good fats like nuts, seeds, avocados etc, are incredibly good for us when taken in suitable amounts. As long as you’re eating whole foods roughly 80% of the time, moving regularly and getting enough rest, I believe our bodies are smart enough to regulate our metabolism well.

For the other 20% of the time, enjoy your favourite coconut-rich curry cooked by grandma, don’t say no to the piece of cake at a party and indulge in those pineapple tarts when they come once a year.

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Life’s too short to reject a bite of fudgy, moist brownies, especially if they are egg-free, dairy-free,  hydrogenated oils-free and refined sugar-free. Here’s my favourite chocolate brownie recipe. Treat yourself well!


 

Vegan dark chocolate brownies

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour, sieved (If you want to use whole wheat, reduce the amount of flour and increase the amount of non-dairy milk.)
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon powder

Preheat oven to 200C. Mix all together into a large bowl, make a hole in the centre and leave aside.

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 cup plant oil (I used grapeseed oil, avoid using strong flavoured ones like olive or coconut.)
  • 1 tbsp black coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
  • 1 and ¼ cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used coconut milk.)
  • 15g – 20g dark chocolate (at least 70%. More or less is fine, depending on preference)
  • ½ cup vegan chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life, for cheaper but lower quality chips, go for the dark chocolate chips at Phoon Huat)

Melt the dark chocolate in the non-dairy milk over low heat. Whisk sugar, molasses and oil together in a medium bowl until combined. Add coffee, vanilla, non-dairy milk and chocolate mixture and mix till a smooth paste.

Pour wet mixture into dry mix. Using a spatula, mix until just combined then add chocolate chips. Sprinkle some chocolate chips onto the surface. Line a pan with baking paper. Pour mixture into pan and use spatula to flatten it out evenly. Bake for 15 – 20 mins, until a fork inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove, let cool in pan for 1 minute before transferring onto rack. Cool completely before cutting. Note: a longer baking time will result in a crumblier brownie, a shorter time makes a fudgy brownie.


 

 

 

 

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If fitting into society’s skewed ideas of beauty is making you unhappy, re-evaluate your goals. Pursue physical and mental health rather than a weight. A strong body and mind can do much more than just getting the look you wanted. Don’t gauge your worth on how you look, but how you feel.

This message from me was inspired by my friend Allison from New York. Allison has a brand inspired by China’s strong women, called 女汉子 pronounced as Nü3 Han4 Zi4 in Chinese. Although frowned upon especially by guys, I identify as a Nühanzi as I grew up among strong women. My grandmother fought for her right to enroll in university while her father wanted her to stay on the farm to raise pigs. My aunt overcame domestic abuse and is now running a business in China. My mother mocked for her poor English when we just arrived in Singapore and used that as the driving force to successfully climb up the corporate ladder. She has never cushioned her opinions and I got my frankness from her. To the guys that criticised me for being too direct, sorry not sorry, it just runs in the family!

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Imagine how thrilled I was to receive Nühanzi’s tops (now my Muay Thai class’ go-to tank) and necklaces! Some proceeds from her necklace will go to the MoreThanMe organisation, helping to build all-girls, tuition free schools in Liberia. Check them out and support a good cause for all girls.

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 – Macau

Skip the casinos and shiny hotels. Just spend a day at the Portuguese monuments. Stay in a quaint little hostel and get lost in the labyrinth of alleys. Walk, don’t take bus or you’ll miss out. Say hi to the locals because they are now on my top 3 Most Friendly Locals list (together with Philippines and Taiwan). Macau gives me this vibe that is like stepping into a photo of Singapore in the 1960s. Where everything happens on ground level, shops are so cramped with goods that they spill over on walkways with people on their daily grind making an honest living. A familiar, yet unacquainted nostalgia.

One thing about asking for directions in Macau is to show the CHINESE address or name of where you are heading, because most locals don’t speak English or Portuguese or even fluent Chinese. I had a bit of problem talking to some locals and reading signs because the main language is Cantonese and they use traditional Chinese – but everyone truly tried to be helpful!

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Here’s a famous spot – Cocos Hung Heng, a 140 year old coconut shop selling every coconut products. Address – No.14, Rua de Tercena, Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro (Chinese: 洪韾椰子, 澳門果欄街14號地下)

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Most famous is their handmade coconut ice cream which are purely natural, made fresh everyday according to their traditional recipe. Sometimes there are mango and taro flavours too! Best to come in the morning when it is the freshest and softest. The ones we had were already frozen so they were more icy. Certainly the gentlest ice cream my sensitive taste buds ever met, the mango one wins in terms of taste and coconut wins in texture!

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We accidentally stumbled upon this little vegetarian jem called Ji Xiang Cao, run by the nicest old couple where we had heartwarming encounters with locals. Strangers sharing food plus all the customers once stood up to help with directions. Since it’s not on Happy Cow I have no idea what’s the English address, but Chinese is 吉祥草素食,司打口水字巷18号虎A. Another shot of nostalgia because it was exactly like those vegetarian restaurants I had countless childhood family meals in – from the poorly photographed menu, white wall tiles with prosperity posters and the sounds of loud frying from the small kitchen – all part of this charm that we seldom find anymore in Singapore.

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It was near Dragon Boat Festival hence the sweet old lady boss proudly told us that they handmade all these savoury rice dumplings. Before serving them to us she took the plate to another table and snapped pictures of the neatly cut dumplings with her phone – then giggled shyly when we looked at her with utmost amusement! Here are my favourites from their restaurant.

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Deep fried tempura silken tofu  – MY GOD such a combination is possible! So crisp and the insides soft like custard served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.

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Brinjal claypot is more divine than it looks!

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This is one stir fry I really liked, (They generally seem to do stew and braised dishes better). This type of green pepper is literally called tiger skin pepper maybe because of the wrinkles formed after heating them. It’s exactly the wrinkles and firm skin that gives a nice chew and retains juiciness while soaking up the fermented bean sauce.

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This was an eye-opening dish. A stew of sponge gourd and wood’s ear fungus made with the thick and creamy water from rice porridge as soup base! The warm smoothness of every spoonful is most comforting.

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A restaurant near Ruins of St Paul on a sloped street towards Monte Fort – finally somewhere easy to find! According to Happy Cow they are Feng Cheng Xuan despite having no signange other than 素 and the Buddhist swastikas which signifies vegetarian food served here. Not sure of the exact Chinese address but street name is 大炮台街.

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The staff are really helpful and nice with recommending dishes. But honestly felt some things we ordered are average, a bit oily and somewhat roughly made – but the handmade wontons were seriously good. Fat and tender, the fragrant filling of chives and minced soy ‘meat’ oozing out at each bite.

Macau had left a strong impression on me as being staunchly Cantonese – the years of Portuguese colonisation barely scratched it’s surface. You can’t feel the real Macau in those casinos and renovated monuments scrubbed clean of any traces of use! One day I’ll be back with my camera, and hopefully be able to capture of the perseverance of their culture.

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!