Traveling as a vegetarian isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
It’s often whittled down to a paltry choice between some kind of flavourless pasta/bread/rice/vegetable combination, leading to a frustratingly unimaginative diet. There is also a constant barrage of temptation being thrown at you whatever your reason for no longer eating meat.
Despite a very near moment of weakness in Costa Rica two years ago, I’ve managed pretty well so far. But nowhere was as easy for me to remain positively adamant that my carnivorous side is in the past than China. And no, this wasn’t because the meat served in China was… erm, strange, to put it nicely, it’s because the vegetarian food available was in-cred-ible.
Here’s some of my best China food memories, and things not to miss out on:
1) Chinese Steamed Buns.
I don’t know the Chinese name of these buns, much to the absolute dismay of my Slovenian companion and I. They’re absolutely different to anything I’d tasted in the West… kind of like bread, but I think they’re made of rice. My descriptions do it no justice. However, after discovering a taste for the mysterious buns, spotting a tiny shop making morning batches of these bad boys at the side of the street on the way home, after a spontaneously crazy night in Beijing, was like finding Mecca. We sat down and steadily made our through 36 of them between three of us. They were dipped in fresh chilies and soy sauce. These little stores are all over China, and always worth a quick visit.
2) A Breakfast Buffet to End All
For most Westerners, breakfast isn’t really a big deal… You know, a bit of bread, some cereal, fruit, yogurt, cheese. Aside from the full English breakfast, I’ve never really experienced discomfort from eating so much first thing in the morning. So when I was invited to breakfast with our Chinese hosts, I was not prepared for the absolute feast we were presented with: Dishes upon dishes of noodles, rice, spiced vegetables, meat in various sauces, those all important steamed buns… the list was endless. A strange but memorable experience, and again, one that I would recommend! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all…
3) Revolving Restaurant and the Shanghai Skyline
Due to a generous budget being afforded to me by the people sending me around the world, my travel companions and I treated ourselves to dinner at the very swanky revolving restaurant in the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. The food wasn’t served on revolving tables because the floor rotated around the tables and tables of food, which did the job. The main experience here wasn’t the food (despite it being, yet again, mouth wateringly, greed inducingly delicious) but the views, which is the entire glowing skyline of Shanghai. Words can’t really describe it. Restaurants throughout the country are cheap in comparison to many places around the world, and are often of a really high standard. Even a backpacker budget can stretch to a coupe of good meals out!
4) The Chinese Culture of Eating
It wasn’t just the food itself that was amazing, but the Chinese experience of eating. Huge round tables full of dishes upon dishes of different types of food served with green tea and, strangely, never water. Everyone seated at the table trying everything that is on offer, really appreciating the food in front of them, and enjoying each other’s company. In a world that is increasingly too busy to sit down and eat a meal by themselves let alone in the company of others, this was a refreshing taste of Chinese culture that has stayed with me.