the vegan fork: China!

Saturday, March 25, 2006


I went to China and pretty much ate my way through the country. In restaurants/transactions in which no one spoke English and there was no English menu, I made do with my little notecard saying I'm vegetarian, then got out the sections in my guidebooks which listed vegetables in Chinese and English. Now that I think about it, that explains why I ended up ordering eggplant three times -- "aubergine" was near the top of the alphabetical list.

I ended up eating tons of delicious stuff. I had a non-veg friend with me who was kind enough to serve as my "royal taster" and bite into things first when we weren't sure of the contents.

The best meal I had? I'm having trouble deciding.

It may have been the eggplant that I had the first night in Beijing. It was really delicious, and I don't think I've ever had eggplant nearly that good before. It was in some sort of sauce...I think maybe it was braised? The sauce was a really good balance of salty/sweet/spicy, and the eggplant was a little crispy. I think that eggplant is also part of the reason why I ended up ordering eggplant two more times; it was so good that I was hoping to have something like it again, but never did. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the delicious eggplant.

Also a contender for best meal was one we had at a vegetarian restaurant in Beijing called Gongdelin. They had an English menu, which had a lot of very interesting things on it. They had mock meats that extended way beyond the usual chicken and beef. For example, "hedgehog" was on the menu, but in looking up the restaurant I came upon a site that says the translation was wrong, and that actually it's mock monkey brains. Can't say I'm sorry I passed it up.
What we did order was sweet and sour "chicken" shreds which were delicious and very mild, not spicy. We also ordered something that was listed as "western style lentils." I was very excited because I'd been noticing a real lack of legumes in the foods available to us, so I thought this would be a nice dish of lentils, maybe even lentil dumplings or something. What arrived? Sauteed snowpeas. They were delicious, though, and at that point probably a good green vegetable was missing more in my diet than some legumes.

Another good meal (though not the best) was in a Taiwanese restaurant in Beijing. Here I had a tofu dish. It was chunks of soft tofu in a spicy sauce. On the side we had a cold dish of peanuts, which was really good. They were in a salty sauce, and had some minced veggies with them.

One of our best food experiences (and most highly anticipated) was in "Hubu Alley" in Wuhan. This is a little alley with lots of street food that's a popular breakfast spot. We got off our overnight train in the morning in Wuhan and headed straight to Hubu Alley. No one spoke English, so I found something that looked good and vegetarian, then showed my notecard to make sure. I ended up with a bowl of noodles that included some kind of sauce and minced veggies -- scallions and greenbeans are the ones I remember. It was really spicy. I took a picture, but I think I was too distracted to remember to use the macro mode, so it's blurry. I'm showing it anyway, though, because I'm really excited about the noodles...and I paid less than 25 cents for that bowl of noodles!

Here's a picture of an eggplant dish I had in Zhengzhou. It was at a Muslim restaurant. Unfortunately, it wasn't nearly as good as the eggplant the first night.

In Tai'an we went to a dumpling restaurant. I ordered something called "3 vegetable dumplings." As far as I could tell, the three vegetables must have been scallions, tofu, and garlic, because that's all that was in them. They were good, though. My plate of dumplings was huge -- it contained 25 (I counted). I managed to eat 15 of them, which I thought was pretty impressive, but as I looked around the restaurant I noticed that other patrons all managed to finish their orders of dumplings.

Overall, I ate lots of really good things. Noodles, vegetables, tofu, fried dough and other streetfood, etc. At one restaurant in Chingqing I had some delicious dumplings with a filling of bean paste, seasame seeds, and sugar. We were disappointed to never find anything like that again. We also tried some of the weird little packaged snacky foods. We had dried fruits, little cakes of rice and sugar, mystery candies, etc. Most of it wasn't very good. And of course we drank a lot beer (room temp) and yummy teas everywhere we went.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the fried dough (it goes really well with freshly ground soy milk for breakfast).

Your food pictures are great. I thought I was the only one who took pictures of my food.

Mar 27, 2006, 8:12:00 PM  

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