Whether you’re dining in a restaurant or grabbing a takeaway on a Friday night, Chinese food is a firm favourite for many – and that doesn’t change when you’re vegan!
Vegan-friendly Chinese food can be summed up in one fabulous word: tofu. The Chinese have been doing wonderful things with tofu for years, and if you’ve yet to be convinced about how tasty tofu can be then we recommend booking a table at your local Chinese restaurant this very evening!
A great source of protein, tofu (also called bean curd or soya bean curd) can replace meat in a huge number of Chinese vegan recipes and you’ll see it listed on the menu as an option. If for some reason it’s not then just ask – a request for such a popular ingredient will not be seen as strange at all.
As with Thai cuisine, fish and oyster sauce are used frequently in Chinese vegan recipes so you’ll need to watch out for those. It is likely to say on the menu if it is included in a dish, but if you are unsure then just ask your server. Fish sauce is salty in flavour so easily replaced with soy, and black bean or garlic sauce are fantastic replacements for oyster.
You can pair tofu with all sorts of sauces, and then add extra flavours by ordering sides of vegetables, rice or noodles. Some great dishes are kung pao/po tofu, tofu with ginger and spring onion, tofu with garlic and black bean, tofu with satay sauce, sweet and sour tofu, tofu with cashew nuts, tofu with chilli/hot and spicy tofu, and tofu with broccoli and black bean and/or garlic. Szechwan or mapo tofu can be vegan, but you should double check that the restaurant in question doesn’t make the sauce with pork.
Stir fried vegetables and Chinese vegetables are always an easy vegan option, and you can usually specify which sauce you’d like to go with them. Oyster sauce is popular with Chinese vegetables so make sure you check what sauce it automatically comes with if not listed on the menu.
Rice is a great accompaniment to saucy dishes and boiled rice obviously a winner. Don’t think that fried rice has to be off the menu, however, as if made to order then you can request it without eggs or meat. Sometimes you’ll find other flavours of rice, like Jasmine, and they’re usually great as well – just be sure to check it doesn’t come with anything sprinkled on top, like dried shrimp or pork.
Most noodle dishes can easily be made with rice noodles instead of egg. If you are not sure from the menu then just ask; egg noodles can often be standard, but Chinese kitchens will always stock rice as well and will be happy to accommodate. You may opt for something simple like the delicious noodles with bean sprouts and spring onion, or indulge in a more hearty vegetable Chow Mein or Chop Suey. When ordering these more substantial noodle dishes it is always wise to check that the restaurant doesn’t prepare them using chicken stock.
And to begin? Vegetable spring rolls, veggie dumplings – both fried and steamed – are standard appetizers that you’ll find in almost all Chinese restaurants and are happily vegan. A lot of the offerings will be very meat and fish based, but frequently you’ll find ‘house specials’ specific to a particular establishment that are vegan friendly. It is always worth checking with the waiter or waitress about what’s on offer. In some restaurants you’ll even find ‘mock meats’, where you can sit down to a completely vegan crispy mock duck and pancakes. If ordering this with a group of non-vegans, however, it might be best to go for a large portion… it is not unusual for this dish to become the property of the entire table!