VEGETARIAN CHINESE FOOD – Chinese food is full of colors, flavors, and textures that appeal to a wide variety of eaters. While ordering vegetarian Chinese food may seem easy at first glance, it can be tricker than one might anticipate. It’s not just about avoiding General Tsoa’s Chicken and other obviously meat-centric dishes; many Chinese sauces, broths, and condiments contain animal products. To complicate matters further, even some vegetable or mock-meat dishes may be cooked in lard, an animal-based fat.
But once you know what to watch for and what questions to ask, it’s easy to confidently order and enjoy vegetarian Chinese food. After all, Taoism and Buddhism are widely followed in China, both of which adhere to vegetarian lifestyles.
Before getting into a list of usually vegetarian Chinese food to order, I want to preface this by stating if you’re not sure about something, ask. Ask what stock and broths are made from, ask if fish sauce is an ingredient, and ask what kind of oil is used for cooking. If you’re a strict vegetarian, you may also want to ask if vegetable-based dishes like egg rolls are fried in the same oil as meat-based dishes. Once you’ve nailed these basic questions, you can order your vegetarian Chinese food worry-free.
The magic of sesame oil shines atop a heaping bowl of noodles in this popular dish. It’s often also prepared with garlic, sesame paste, vinegar, and sometimes peanut butter and/or chili sauce. It may also be available with tofu and/or veggies.
Sichuan Style Cucumber Salad
Cucumbers are tossed in a mixture of oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and spices, often including garlic and Sichuan or red pepper flakes.
Vegetable Fried Rice
A vegetarian Chinese favorite. Fried rice is typically made by stir-frying cooked rice in a wok with eggs and/or vegetables. Ask about the sauces added to flavor the dish. Different places will use different ingredients, so make sure there are no animal-containing sauces like eel or fish sauce added. If you’re vegan, ask for it to be made without eggs.
A safe side dish if you’re feeling desperate. Pair steamed veggies with a side of white rice and your vegetarian sauce of choice. It’s not the ideal meal, but it’ll do in a pinch.
Sichuan Fried or Spicy Green Beans
Green beans are often a side dish available on Chinese menus. If you see a Sichuan Fried or spicy option, give them a whirl. Stir-fried with garlic, ginger, peppercorns, and/or pepper flakes, these are a flavorful addition to a meal and delicious with rice.
Vegetable Stir Fry
A simple dish, chopped assorted vegetables are cooked in a wok with oil, and usually served with sauce and served with rice. Sauces will vary, so always ask.
Peanuts and Spinach
This is a traditional Chinese vegetarian dish made with peanuts, spinach, and garlic. It may also contain wasabi root depending on the restaurant. A safe and green side dish for your vegetarian feast.
Broccoli and Garlic
A popular side dish found on many menus, broccoli and garlic dishes make broccoli shine with scallions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and sometimes pepper. Be sure to double check to make sure they don’t use any pork-based oils or sauces in preparation.
Vegetable Chow Mein
Steamed or cripsy stir-fried noodles serve as the base in chow mein dishes. Vegetable chow mein is usually accented with a variety of vegetables, and some menus may allow you to add tofu or mock meat.
Kung Pow Tofu
Crispy tofu and vegetables are stir-fried in a spicy sauce, made with vinegar, ginger, garlic, and Sichuan peppercorns (or other hot spices). Frequently served with rice, this is a satisfying meal if you like it hot.
Chinese Dry Manchurian
Veg Manchurian, which is one of the most popular Chinese dishes in India, is sold even in roadside food stalls and snack counters these days! This popularity is well-deserved, because the Veg Manchurian does have a zesty charm that captivates anybody who bites into one.
A mixture of crunchy veggies is shaped into balls and deep-fried, and then tossed with an assortment of sauces and flavour enhancers like ginger, green chillies and garlic.
Spring onions are a must in the Veg Manchurian, because it gives an authentic taste and aroma. Although the Veg Manchurian does not taste bad after cooling, we would advice serving it immediately while the flavours are vibrant and the textures are crisp and fresh.
When you eat these deep fried vegetable balls in a soya-based sauce, do not let mundane things like the weighing scale bother you! just dig into these deep-fried delights and enjoy every bite!
Mumbai’s favourite street food merges with Oriental culture, in this exciting version of Bhel. Rather than being made with puffed rice, this unique Chinese Bhel is made with fried noodles, tossed with colourful sautéed veggies and garnished with crunchy spring onions. A generous dose of sauces is also added to bind the Bhel together in a tangy way! Prepare this snack just before serving, as the fried noodles tends to get soggy over time.
Stir Fried Sweet Potato Leaves
Sweet yam leaves, or sweet potato leaves, have a long string of nicknames in other parts of the world. “The queen of vegetables!” “The longevity vegetable!” “The anti-cancer vegetable!” Pretty great credentials for what always seemed like a throwaway vegetable to me.
Some research has shown that yam leaves are more nutritious than spinach, celery, carrots and cucumbers when it comes to vitamin B, iron, zinc, protein, antioxidants, and calcium. They supposedly enhance immune function, boost metabolism, lower blood sugar, improve eyesight, and act as an anti-inflammatory.
You’re thinking what I’m thinking aren’t you? Give me some yam leaves, stat! While the world of food-induced health benefits is big, I’m convinced after my (admittedly, limited) research that these vegetables are a hidden gem. But if you don’t believe me, our friends Karen and Philip were also big contributors to my new love of stir fried yam leaves (sweet potato leaves or di gua miao). Other than the discovery of Vietnamese Coffee from our last visit to Colorado Springs, Karen also insisted that we try stir-fried yam leaves. Big score for my regular rotation of veggie dishes!
As for the taste, sweet yam leaves taste a bit like spinach, but don’t leave that film on your teeth after eating. With the addition of ginger, garlic, and some Shaoxing wine, needless to say I run to the sweet yam leaves when I see them at the Asian supermarket!
Ultimate Braised Tofu
Braised tofu––using silken tofu that’s first fried and then braised––is a dish usually enjoyed at a Chinese restaurant, because most people are a bit intimidated by the idea of making it at home. While it’s not quite as easy as some of our other tofu dishes (like this simple beef tofu stir-fry for instance), it is the fried silken tofu that really sets it apart.
This braised tofu made with silken tofu is similar to our traditional Hong Shao Tofu, but that version of the dish is made with a medium or soft tofu. Read more about the various types of tofu on our tofu ingredients page.
Silken tofu is the most delicate of all tofu types and breaks up easily, so the added step of deep frying it puts a thin crust around the exterior that helps it hold up in a gentle stir fry. Deep frying adds that Chinese restaurant flavor and also rewards you with a slightly crisp exterior and silken texture inside, all drowned in a flavorful brown sauce.
Chinese Chives & Eggs Stir Fry
Chinese Chives & Eggs Stir fry is a very simple, homey dish that you just don’t see in restaurants, and it’s so basic that anyone can make it. But it can also vary wildly from person to person.
When it comes to eggs, some like them runny and some like them cooked fully through. Oddly enough, I belong to the latter party. But when it comes to stir-fried eggs, consistency is everything. It’s also a good time to point out that this is not a breakfast item, but a dish for lunch or dinner to eat with rice.
Stir Fried Chinese Mustard Greens (Xuelihong)
Last week, I posted a recipe for Easy Braised Turnip Rice Bowls because this is the time when Chinese turnips (aka daikon radishes) are being harvested in the chilly final days of fall. Mustard greens are another great fall vegetable. There are many different varieties of mustard greens.
The variety we use in this recipe is the Chinese mustard greens –– called xuelihong in Chinese. While we were lucky enough to find fresh xuelihong at our Chinese supermarket, we more often enjoy mustard greens pickled. You’ve probably seen it either in a can or a vacuum-packed pouch.
Ma Lan Tou Spiced Tofu, A Shanghai Favorite
This Ma Lan Tou Spiced tofu dish is a Shanghainese dish through and through. The dish in Chinese is called Ma Lan Xiang Gan or liang ban xiang gan ma lan tou, which literally means “cold tossed fragrant tofu and ma lan tou.” The key vegetable used, ma lan tou, is very fragrant, and when combined with cold spiced tofu, it makes for a really lovely refreshing dish for the summer months.
A Basic Stir Fried Bok Choy Recipe
We all need a good go-to green vegetable side dish to go with any main course, and this stir-fried bok choy recipe is a great candidate. It’s one of the easiest recipes we have on the blog, once you learn a few basics that make your stir-fried veggies stand out from all the others.
For this bok choy recipe, we used the larger variety that you can find at most regular grocery stores. Check out our Chinese vegetables and leafy greens page, where you can get more details on the differences between varieties and other bok choy recipes. This recipe makes a family-size portion, but feel free to cut the recipe in half for fewer people. Always remember that veggies cook down quite a lot, so 2 pounds of raw bok choy isn’t as much as it sounds.
Chilli Baby Corn, Chinese Chilli Baby Corn
Chilli Baby Corn has become a taken-for-granted starter on most party menus these days. It is also a popular starter at restaurants.
Its crunchy, exciting texture and vibrant flavour make it popular amongst foodies, especially those who love tongue-tickling, spicy stuff.
Batter-coated and deep-fried baby corn is tossed with an assortment of awesome ingredients, which range from crunchy spring onions and pungent garlic to a splash of Oriental sauces.
Make sure the baby corn is not sliced too thin, or you will lose the lovely crunch. Sure to fire up your digestive juices, this starter is a must-try!