Tips for Vegetarians & Vegans in Beijing
Visiting Beijing as a vegetarian or vegan can be frustrating and rewarding in equal measure, depending on your outlook. UnTour Food Tours is always on the lookout for new meat-free dishes or variations at local restaurants in order to help our vegan and vegetarian guests access local, authentic and delicious Beijing cuisine. (Check out our Vegetarian Pro Tips for Navigating China)
We find Beijing to be a fantastic city for vegetarian and vegan dining and a little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to tracking down veggie treasures. Here are a few pros and cons of Beijing for meat-free foodies.
- Variety: Local Chinese restaurants of all kinds often have just as many vegetable dishes as meat dishes, representing a wider selection of vegetable varieties than you may find overseas.
- Dedicated Restaurants: Vegetarian restaurants are relatively plentiful in Beijing. You won’t find one on every street corner, but you’re likely to find one at least one within half an hour’s walking distance wherever you are in central Beijing.
- Accommodating Waitstaff: While staff in restaurants overseas are becoming increasingly accustomed to and welcoming of meat-free diners, the willingness of many of your average Western restaurateurs to accommodate meat-free guests is yet to compare to their counterparts in Beijing. Special orders and special requests are the norm here, and staff at many restaurants will ask if you have any special dietary requirements at the time you order. If you hear a member of staff ask “yǒu méi yǒu jì kǒu?” or “yǒu jì kǒu ma?” they’re asking if you have any dietary restrictions. Read on below to find out how to answer.
- What Constitutes Meat: There’s only one real challenge to getting your hands on authentic Beijing food while avoiding animal products. It is, however, a significant challenge that will take some patience and persistence to overcome. While Beijing’s restaurant staff may be eager to meet your dietary requirements, differing ideas regarding the meaning of the word meat can make ordering difficult, especially for visitors with limited Chinese language skills. The term meat (肉，ròu), is usually taken literally in Beijing to mean the muscle tissue of land animals and birds, so learning to avoid other animal parts, parts of other animals, and the derivatives of both requires a far more specific and explicit approach (see handy phrases below). Additionally, understanding of vegetarianism and veganism is often limited, meaning that telling restaurant staff you’re vegetarian may be insufficient. Check out these phrases below to help successfully navigate the meat minefield.
我是素食主义者 (wǒ shì sù shí zhǔ yì zhě, I’m a vegetarian)
我不吃肉 (wǒ bù chī ròu, I don’t eat meat)
These phrases will help you avoid most meat dishes, but on their own will not help you totally avoid meat. Pitfalls include added fish, seafood, vegetables cooked in animal oils, oyster sauce, chicken stock powder, bone broth, offal, or small pieces of meat added to vegetable dishes only for flavor. “Oh, no that’s just in there for flavor” or “That’s not meat, that’s fat” are common responses from staff when vegetarians bring up the small chunks of pork fat in their vegetables.
我是纯素主义者 (wǒ shì chī chún sù zhǔ yì zhě, I’m a vegan)
This phrase is likely to raise some quizzical eyebrows as veganism isn’t widely known or understood in Beijing. Try these key phrases below to help communicate your dietary requirements.
These sentences may be cumbersome for beginning Chinese users, however, they really are your best bet for avoiding animal products with confidence. Consider saving the phrases, or this page, to show to restaurant staff in Beijing.
Wǒ shì sùshí zhǔyì zhě. Wǒ bù chī rènhé láizì ròu de shípǐn, qǐng máfan bùyào zài cài lǐ tiānjiā rènhé hán ròu zhìpǐn, hǎixiān, yáng yóu, zhū yóu, jījīng hé hào yóu. Xièxiè!
I’m a vegetarian. I don’t any meat products. Please do not use any meat products, including seafood, animal oils or fats, chicken stock powder, and oyster sauce. Thank you!
Wǒ shì chún sù zhǔyì zhě. Wǒ bù chī rènhé láizì dòngwù de shípǐn, qǐng máfan bùyào zài cài lǐ tiānjiā rènhé hán ròu zhìpǐn, hǎixiān, yáng yóu, zhū yóu, jījīng, hào yóu, jīdàn, fēngmì hé nǎi zhìpǐn. Xièxiè!
I’m a vegan. I don’t eat any products that come from animals. Please do not use any animal products, including seafood, animal oils and fats, chicken stock powder, oyster sauce, eggs, honey, and dairy products. Thank you!