“Good luck” they told us. As vegetarians we were hoping to find vegetarian food in China and most people, including ourselves, thought we were quite mad. Since we’ve returned from China people have continued to be bewildered that we were able to eat, never mind enjoy the cuisine and it is difficult to get across that vegetarians are treated better here than anywhere else in the world. Fresh ingredients and a variation of cooking styles passed down from generation to generation ensures that even the most simple vegetables are transformed into a delight for the tastebuds. That commercial sweet and sour, fried, battered style food we expected was replaced with fresh, locally grown vegetables which were consciously cooked to honour the exquisite produce. OK, sure there are chicken feet, rabbit heads, pigs ears and all of those other ‘treats’ you’ve heard about but we can guarantee that this forms barely the tip of the iceberg for Chinese cuisine and China’s amazing food creations.
Uyghur Laghman “pulled noodles” soup.
Turpan, Xinjiang Province.
Before the dish has even be tasted it is mesmerising. The process of watching an expert noodle maker splitting the wet flour dough with his fingers and methodically stretching them is therapeutic. He adds the noodles to the broth for no more than two minutes before your dish is ready.
Yuanyang, Yunnan Province.
Nestled within a meat market you are bound to find a solitary lady and her barbecue. She sits quietly, just aside from the blood that is leaking from the carcass of a caribou, consistently wafting her coal embers from her hand made fan. To eat you must join her on a stool and select your tofu. She tenders to it, assuring perfection. Her tofu is delivered to you hot, crispy and golden brown. Two bowls are filled with oddities of sweet salty sauce, pepper flour, mashed garlic meant for dipping. Proceed with the condiments with caution. Green Sichuanese peppers are tongue tingling and potent.
Urumqi, Xinjiang Province.
A soft bread pocket filled with tasty delights. Choose a combination of pickled cucumber, scrambled eggs, sautéed string beans with chilli and sautéed cabbage.
A famous Sichuanese dish which can be found almost anywhere in the Sichuan Province. Served with rice, this fiery dish is true to its origins; It’s spicy! Soft, silken tofu cubes are fried to a golden perfection left swimming in a sauce that captures core Sichuan flavours; Chilli paste, fresh ginger, sichuan peppercorns and garlic. Delicious
Barbecued skewers. *OUR FAVOURITE *
Yunnan and Gansu Province.
Picking from the assortment of colourful skewers is the difficult bit. Bok choy, eggplant, bread pancakes, mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, tofu, potato and anything in between. Lightly brushed with oil and spices and barbecued to perfection find yourself dining within 5 minutes and ordering more. We often grabbed a bunch of sticks and ordered a few beers and watched the afternoons turn to evenings.
Spicy Sichuan noodle soup.
Sichuan Province; Our top pick for places to travel in western China
Found in restaurants that have a ‘pick your own’ policy. Fill your basket with vegetables and choose your choice of noodles. Expect sizzling spice from the Sichuan chilli oil that swamps this dish. It combines the flavour of ginger, garlic, star anise pods, cinnamon, green and red sichuan peppercorns, sichuan chilli flakes, coriander and cumin and put tears in my eyes but left me blown away with the flavour.
Stone pot soup.
Dunhuang, Gansu Province.
Sweet and sour aromatic soup cooked on an open flame. Cabbage, noodles, mushroom and bok choy are added to the hot broth inside a fire pot and a scoop of spicy thick chilli sauce sits on top. Perfect for those chilly nights in the Gobi desert.
Hand-torn Bamboo shoots.
Jianshui, Yunnan Province.
Stringy shreds of fresh bamboo shoots lightly fried with shallots and delivered with a subtle chilli and garlic sauce. Delicate and delicious.
Crumbed Spicy-fried eggplant.
Zhongdian, Yunnan Province.
Lathered beneath a chilli based sauce you will find several pieces of ‘crunchy on the outside, smooth on the inside’ eggplant. Outstanding!
Tomato and egg.
A mum’s favourite dish that has been passed through several generations of Chinese people. Shallow fried tomato and scrambled egg with a sprinkle of shallots is all it takes to make this core dish although each family will have their own precise method. Make this a delicious and filling breakfast by dipping in a home-made naan. A staple for us throughout, this was our favourite vegetarian food in China.