I’ve always loved and appreciated Chinese food. What better way to spend a relaxing evening than binge eating a crap load of Chinese take-out while doing a movie marathon on the computer?
So after I started eating vegan, I was glad to know that not much had to be different, because there are lots of vegan Chinese food options at restaurants.
In my early vegan journey, there was this one Chinese restaurant that I practically lived off of for years, eating there a bunch of times every month. Even though that restaurant wasn’t vegan, there were still plenty of things on the menu that were vegan, or could be made vegan.
But still you have to be careful when eating at non-vegan restaurants, very often non-vegan ingredients are used and added to dishes that may otherwise be vegan.
Be Aware of Hidden Non-Vegan Ingredients
If you’re going to a non-vegan restaurant, then you gotta assume a high possibility that whatever stock they use to cook their sauces and soups are either beef, chicken or fish based. You can call in to ask if they can replace them with vegetable stock. Fish sauce is also popular in many asian restaurants and is commonly added to the sauce of many dishes.
Look out for noodles like chow-mein or lo-mein which may have eggs in them, so ask the restaurant first or just order rice-based noodles if you can. Spring rolls, dumpling and wonton wrappers can also contain eggs or dairy, and they also could be fried in the same oil used to fry meats.
Even for restaurants that say are vegan friendly, you still can’t let your guard down. I used to eat vegetable spring rolls at this “vegan friendly” joint, only to find out many spring rolls later via Yelp reviews that their wrappers contain eggs!
Meat substitutes or “fake meats” are very popular nowadays, especially in vegetarian restaurants. But a lot of times eggs or dairy can be found in the ingredients. For a long time I assumed “meat-free” meant vegan, boy I was in for a surprise when I found out it wasn’t.
That’s why I tend to support vegan certified brands such as Gardein Meatless Products, their meat substitute products are 100% guaranteed to be vegan, saving me the worry and stress of having to check everything.
Checking with The Restaurant
Some people may not take vegans’ requests seriously and that’s a problem. But if you ever need to substitute eggs or dairy in any kind of restaurant, you can just say that you’re allergic, the restaurant will see that as a liability risk and so will take it more seriously.
So just to recap, here are the main things you gotta be aware of:
- Check the stock they use. Is it chicken, beef or fish based? If it is, ask if they can substitute it with vegetable stock.
- Does the sauce of the dish contain any fish sauce?
- Make sure their noodles, wonton wrappers, and spring rolls are free of any eggs or dairy. Find out if they’re fried in the same oil used for fried meat items.
- If eating “fake meats” ask them to list out the ingredients, or to show you the packaging if possible.
When I first started vegan, I didn’t really know/care about little things like what stock they used or eggs in the noodles, but I do now. Which is why I tend to support vegan restaurants by going there instead whenever I can, and luckily for me I live near a lot of vegan places (well, within 20-30 minutes to the nearest one).
But I understand a lot of people probably don’t live in a big city and may not have access to even one vegan joint, so we gotta do what we gotta do.
Dishes You Can Look For on The Menu
While every Chinese restaurants’ menus may vary, you can usually find a few similar items from place to place. Here is an example of the things I often ordered off the menu of a non-vegan Chinese restaurant that I frequently ate from.
- Deep fried vegetable spring rolls
- Vegetable tofu lettuce wrap
- Spicy chili vegetable dumplings
- Vegetable pakora with chutney sauce
- Vegetable hot and sour soup
- Tofu hot and sour soup
- Imperial vegetable soup
- Steamed white or brown rice
- vegetable samosas with chutney sauce
- Kung pao vegetables with peanut sauce
- Eggplant with stir-fried green beans
- Broccoli sauteed with garlic
- Stir-fried mushrooms, green beans, bamboo shoots, and snow peas
- Deep fried crispy cauliflower
- Eggplant and okra curry
- Bean curd with bell peppers and black bean sauce
- Fresh shiitake mushrooms
- Shanghai style stir-fried vegetables
- Steamed tofu in a lotus leaf
- Tofu and eggplant
- Tofu in black bean sauce
- Crispy deep fried spicy tofu
- Sweet & sour tofu (this can substitute sweet & sour pork)
- Chili garlic tofu with gai-lan and baby corn
- Deep fried enoki mushroom on soft tofu
Noodles and Rice
- Shanghai chow mein with vegetables
- Vegetarian vermicelli (rice noodles)
- Manchurian vegetable chow mein
- Crispy noodles with vegetables and a black bean sauce
- Singapore style curry rice noodles
- Pan fried spinach noodles
- Fried Udon noodles with vegetables
- Vegetable fried rice (no egg)
- Pan fried sticky rice
- Assorted vegetables and tofu on rice
- Pine nut and cashews fried rice
Deep Fried Items
- Deep fried taro rolls
- Chili and pepper deep fried spicy tofu
- Crispy sweet and sour wonton
- Deep fried bean curd with seaweed
- Mango pudding (usually comes with cream separately to pour over, but you can tell them you don’t want any)
- Red bean paste pancake
- Sweet red bean soup
As you can see, the vegan option run pretty deep. Just be mindful of a few things, and it’s basically very simple.
So I hope this article helped those living in smaller cities or towns where vegan specific restaurants are non-existent. Eating out for a vegan can definitely come with some challenges, but it becomes easier once you know how to get the things you want.
Instead of eating out, you may also consider making your own Chinese food at home. I have a vegan beef and broccoli recipe that you can see by clicking HERE to get you started, and please leave any comments and questions down below in the box.