VU in Beijing China
As is often the case, you can find scrumptious vegan meals in every corner of the world, and China is no exception. Granted, I was nervous about going to Beijing knowing that the international dish of China was duck drenched in lard, and not speaking a lick of Chinese beyond ‘hello’, ‘thank-you’ and ‘beer please’, I had my work cut out for me.
I stayed in the Hutongs of old Beijing in a quant cosy backpackers aptly called On the City Walls. The snow had suppressed the worst of the pollution and the closure of factories over Lunar New Year meant smog was at an all time low. Even so, the streets echoed of celebratory fireworks day and night and the smoke of incense could be seen beyond the temple walls.
My favourite vegan restaurant in Beijing was Xu Xiang Zhai which offered mouth-water dishes in its extensive buffet. disappointingly I found it at the tail end of my trip so was only able to dip into their exotic meals the once. They were conveniently located across from The Lama Temple, a Beijing tourist attraction sporting a three storey high Buddha.
As well as a unique vegan buffet of sushi, tangsu-u and kungpow chicken, Xu Xiang Zhai offer an a la carte menu and take home TSP (Textured Soy Protein) in a variation of marinades and textures. This will blow you away – two servings of caramelized chicken ‘meat’ in a sweet and sour sauce cost the equivalent of US$2. Of course I bought 7.
Mock meats and marinated vegetables at Xu Xiang Zhai Restaurant.
The second favorite place to eat in Beijing was Baihe Vegetarian Restaurant. Again, the food was incredible, rich in spices and heat with an array of herbal teas and quant side dishes such as roasted asparagus or bamboo shoots.
Every time I ate at Baihe I noticed the calm, relaxed atmosphere. Families and friends sat along a central table exchanging stories and jokes while couples romantically touched hands in the dimly lit corners. I was comfortable sitting alone and didn’t draw the usual unwanted attention of being the only western person in the restaurant.
The restaurant itself was hidden down an alleyway in the Hutongs of old Beijing. The courtyard would be stunning during warmer months when tables and chairs set the scene for an impressive nights sky.
This one dish in particular impressed me. It was a variety of mushrooms served with peppers and cilantro. The deep flavors left memories in my mouth which I recall to this day. It was delivered upon the heat of a candle and would’ve made for a perfect shared dish. I however, gobbled the whole thing as was my obligation as the only person at the table.
Overall I was content with the food options in Beijing. I did go out of my way to find decent food but there were choices for the less motivated. I saw street vendors selling corn and rice cakes, cafes sold salads and sandwiches and Subway stores were dotted around the city. Plus many touristy centers offered western food, at western prices.
Beijing has a lot to offer. The people are very generous with their time and in their efforts to help I seldom felt I was being taken advantage of. It’s a fascinating place drenched in culture and history. But more on that in the next post.