Upon arriving to China, I was overwhelmed with the different and unfamiliar kinds of food that suddenly surrounded me. At first, I was apprehensive to try new things (especially as a vegetarian), but this didn't take long to fade as I learnt to ask what things were.
These days, I tend to cook at home and love using local vegetables in my dishes. When I want western food, I know which restaurants or supermarkets to go to or which online shops to order from. Coping with special diets can be more challenging in China, but it's most definitely doable. Plus, I get to try new recipes and share food with other people.
I have never had any problems with maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle in China. Many Chinese dishes include vegetables and tofu, and it's easy to ask for something without meat by simply saying “bu yao rou” (boo yow roe). I always source my fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and dried fruit from local vendors which also saves spending too much money or using too much packaging when buying from supermarkets. You do have to wash it properly in China though! In bigger cities like Shanghai, there are a plethora of vegetarian restaurants, as well as vegetarian options at most other restaurants (it's usually worth checking ahead!)
Maintaining a vegan lifestyle in China is becoming easier and easier with the rise of people adopting a vegan diet for health and environmental reasons. All vegetarian restaurants in Shanghai have vegan options, and there are also a range of different vegan restaurants around the city, and other first or second-tier cities. There are online shops such as ‘Go Vegan', ‘Kate and Kimi' or ‘Epermarket', providing vegan necessities and even luxuries, some of which can be sent to cities all over the country. If you don't have the option of eating in a vegan restaurant, there are many Chinese dishes which are ‘accidentally vegan'.
As mentioned before, Chinese dishes include many vegetables! What's more, buying things like nuts, grains and seeds locally is cheap, healthy and a good source of protein and vitamins. If you're unsure about which restaurants to go to, check the ‘Happy Cow' website or download the app. They provide both vegan and vegetarian restaurants in countries worldwide, as well as reviews about the food there.
More options are becoming available in import shops and supermarkets such as City Shop across the bigger cities of China. In Shanghai, I have seen gluten-free bread, biscuits, crackers and even cookies appear on shelves. Grains and legumes are widely available, as are online shops like ‘Kate and Kimi', ‘Epermarket', and western restaurants often have gluten-free options.
Living and working in China as a vegetarian, I've also picked up some tips and tricks. I always carry nuts and seeds or fruit with me to sustain me until I find somewhere to eat or get home, especially if I'm in an unfamiliar place or vegetarian options are scarce. So, if your dietary restrictions or values were putting you off moving to China, what are you waiting for? You'll be more than catered for and never alone!