Travelling as a vegetarian isn’t always the easiest thing to do. It’s often whittled down to a paltry choice between some kind of flavourless pasta/bread/rice/vegetable combination, leading to a frustratingly unimaginative diet and a constant barrage of temptation being thrown at whatever moralistic reason you no longer eat meat.
Despite a very near moment of weakness in Costa Rica two years ago, I’ve managed pretty well so far. But nowhere was as easy for me to remain positively adamant that my carnivorous side is in the past than China. And no, this wasn’t because the meat served in China was… err, strange, to put it nicely, it’s because the vegetarian food available was in.cred.ible. Blow your mind, eat until you can’t eat anymore, throw up, and then start eating again kind of incredible. Here’s some of my best China food memories:
1) 5am Chinese Steamed Buns.
I don’t know the Chinese name of these buns, much to the absolute dismay of my Slovenian companion and I. They’re absolutely different to anything I’d tasted in the West… kind of like bread, but a bit more soggy? My descriptions do it no justice. However, after discovering a taste for the mysterious buns, the spotting of a tiny shop making morning batches of these bad boys at the side of the street on the way home after a spontaneously crazy night in Beijing was like finding Mecca. We sat down and steadily made our through 36 of them between three of us. Dipped in fresh chilies and soy sauce. Kind of by accident… we didn’t mean to order three boxes, it just kind of happened. Still feeling full to bursting 12 hours later was absolutely worth it.
2) Breakfast Buffet to feed the 10,000 in Dongguan
For most Westerners, breakfast isn’t really a big deal… You know, a bit of toast, some cereal, fruit, yogurt… a croissant or cheese if you’re feeling continental. Aside from the English breakfast, I’ve never really experienced discomfort from eating so much first thing in the morning. So when the director of SPAR Dongguan invited us to have breakfast with him and his daughter, I was not prepared for the absolute feast we were presented with. Dishes and dishes of noodles, rice, spiced vegetables, meat in various sauces, those all important steamed buns… the list was endless. A strange but memorable experience.
3) Revolving Restaurant and the Shanghai Skyline
Due to a generous budget being afforded to me by the people sending me around the world, my travel compandres and I treated ourselves to dinner at the very swanky revolving restaurant in the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. The food wasn’t served on revolving tables, as such, I guess the rotating of the floor around tables and tables of food did the job. But the main experience here wasn’t the food (despite it being, yet again, mouth watering-ly, greed inducingly delicious) but it was the views. The entire of the glowing skyline of Shanghai over a three course meal. Words can’t really describe.
And it wasn’t just the food itself that was amazing, but the Chinese experience of eating. Huge round tables full of dishes and dishes of different foods served with green tea and, strangely, never water, with everyone seated at the table trying everything there is to offer, really appreciating the food in front of them and enjoying each others company. In a world that is increasingly too busy to sit down and eat a meal with themselves let alone in the company of others, this was a refreshing taste of Chinese culture that has stayed with me.