Category Archives: Travel – China

This category covers posts related to traveling in China, moving to China, learning Mandarin, Chinese culture, popular places etc…

Sea food

How to survive as a vegetarian in China!

Last year, I spent about 3 months in Shanghai on an exchange programme, and then another month back-packing across Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzen, Hong Kong etc…

There is no denying the fact that China is a culinary paradise! But, the Chinese love their meat, and almost every dish would have some meat – limiting the options for a vegetarian like me.
Being a food lover, there was no way I was going back without trying out some local food.
I learned how to survive as a vegetarian in China, yet sample the local cuisine, and more importantly, not go hungry!

Local eateries

Explaining the term ‘vegetarian’

If you are living or traveling as a vegetarian in China, there are two important things that you should be aware of:

  1. The term ‘vegetarian’ itself has a different meaning in China than what you would expect in certain other parts of the world or in India for example
  2. Even dishes which may not say ‘meat’ on the face may be cooked in chicken broth or contain minced meat or have fish sauce in them.

So, here are some ways by which I got my way around and loved it!

  1. Say more than just ‘vegetarian’ () – At the cost of going over-board, describe what exactly can you eat, and what you cannot.
    1. I don’t eat meat = Wǒ bu chī ròu (meat = ròu)
      • I don’t eat pork = Wǒ bù chī zhūròu
      • I don’t eat chicken = Wǒ bù chī ròu
    2. I don’t eat sea-food = Wǒ bù chī hǎixiān (seafood = hǎixiān)
      • I don’t eat fish = Wǒ bù chī
    3. I eat vegetables – Wǒ chī shūcài
    4. I eat eggs (chicken eggs) – Wǒ chī jīdàn

Remember that tones are important while saying these words. The underlined words can be found in our talking dictionary for pronunciation reference.

Finding vegetarian restaurants

Although a rare sight, there are some vegetarian restaurants in almost all major cities in China.

  1. Buddhist Temples: China has a large Buddhist population. Almost all Buddhist temples have vegetarian restaurants inside them. These restaurants also contribute to the funds for running the temples. You’d find a variety of vegetarian delicacies and some very creative and interesting meat substitutes using tofu (for the much needed protein). Some of my favorites were the Jade Buddha Temple in Shaghai and The Chi Lin Nunnery in Hong Kong
  2. Happy cow website: ( This website is a savior for vegetarians. I suggest you bookmark it :) . Happy cow helps in searching for vegetarian and vegan restaurants and stores

Ordering vegetarian in normal restaurants

If you are traveling or living in China, then restricting yourself to vegetarian restaurants may be limiting – specially if you have friends who aren’t vegetarians.
There are some common vegetarian dishes that were available in most of the restaurants I had food in. Some of the vegetarian Chinese dishes are absolutely delicious! Most places that I tried (be it fancy restaurants or road side eateries), the staff is usually friendly enough to pay attention to your request provided you are clear enough and polite :)

  1. Ask for an English menu wherever possible, although some of the street eateries will not have these
  2. Some of the dishes that are usually vegetarian:
    1. Rice – You would usually find vegetarian fried rice (chǎo fàn shūcài) or a plain bowl of rice (mǐfàn) everywhere. Fried rice would usually have egg though
    2. Bok choy (Báicài;  literally “white vegetable”; also spelled Pak choi, Bok choi, and Pak choy) is a Chinese cabbage like vegetavle with succulent, white stems with dark green leaves. Báicài xiānggū is a classic Chinese dish with Bok Choy and mushrooms
    3. Mushroom (Mógu) gravies and mushroom soups – some of the wild mushroom dishes are delicious and highly recommended!
    4. Vegetable side dishes – Chinese culture is a lot about sharing food. There are a lot of side dishes which will be made up of purely vegetables. So order a couple of side dishes and you’d have a hearty meal! Some of the eggplant (qiézi) dishes are quite nice!
    5. Noodles (Miàntiáo) – make sure you say Miàntiáo bu ròu (Noodles no meat)
    6. Breads and buns (Miànbāo and Bāozi) – as a last resort only!
  3. Make sure you double check before you order and before you start eating: Does it have meat in it? = Yǒu ròu ma?
  4. You could also ask them to make a version without meat: Kěyǐ zuò méiyǒu ròu de ma? = You can do without meat?
  5. At times, the staff may not be completely sure of what is going into the food. So, when your food arrives make sure you double check and if you find meat just make a polite request to change the dish
  6. Tea – although not a filler, the variety of tea you’d get in and around China is amazing! They are healthy, delicious and certainly vegetarian :) Try the flower tea and the ones with Goji berries!


If you have the means then I’d highly recommend taking inspiration from the local cuisine and trying out vegetarian versions in your own kitchen!Homestyle

The kind of ingredients you’d find in China is amazing! Get your hands on some local produce like Bok choy, spinach, tofu, garlic, schezwan peppercorns (numbingly spicy!) and add in some local flavors (sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar) – you will relish these healthy & delectable dishes and I guarantee you’d be cooking them long after you’re back (well, I do!)

The last thing I’d say is – don’t let your personal food preference become a barrier in your experience or your interaction with the locals! Have an easy going attitude and be tolerant of their food choices – just learn to get your way around to have your preferences met!

Experiencing China and Chinese food is worth every cent – do not miss out on it!

Moving to China – Tips, Must-dos, Learning Mandarin and more!

Hello! A quick introduction – My name is Anusuya Mitra, I am an Indian, and I work in PR with a global agency. Have been in this field for over five years.

Last year, I decided to get married and change countries. China has always fascinated me and I was more than excited to get away from Bombay, hopefully with a job. I got here about six months ago, in Feb, bang in the middle of winter! Smartly, I landed with one thick (and I mean thick heavy Mussoorie-type) woolen jacket, and knew it was a dumb idea the moment I stepped out of Shanghai airport and froze in the winter winds.

My Shift to China

Getting my agency to place me in the Shanghai office took a long time but worked out.

My role changed from PR, because I lacked a key skill i.e. speaking Mandarin, which inhibits me from interacting with the media (and to some extent clients).

However, long story short, after sorting out the paperwork – a signed contract, a work visa (Z type), residence permit – I took the leap, and am fast settling down in this fast paced, exciting city!

Making the move

1) Getting the visa: The biggest challenge while moving for me was getting the visa. I had to show a bank balance of ~3000$ minimum, a Chinese invitation letter from the authorities, and a full medical checkup (if going through an agent, be very careful of what form you fill out, mine was outdated the first time around, and I had to pay extra for the agent’s mistake and to fill the correct form).

The forms keep changing so it is best to read what’s marked out on the VFS site for China visas carefully.

For Indians traveling from India (unlike Singapore), you have to get an appointment for a second medical test in China upon few days of arrival. Basically get poked twice for blood tests (which was huge for a needle-phobe like me).

2) Accommodation: I got lucky in my move because one key thing – accommodation + house lease – were already sorted out thanks to my then-boyfriend-now-husband. My colleague experienced a lot of pain around this. She moved from Singapore to Shanghai, and had to first stay at a hotel, look for a house, go through various brokers and deals, find a place, get a lease in order followed by a residence permit to be allowed to have her stuff shipped in from Singapore.

The language barrier – You must know Mandarin!

Moving to China is a unique experience, because unlike Bangkok, France or Germany, even though you would be told that no one speaks English, it can be a shock in Shanghai that hits you – NO ONE speaks or understands a single syllable of English.
You won’t comprehend the depth of this reality till you experience it yourself.

Cab drivers, shopkeepers, gatekeepers, waiters, cops, garbage collectors – no one can communicate with you if you don’t have a very good grasp of the language (which is not impossible).

Of course, elite restaurants, expat hubs (bars, pubs), your colleagues and that RARE cabbie/ noodle-shop guy are okay with English, but overall this is a totally Chinese speaking country.

Nothing happens if you say ‘taxi’, ‘station’, ‘food’, ‘yes’, ‘what’ and so on, unlike in India, where even in the most rural area, words like cycle, scooter are known in English. The Chinese have their own word for everything – even brands such as McDonald’s, IKEA, StarBucks, Costa Coffee, etc have their own Chinese names.

The other challenge is that if you know the word in Chinese, you are probably going to say it wrong. Pronunciation falls flat unless you know the correct tone. For eg. For a street named Kangding Lu (Lu = road), one has to say it 3-4 times, emphasizing different parts of the word!

This 4-toned language is difficult to master, but possible if one is dedicated and invested.

I took one lesson (free trial) that convinced me that I needed to do this full time. French seems like a cake-walk now! So, it is possible to live without knowing the language fully, and getting by using Google translate or on a few phrases for shopping and traveling around the city.

But, it is a huge plus to know both English and Mandarin, as that opens up your career options.

Learning Mandarin needs patience, as it is way different from our notion of learning a new language. Mandarin (and Cantonese – spoken in north China and HK) are very tough.

The culture

In China, culturally I find many similarities to India.

Food is a big part of the daily life here, and families/ friends share their food.

Most cities in China have a one-child policy, with some exceptions, so kids are usually quite spoilt. Education is a top priority for both girls and boys.
Here the legal system seems to be quite strict and fast acting. Crime therefore is low. I, as a woman, feel safer in China, than I’ve ever felt in India.
Coming to alcohol, the Chinese, at least a majority, have a gene that cannot digest alcohol the way we can, so you won’t see much of the folks here getting wasted at bars on weekends (that’s what we expats do :) ). They are an active population and take their sport seriously, be it running, flying kites, playing badminton, swimming, etc…

Shanghai has lots of well-maintained parks, which are favorite recreation zones for families. It’s common to see various groups of middle aged to elderly women dance in perfect sync at dusk, after dinner.

Unlike in India, dinner time here is 6 pm, lunch at 12pm and breakfast at an hour when I’m dead to the world.

In formal (office dinners) meals, it is a ritual to toast a traditional alcohol.

If the boss toasts, it is imperative everyone else take a sip of their drink, and this has to be done every time a toast is called by the boss. It is offensive to decline to drink at such gatherings.

Newspapers/ magazines on stands here are in Chinese, barring a few special bookstores where you get English books.

Also, Vaseline petroleum jelly is unavailable. So get used to using lip balms for chapped lips (doesn’t work for me, esp in winters).

Must-see spots in and around Shanghai

There are lots of Buddhist temples in China though this is an atheist country, and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen all. In Shanghai, some of the places to visit are Jade Buddha Temple, The Bottle Opener building (100 floors!), Yu Yuan gardens, Nanjing Lu (shopping), tourist spots like Tianzifang, Xintiandi, some tea houses, the nearest water town Qibao, and make the most of the street food!
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In Beijing, the Great Wall and Forbidden City of course top the list, followed by the Summer Palace. Other parts of China which I really want to visit include Xian (where the Terracota soldiers are), Nanjing (because of its history), Guilin (scenic beauty), Mongolia, among others. Also, pop in for a massage whenever you feel like it. There is a massage parlor every 10 meters here.


Chinese cities are developing at a pace that is unreal and super hectic mad fast. Shanghai is a shining example of this country’s pace of development, and the dedication to achieve international status as a cosmopolitan city!

There are lots of opportunities here as well for those aspiring to open their own business or teach English (very lucrative) or just looking for an adventure. This is a travel hot spot, and has plenty to offer to foodies as well.

Different parts of China have different dialects, rituals, foods, and characteristics, very much like India. A Chinese stint will only add to your resume and enrich your life. Give it a go!