‘Cook Chinese in Yorkshire’ was the name of a Facebook Group I set up when I returned from 10 years in China. I have just renamed it ‘Cook Chinese vegan food’. http://Cook Chinese vegan food.
I can hear the cries of disbelief. Not many vegan specials on the menu at your local takeaway. Nor many vegans in China, except by necessity. And yet, for me, a vegan Chinese meal is the easiest to plan and cook.
The vegetables are the dishes
In China, the word cai means vegetables. It also means a dish of food ……..the vegetables are the dishes. A Chinese chef treats vegetables as ingredients in their own right, not insignificant sides. And in China veggies are cut, seasoned, and cooked to a turn; not roughly chopped and boiled or steamed.
In most Asian countries, a meal is a selection of dishes and everyone shares. It is polite to take a bit of each one, whether you like it or not. In the West, on the other hand, we choose what we like, and eat all of it. And more, often than not, its mainly meat or fish.
Meat, in China, was always scarce and used in shreds or small pieces. It was mainly pork. Pigs use the least resources and recycle the most. A committed vegetarian, I don’t dwell on this – it made sense at the time.
So Chinese people have hundreds of ways to cook delicious vegetable dishes. Vegan not vegetarian, simply because Chinese cuisine never adopted dairy.
Legumes and rice
Soya beans were the major source of protein in China. Tofu, in many guises, is made daily. I won’t discuss the pros and cons of soy; it has fed billions for generations. And any pulse, combined with rice makes a complete protein. If you are not a fan there are other pulses which you can use in your multi-dish meal. Mung beans, also used in China, are the most digestible.
Meat dishes travel
So why is it so difficult to find tasty vegan dishes at Chinese restaurants in the UK? It comes down to two things. Profits and practicality. Meat commands higher prices, has a long shelf life, and it is easy to source (pork is pork). Vegetables, on the other hand, need to be bought daily, and tend to vary from country to country.
Until recently, most customers have been happy with meat based menus, so little effort has been made to make Chinese style dishes with local British ingredients.
Watch this space.