Strict vegetarians in Shanghai face a double-edged sword when it comes to staying meat-free. On the one hand, the country’s large Buddhist population means they are in good company. It is estimated that the total number of vegetarians in China reached about 50 million last year. However, while tofu dishes can be found on just about every Chinese menu, that doesn’t mean that the dishes are strictly meat-free. To vegetarians’ dismay, pork and meat-based broths are often used to give the soy-based dishes more flavor, and special requests (even simple ones like “no meat”) are not usually complied with (or understood).
Traditionally, meat is often sliced in very thin strips (肉丝, ròu sī) and used to flavor vegetable and tofu dishes, as opposed to being the star ingredient. China’s plant-based eating approach has long been praised by nutritionists and was shown to increase longevity and minimize cancers and other diseases, as documented in the much-lauded book The China Study. The researchers looked at changes in eating habits over time, analyzing 367 variables in 65 different counties in China with data from 6,500 adults, which showed thousands of “statistically significant associations between lifestyle, diet, and disease variables” that correlated with lower levels of cancer and disease for traditional plant-based diet adherents as compared to meat-heavy “Western diets.”
Whether you’re looking for a healthier diet, a meatless Monday dining option or a bowl of delicious meat-free noodles, here are our top picks for keeping veg.
You’ll often be dining shoulder to shoulder with monks from the local temple, just around the corner. Don’t miss their tea infusions.
Wei Xiang Zhai
These sesame-peanut noodles are the best in town and will leave you circling the block and coming back for more. At 9 RMB per bowl, they don’t break the bank, either!
Lanzhou La Mian
With picture menus and Halal preparation practices, rest assured you won’t find pork mixed in your dish. The freshly pulled noodles offer a base for a variety of stir-fried veggie topping options.
Wu Guan Tang
This Buddhist restaurant strives to showcase the essential flavor of the vegetables it serves – many of which are grown on the roof of the building – and the simple preparations change according to the season.
Lillian Cake Shop
Time for dessert! A trip to Shanghai isn’t complete without a stop at the famous Lillian’s Cake Shop for egg tarts. These dim sum classics are always warm out of the oven, with the flakiest crust imaginable.
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