A vegetarian’s guide to food in Shanghai

If you’re a less-than-adventurous eater, you will find this list very handy

The Vegetarian Voyage Food Tour

To ensure there are no pork shavings in your tofu dish (for flavour, Chinese-style), rely on the experts. Take a tour of Shanghai’s best vegetarian offerings, which includes everything from street food to fine-dining restaurants. Try the Qingcai Baozi, a steamed bun with a bok choi, mushroom and star-anise-marinated tofu filling. The “tea eggs” (Cha Ye Dan) are hard-boiled eggs marinated in tea with vinegar, cinnamon and soya sauce. Be sure to try the desserts afterward. You cannot savour the yummy cuisine of Shanghai in just a day. So check into one of the Shanghai Hotels and plan a week’s stay. Each day, try some new dish and experience the exotic flavours.

Chunfeng Songyue Vegetarian Restaurant

Attached to the Old Town God Temple, this restaurant is popular with tourists and the devout Buddhist locals. Traditional vegetarian food, noodles, and dumplings are on offer here. Try the Caibao (vegetable steamed buns) that are soft, delicious and filling. The Chunjuan (spring rolls) are packed with fresh veggie goodness. The fake-meat Orange Peel Duck (Chenpi Suya) will leave you wondering why anyone would bother with the real bird. Check in to one of the Huangpu Hotels and stay comfortably. Spend a day to dine in impressive restaurants like Chunfeng Songyue that offers delightful variety in vegetarian food.

Godly (Gong de Lin)

This is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Shanghai, and the years of experience clearly show. The décor is old-world Chinese with engraved gates, wood curtains and traditional bluestone floor. Located just off People’s Square, the food here is fake-meat (mock pork, chicken and duck) and light but satisfying. If you’re just feeling snacky, skip the mains and try the soft veggie buns, wontons, and the mung bean cakes. There are several options among hotels in Jing’am. Check into one of these and plan a week’s stay to really savour the unique flavours of cuisines here.

Jen Dow

This five-star veg restaurant is huge: lunch and dinner buffets comprise over 200 dishes, and extends beyond Chinese to Japanese and Italian as well. Located next to the Jing’An Buddhist Temple, the restaurant is split over two floors. The first focuses primarily on rice and noodle dishes, with every vegetable under the sun boiled, cooked, grilled or fried. The second level is more an easy-going café that serves pizzas, pastas, and desserts, along with the customary teas and coffee. Surf the list of hotels in Xuhui. There are many options and you will surely find one to suit your tastes.

Ji Xiang Cao (Lucky Zen) Vegetarian Restaurant

Dressed up in the traditional décor of bluestone floors and wooden furniture, with zither music piped in for an authentic zen-like ambience, this restaurant does away with the gluten or soya-based fake meat concept, and focuses on fresh, crunchy vegetables. The melt-in-your-mouth Cold Bamboo Tofu is exquisitely flavoured with peppercorns, chili oil, cilantro and peanuts. Mushroom preparations are hot favourites here. Try the classic ‘Ants on a Log’ noodle preparation with chillies and scallions. You can start your travel plans to Shanghai early. Surf the list of flights to Shanghai, check timings and baggage rules before picking your flight.

The Freshary

Not a restaurant, but a one-stop shop for the most delicious and wholesome desserts and baked-goods, this little outlet is a vegetarian’s dream. Only organically-grown eco-sustainable ingredients are used here; try their innovative and creative preparations of cupcakes, pretzels, and freshly-baked cookies. Also try the range of ice-creams. For the beleaguered vegetarian in a meat-eating country, this is truly a godsend. There are number of hotels in Luwan Xintiandi that are ideal for tourists and travellers. Book into any of this and plan your stay accordingly.

Vegetarian Lifestyle

This place is tiny, but the food is so exquisite that you can expect a line to get in. But the wait is well rewarded. Creativity and exquisite flavouring/seasoning are the hallmarks here. Spicy red cabbage with chili oil, celery and walnuts with black beans, corn-flavoured tea, multiple mushroom preparations, mock-meat dishes, organic rice and the ever-delicious dumplings. On your way out, stop at the organic shop and stock up for hotel-snacking. Stay in Fengxian Hotels and rest for the night. Travel around to enjoy impressive foods and exotic flavours of China.

The Vegeatery

If its shopping-mall location does not bother you, this place is ideal for the shopper with a vegetarian palate. It boasts of a ‘trendy healthy cuisine’, and does not disappoint. Choose from a two-course lunch or just the open salad bar, or both. The soups are fresh, the noodle preparations inventive and creative, and the menu reads like a protein-lover’s dream, with varieties of beans and mushrooms forming the main ingredient.

New Age Veggie

A new-age veggie/vegan restaurant in the new-age location of Pudong, it has been accused of having a garish décor. But the reports on the food, hygiene and service are unequivocally excellent. Try the vegetarian Bibimbap, a Korean speciality, or the vegetarian steak. In the fake-meat section, the Rock Fish is particularly good, and the Spicy Mashed Potato is a people’s favourite. For the tourist/shopper on the go, there is a wide selection of sandwiches and pizzas. So plan your stay in Hotels in Lujiazui. These are comfortable and possess all modern amenities.

Jade Buddha Temple Vegetarian Restaurant

One of Shanghai’s most popular tourist destinations demands a restaurant for the hungry traveller, one that ideally fits the Buddhist vegetarian ethic. They go a step further and eschew the fake-meat dishes for mushroom-heavy preparations, with crisp and crunchy fresh-produce vegetables. The emphasis here is also on Shanghainese cuisine, which is tinged with a little sweetness and invariably oily, unless you specify otherwise. Stay in one of the hotels in Jing’am for at least a week. An elaborate stay will allow you to explore the unseen facets of the place.

CNT Insider Tip:

Apart from the restaurants listed here and a few others, be very careful of the Chinese definition of vegetarian: Chinese vegetarians consider meat a flavour, not an actual ingredient, thus allowing pork and fish-stock preparations and sprinklings of meat and shrimp in their ‘vegetarian’ fare.