My first visit to China was short and all I could risk to enjoy local experience was to take the local train instead of an boring taxi. I wrote down the hotel address “Hotel Regent, 99 Jinbao Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing 100005, China” on a piece of paper and started from office along with my colleagues to the hotel. Ignoring warnings of my colleagues I dared to take the subway and got down at WangFuJing station. It was only then I realized I am in a real foreign country. Nobody was able to read the address from the slip of paper, neither they were able to identify the hotel name. And thanks to one gentleman who showed me the wrong direction. I almost walked two kilometers in the wrong direction when one European victim trying to locate his hotel helped me with the right direction. I managed the visit with continental and Indian vegetarian food so I didn’t have a feel of Chinese food.
It was during my second visit I ventured Chinese recipes. My Indian colleagues always warned me taking Chinese food worrying it might not be vegetarian and may not suit my appetite. But curiosity didn’t leave me. My Chinese colleagues took me to restaurants and helped me find the best vegetarian dishes. I was surprised to see them explain the restaurant personnel for at least ten minutes each time they order for me. I could member only a lots ‘bu sha’s’. Curious I asked them what these ‘bu cha’s’ are. It is a form of ‘no’ and they were ordering something with ‘no meat’, ‘no fish’, ‘no sea food’, ‘no egg’, ‘no pork’ etc… I wondered if there is no single word for vegetarian. True, if they forget any of the bu sha’s you can expect the left outs to be there in your recipe. But it is really worth it, I should say chinese vegetarian is really that good. For Indians, Chinese vegetarian would be a surprise in China as all that we get in India named as Chinese is only Indian.
The tempting Chinese dishes forced me to try them myself even when my colleagues are not there around me. One weekend in the Hotel I stayed (this hotel was Chinese) I ordered fried rice that was supposed to be vegetarian as explained in the menu. When it was served I was surprised to see egg along with it. So explained her bu sha mutton, bu sha chicken, bu sha egg, bu sha seafood, bu sha fish. The item was brought back with pork in it. Oops! I forgot the bu cha pork. I explained her again and she asked me ‘like goat?’. No! I screamed, bu sha goat (mutton?). A few seconds later I recognized that she was mentioning me as goat for eating only the greeny stuff.
Next time in a restaurant I explained all the bu sha’s without fail only to receive a reply ‘bu sha food. Get out!’. They are quite sentimental about food. I still wanted to try. I carried a pocket dictionary with me which had the Chinese word for vegetarian. Guess what! no body could understand what it really meant even in Chinese. Now I understood why it was hard for my colleagues to explain vegetarian food.
Chinese McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC do not have vegetarian meals. I have to manage with fries and fruits pies. However surprisingly Domino’s has a all vegetarian pizza (http://www.dominos.com.cn/english/pizza/pizza.asp# Look for Tomato Vegetable) . He looked surprised at me and mentioned that I was the first to order that particular pizza in his experience. I don’t know how long he was working at Dominos but it’s a comment worth mentioning.
The best of all Chinese dishes in the ‘Gan Bian Dou Jiao’ (Green beans fried with ample dried red chilli). Spicy and lip smacking it was a part of my every order. Next on the list would be sauted mushrooms, stir fired vegetables and the pumpkin cake. But beware! if you forget the bu sha’s you can expect some pork sprinkled on the dishes!
Chinese Vegetarian in an real experience! You cannot buy it, you have to earn it!
Note: People travelling to Beijing need not worry as there are some few Indian restaurants that serve good north Indian food (veg & non-veg). The Taj Pavilion at China World Trade Center is a good one.