I just returned from a three week trip to China where I was visiting my sister, playful pandas, and the Great Wall. It was a great vacation with highlights including Chinese massages with back-cracking, volunteer caretaking for two wonderful panda bears (Lulu and Meching) in Szechuan, and, of course, lovely culinary delights!
There is a lot of meat in Chinese cuisine, but also tofu, so as a pescetarian I didn't have any real difficulties...except in actually communicating "no meat please." The Lonely Planet food section was very helpful as I pointed to the Chinese characters for "I am a vegetarian" and "spicy tofu." Many Buddhist temples had vegetarian restaurants attached with lots of scruptious mock meat dishes and bean pastries. Some restaurants had menus in English although the descriptions themselves were sometimes confusing or vague. A lot of dishes simply said "meat," since the Chinese word for pork can also be used for meat in general. In addition, there was "fish like squirrell," in which the fishtail curled upwards to the ceiling (quite tasty).
Things I want to try:
The best food I had was at the restaurant in the Bifenxia Panda Park next to the traditional-style hostel I stayed at while volunteering. We had noodles for breakfast with green vegetables or egg and tomato. They made lovely pan-fried green beans, and dished up noodles with spicy chili sauce containing a Szechuan peppercorns that made the left-side of my mouth tingle and vibrate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sichuan_pepper). Remember the Starbust party-in-the-mouth commercials? Yeah, well, they've got nothing on these little peppercorn punches!
Also memorable were the fresh noodles with egg and tomato served at a Muslim restaurant in Pudong near Thumb Plaza. The noodle guy makes them fresh and cuts them into the boiling water to-order. Nothing like fresh, hot pasta on a cold winter's day to make you love a new place.I also loved the roasted chestnusts sold on every street corner. And the milk tea! And the little steamed baotze balls filled with cabbage or a darker, kale-like veggie! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baozi Every morning, I saw people lining up for baotze and I quickly joined the queues. Hot pot was neat - putting veggies and dumplings in a heated bowl of boiling broth. In Beijing, my sister and I found a night market with an entire street of food vendors lined up with fried noodles, fried ice cream, fried scorpion, fried beetles, fried centipede, fried starfish, fried dough, fried dumplings, fried rice, fried honeybees, and the list goes on. Yep, no oil spared here my friends. I partook of the fried ice cream and fried banana balls (which btw, contained absolutely no banana) while my more adventurous (and carnivore) sister nibbled on crunchy centipede and scorpion. Yes, many pictures were taken.
Things I want to try:
Bao tze balls
Noodles with egg and tomato
Using mushrooms better (the golden mushrooms were lovely)
Doing my own hot pot