Monday, 21 May 2007

Bodhi-Sake -- veg restaurant in BJ

I went for two of my favourite hobbies yesterday, one was tango but I'll tell you of the second, trying out new vegetarian restaurants. This one is near Taoranting park, relatively close to the Temple of Heaven, so after touring either of the places you might want to pay a visit. I heard about the place from China Daily, their review is here.

The atmosphere in this restaurant is really calm and peaceful, and I found it great to eat outside in the courtyards of the former monastery. On colder or rainy (who am I kidding, it never rains in Beijing!) days you might want to eat indoors in one of the many buildings. Some of the buildings farther back work as temples with Buddha statues one can pray at.

The menu was extensive and contained a variety of mock meat dishes as well as proper vegetable dishes. It was bilingual (Chinese and English) and even had descriptions of the foods and their health effects in both languages, as well as pictures of many of the dishes. This was also far better than the usual Chinglish, the English descriptions were at least mostly proper language. We went for a fried "fish" which was delicious and had some sea flavour due to being wrapped in seaweed; an interesting and absolutely heavenly mushroom dish with a Tibetan sauce that the staff verified was vegan, as well as noodles is soybean sauce which turned out to be quite necessary as the portion sizes were pretty small. The prices were also slightly higher than in most vegetarian restaurants in Beijing, not to speak of the regular restaurants, but the food was totally worth the price! The mushroom dish came with an amazing pagoda decoration made of a carrot, it just looked deli so I had to eat it which raised a bunch of smiles and laughter from the staff as it was supposed to be just decoration and not to be eaten. But why would good food be wasted, eh? :-)

Luckily they were also celebrating Buddha's birthday, and therefore every table was given a wish tablet that could be hung on a 400-year-old tree at the back of the restaurant. Usually one has to pay for it. This tree is supposed to bring blessings in bringing people together in love, so I made sure I wrote a related wish... in Finnish, surely the Buddha understands all languages. They gave people some literature to go with, I haven't really even tried to read through what it was, all in Chinese of course.

This is certainly one of the better vegetarian restaurants in Beijing and definitely worth another visit!

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Vegan life in China

China has a long vegetarian tradition due to Buddhism, there was quite a bunch of vegetarians in China a thousand years ago. Things have changed, however, for the worse. Nowadays vegetarianism is largely unknown except for Buddhist monks. The common question to vegetarians would be if they eat onions -- this surprised me at first, but the Buddhists don't and ethical veg*nism isn't really known here. However, things aren't quite as gloomy as that may sound, for the tradition in cooking persists.

The big cities in China have a number of vegetarian restaurants... about one per million inhabitants, but nonetheless. They can usually be found near or even inside temples, or one can look up where they are from the internet, a list is maintained here by the International Vegetarian Club of Beijing -- but only in Chinese. I'll translate at least some of it here later. They're not completely vegan, but some do not use eggs at all and Chinese cooking generally doesn't use dairy, so most of the things served are suitable for vegans.

As for the regular restaurants, things are more difficult. Tofu dishes often have meat in them, and vegetables may be prepared in meat broth. These are easy to prepare differently though, and most restaurants are willing to do so when asked -- in Chinese. Language skills are essential here. I haven't tested the reception of the Vegan Passport, it might be of use. Generally speaking the south is easier than the north and the east easier than the west... and the big cities much easier than small towns.

The food you get in these is generally quite tasty, although rich in oil. This is the home of tofu, so that is plentiful. The vegetarian restaurants have a plethora of mock meat and fish dishes, to the degree that one starts wondering what is the point. The most ridiculous thing is the vegetarian "pork", where they even add a fake layer of fat on top! Why not imitate better than reality?

The universal key to eating vegan, however, is cooking vegan. The shops and markets sell nearly every kind of vegetable you may want, and tofu is indeed aplenty. They have all sorts of fake meat things in many supermarkets also, a thing that makes you wonder if there is some sort of hidden vegetarianism under the covers. But if you're into cooking Western style vegan food, do note that they generally don't have ovens in China, and that makes things a lot more difficult. Some of your usual ingredients may not be around either, or may be hard to find, especially if you don't speak the language. The big international supermarket chains like Carrefour do have a lot of Western foodstuffs around.

Overall, veganism in China isn't too bad at all, but be prepared for things going wrong sometimes as people won't always understand and they do make mistakes. There can be positive surprises too. Like when I was on a train from Shanghai to Beijing and they served us dinner, I refused the food by telling the train attendant I was vegetarian. To my utter surprise she returned a few minutes later with a completely vegan meal that inspired the meat-eaters in my cabin to ask her "Why does he get better food than us?". Her reply kept me smiling for days: "Because he's vegetarian." :-)


Who? I'm a vegan guy from Finland, into travelling, languages, hiking, running, swimming, dancing tango, cooking, reading, writing, trying new things -- anything that doesn't hurt others.

What? For years I've had a dream of travelling around the world, at a slow pace, spending possibly decades at it. I want to see every place there is, spend a few months everywhere, and figure out what the nicest place was then.

Where? I'm starting from China. I've actually spent over two years in China when starting this blog, and other countries are likely to see less time spent in them. But China was always an interest to me.

When? I'm starting the "charity business" that should fund the travels and give me location freedom in 2008. Before that, I'm based in Beijing, but certainly travelling around.

How? How to travel would be mostly by ground transportation, I want to avoid air travel mostly due to the pollution but also because it's just more fun to see the gradual changes to different cultures and environments. How to fund the travels is something that I'm about to start soon, a company of my own providing services that can be done from anywhere for other companies, and most importantly, putting all profits into charity.