International Meatless Day is celebrated on November 25. It is also known as International Vegetarian Day.
The special day was proposed on 25 November 1986, the birthday of Sadhu Vaswani, the educationist who initiated a mission to adopt vegetarian living.
It is estimated there are 50 to 68 million vegetarians in China, and the number is growing every year. In Shanghai alone, there are 298 registered vegetarian restaurants on the Dianping.com, a restaurant review app.
There is a long history of vegetarian diets in China. Prior to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) when meat sources were scarce, the majority of the population had to adopt a vegetarian diet. However, there is record of the promotion of healthy diets in Master Lu’s Spring and Autumn Annals (吕氏春秋), a Chinese classic text compiled around 239 BC, in which it said one should not overeat, as fatty meat and wine can harm one’s health when overly full.
The Esoteric Scripture of the Yellow Emperor, (黄帝内经), an ancient Chinese medicinal text (compiled in 221 BC), promoted a balanced diet and said one’s diet should be centered on grains, supplemented with vegetables and fruits. On top of that, meat also has health benefits, it said.
Vegetarian diets underwent a major development in the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD), when an abundance of new vegetables and seeds were brought from the West, such as celery, coriander, broad beans, cucumbers, and garlic.
In the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), a major development of the vegetarian diet was the invention of dishes made with vegetables that look like meat.
The two main ingredients to make these vegetarian dishes are bean products such as tofu. As a food that originated in China, it has been part of Chinese cuisine for over 2,000 years, since the Han Dynasty. It’s no wonder that it became one of the most popular vegetarian dishes.
Another major ingredient in bean product-based dishes is suji(素鸡). It is processed from tofu, and its chewy texture resembles that of meat, so it’s also called veggie chicken. It can be made into dishes that taste like fish, shrimp, and even pork.
There is also a popular vegetarian dish ingredient – wheat gluten(面筋). Made from flour, it can be used to make a series of mock meat dishes. When cut into thin slices and spiced up with seasonings, it can pass for meat in its look and taste.
As health preservation and environmental protection are increasingly embraced by the public, vegetarian food has garnered increasing attention over the years. In a 2019 industry report, the gross industrial output value of the vegetarian food industry in China reached US$11.952 billion.
If you wish to try out highly-rated vegetarian restaurants in Shanghai, here are a few recommendations.
The highest-rated vegetarian restaurant at Dianping.com. Dianping users recommend their Fried Rice with Black Truffle the most.
4th floor in the Taikoo Li Qiantan mall. W-L4-01
The Lakeside Veggie
Dianping user-recommended dishes: Deep Fried Lotus Root with Sweet and Sour Sauce; Matsutake Soup, and Sliced Mushroom.
No.016-017, 2nd floor at Poly Sunny Walk Plaza (No. 230, Ruiping Rd)
Dianping user-recommended dishes: Taiwan Burdock rice, Dai-flavor Bean Chops, Avocado Salad with Flaxseed
No. 411, Madang Rd