Tag Archives: vegetarian

A Love for Liangpi

nomeatwhop
Image courtesy of this blog. https://wifemothereventplanner.com/2013/03/07/big-mac-without-the-mac/

 

“Can I have a Whopper with Cheese, only hold the meat patty.” I crossed my arms. “I would also like …”

“Excuse me.” The Morgantown, West Virginia, Burger King cashier shot me a look that actively mingled confusion with disgust. “What did you just order?”

“Whopper with cheese, minus the meat.”

“So, um, you don’t want a burger without the actual burger?”

“Exactly.”

“You just want condiments and cheese in a bun?”

“Yep.” I nodded slightly. “And fries. I want French fries, too – with a Diet Coke.”

“Um, okay.” She tapped the order into her register.

I saw her mouth the word weirdo under her breath while slightly shaking her head. I really didn’t care. This whole scenario played out multiple times during the 1990’s and my years as a university student in Appalachia. This wasn’t the first time I ordered a tomato, pickle, onion, and cheese sandwich from a fast food joint. It wasn’t the last, either.

You see, I used to be a vegetarian. The reasons are best saved for another time, but in retrospect, they were more out of punk rock vanity than concerns over my health.  I was a very bad vegetarian who consistently made poor dietary choices. Instead of evaluating the nutritional content of my food, I just ate a lot of eggs, steamed vegetables, cheese, and faux meat. Not Dogs? Yup, always in a bun and usually smothered in coleslaw. Fake ham? Absolutely! Especially if I wrapped it around a breaded cheese stick and dipped it into a barbecue sauce. Most of my diet consisted of easily microwaved GMO soy-based foods like Morning Star Farms. In short, I ate a lot of junk food.

One day, I woke up and realized that the counter cultural idealism of my twenties didn’t make for healthy living. Actually, I realized I was a clueless idiot. So, I stopped being a vegetarian who used to call strawberry ice cream dinner, and I eased myself back into sensible, balanced meat consumption. Fish without bones first, followed by poultry, pork, and beef. Now, many people can argue that I have many dreadful habits – rampant neurosis, heavy drinking, saying I am going to go to the gym while never going, and incessant chain smoking, for example.  Correcting all of that is an ongoing work in progress. It is work. It is in progress. I promise.  And, while I am no longer a vegetarian and never will be one again, I still have the upmost respect for people who have made that choice and know how to do it the right way. I also still enjoy eating proper vegetarian and vegan foods from time to time.

I know the challenges that come with it, especially when you are travelling and cannot cook for yourself. I also know that maintaining that lifestyle choice in China is not particularly easy. Being a vegan here is even worse. Sometimes, even a vegetable-only dish has been cooked in or is swimming in pork fat. Noodle soups are even more deceptive. Do you know what was used to make the base broth? Can you be absolutely sure when you are starving, in a Chinese city you don’t recognize due to travel, and walk into a restaurant? Can you ask a restaurant owner if something has an animal by-product in it without coming off like a complete jerk who is using his phone as a translator? Sometimes, that is easier said than done.

I thought about this while between classes at Hohai University, recently. There are plenty of small restaurants between that school’s west gate and Xinbei Wanda Plaza. Like all eateries, some of them survive and some do not last six months. Needless to say, I eat dinner in this area a lot because it’s right next to where I work. It was in one of these places where I stared at a plate of noodles and realized I was eating something totally vegan without realizing it. It was a dish called 凉皮 liángpí.

Yes, the two quail eggs are not exactly vegan friendly, but they can be picked out, and most basic liangpi dishes do not have them.
Yes, the two quail eggs are not exactly vegan friendly, but they can be picked out, and most basic liangpi dishes do not have them.

 

The Chinese for that literally translates as “cold skin.” Yeah, I know. It sounds rather disgusting – as if you are eating something that has been flayed off of a person or animal. Only, it isn’t that. In my experience, the character 皮usually refers to a sheet of something very thin in texture. For example, 豆腐皮 dòufu pí literally translates as “tofu skin” and is a common add-on ingredient in hotpot places and other restaurants that allow you to customize.

So, what exactly is liangpi? It’s a cold and wide rice noodle served in vinegar. Sometimes, chili oil can be added to spice things up. Typically, shredded cucumber, spongy tofu, and crunchy peanuts are involved. Since it is served cold, it’s usually best ate during hot weather. This dish originally comes from Shaanxi, but it is now so popular and widespread, it can be found nearly anywhere in small restaurants or as street food. It’s also relatively cheap. So, for vegans and vegetarians alike, this is a potentially a quick and easy lunch choice.

However, since liangpi has spread all over Changzhou, there are multiple variations and a lot of them have meat added. Some of the these options can include…

IMG_20180610_214442

Lean beef.

IMG_20180612_215739

Shredded chicken.

IMG_20180612_220211

Ground pork.

Really, cold rice noodles are an extremely versatile dish — from it’s vegan friendly base to just about anything the shop in question likes to add to fill out their menu board. This is why I am not really providing a map location. This dish really is that widespread throughout the city. However, there was one place where, between my Hohai classes, I had a blast from the past.

IMG_20180612_220838

This is 农少爷 nóng shàoyé. It focuses more on the Xian variety of liangpi. It recently opened, and I see a lot of university students crammed in here during dinner and lunch rushes. Their “Chinese hamburger” sandwich 肉夹馍 ròu jiā mó is excellent. However, while exploring their menu over multiple days, I ran into this.

IMG_20180612_220143

It is 蔬菜夹馍 shūcài jiā mó — a bun stuffed with vegetables.Biting into this made me think of 20 years ago, during a different time and a different life. A time where I walked into Burger Kings and asked for a hamburger-without-actual-hamburgers. I was young with a huge vinyl record collection of punk rock and death metal albums with titles like Save for Your Doomed Future. If I could talk to that kid, I would tell him that his future — while having some devastating rock bottom moments — isn’t all that bad.

A Non-Salad Vegetarian Dining Option

 

IMG_20170311_185811

Back in America, there are vegetarian restaurants that can duplicate the taste and texture of most meat dishes by using soy, tempeh, and other bean-based protein staples. So, as you can imagine, there were and still are such things as faux sausages, fake cold cuts, imitation chicken, and so on. One restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, even went so far as to create a faux lobster that you had to break open with a hammer — you know, to replicate the experience of eating a real one. Even some of the most hardcore vegans in that city, back then, thought it was the height of absurdity.

I was reminded of this bit of silliness while eating lunch with a friend in Xinbei. This place is completely vegetarian friendly, and that attitude is reflected in the place’s English name / slogan. It’s not very subtle: “Be A Vegetarian.” The Chinese name is 丰系人良.This restaurant’s existence may come as a pleasant surprise to those who are still mourning the loss of Salad Stuff in the Xinbei media tower complex. It has usually been thought that being a vegetarian in Changzhou is to be faced with limited options. This place, however, can be seen as a welcome alternative to those tiring of eating salads all the time.

IMG_20170311_173552

Some of their set meals feature the sort of faux meat you would find in vegetarian cafes in America.

IMG_20170311_173610

And others are just straight up veggie dishes, like the above mushroom medley. Some of the food here is even vegan friendly. There is also something for a vegetarian’s meat eating dining partner.

IMG_20170311_184946

The yellow curry beef here is good in a light, sweet sort of way. The other thing here, now, involves the trendiness that is Wechat.

IMG_20170311_173523

There is no paper menu. You have to scan a QR code to get to one on Wechat.

Screenshot_2017-03-11-17-47-49-31

Obviously, this means there are pictures of the food. Plus, if you wanted to translate the Chinese, you could simply take a screenshot and feed it into Baidu Translate on your phone.  This set up allows you to pay with your Wechat wallet.

With good quality food, extremely reasonable prices, and lots of convenience, this place is worth multiple visits. It can be found on Daduhe Road after it intersects with Huishan Road going eastwards. Essentially, its on a east-west street parallel with the southern part of Hohai University, and it’s not too far of a walk from Xinbei Wanda Plaza.

Screenshot_2017-03-11-19-49-05-65

 

Reliable Salad Stuff

IMG_20160730_122200

There is an infinitely beautiful thing about salad. For me, it’s the one type of food that you can actually eat everyday, and everyday it could be completely different. While you will usually have a green leaf vegetable base, you can put literally almost anything into a salad and that leads to nearly limitless variety. So, one day you can have chunks of tuna and chicken mixed together. Another day, if you feel completely in a vegan mood, you can have cashew nuts, edamame, and an a slew of veggies topped with dairy-free vinaigrette. If you want to be a red meat carnivore, you can throw in steak chunks, and when mixed with lettuce, tomato, and onion, it’s like eating the innards of a sandwich without bread.

Salad is also a simple western food that is sometimes hard to locate in a smaller Chinese city like Changzhou. Yes, Starbucks and places like Paris Baguette sell ready-made ones for when you are on the go. Sure, places like Monkey King will offer higher end, more gourmet, and more expensive ones. These are often fixed-menu things, and they do not offer the infinite variety that could be. There is a huge sense of freedom that comes with a real salad bar. And, honestly, Changzhou really hasn’t had an honest to God salad bar that, quite frankly, Americans take for granted when back home.

Well, that changed recently. Salad Stuff opened in Xinbei, recently. It’s currently my favorite place to eat in all of Changzhou, and I have lunch there all the time. It gives you the “build your own” experience where can pick stuff on random whims. Want chickpeas? Sure! Radish slices? Sure! Bassa fish? Sure! Salad Stuff allows a diner these endless options in a rather unique way.

The ingredients are behind a glass counter. You actually don’t touch anything. In front of that glass, you see a series of poker chips. Each of them has the ingredient’s name written in both Chinese and in English. So, there is a chip for broccoli, a chip for tofu, a chip for carrots, and so on. Once you have your handful of chips, you hand them to a cashier. Each has an internal RFID computer chip, and the cashier runs them over a counter. Your order is placed, and somebody assembles your salad and then brings it to you.

IMG_20160730_122353

There are other comforts here, too. The manager and a lot of the staff have some capacity with English. That makes a lot of since, since this type of food is not traditionally Chinese. Sure, it does speak to the Chinese culinary love of vegetables, but salad is still a western concept that will draw lots of expats. So, in the many times I have eaten here, the customer service provided has been quite excellent.

The location is pretty good, too. Salad Stuff is in the middle of Xinbei’s media tower complex on Taihu Road. It’s next to Zoo Coffee and down the street from Istanbul Restaurant. This puts the place in walking distance from Wanda Plaza and it’s BRT bus stop.

IMG_20160730_121117

HaiDiLao as a Vegetarian Option

IMG_20160626_102916[1]

Being a vegetarian or a vegan in China poses unique challenges. For all you know, a delicious broadbean or bok choy dish could have been simmered in pork broth. Once a person with particular dietary needs settles into a city like Changzhou, the hunt for potentially friendly eateries begins. There is one place, however, that can be a consistent convenience.

HiDiLao 海底捞 has a name that is kind of misleading. It makes it sound like a seafood hotpot. While you can order fish, it also just resembles a normal hotpot with ingredients like sliced mutton and beef. The last time I went there, the seafood options also seemed a little less prominent than my first visit. For example, there were no scallops available. Still, they offered the standard fish balls, as well as crab sticks and white-fleshed fish chunks. Like all other hot pots, there are also plenty of vegetables available.

However, there is another thing to consider. A diner can select what broth they can use. This has not been the case with every hot pot I have eaten at. The other great thing is that a patron can easily select non spicy soups. At my last visit, a friend and I had two options. One was a light water, ginger, and rice soup. The other was made from tomato. So, this is unlike the risk of ordering veggies and then seeing them served in meat juice.

The other thing to consider is the convenience. HaiDiLao is a chain, and there are locations all over Changzhou and even in other cities. In many aspects, it’s a friendly resturant when you are in a city you may not know all that well.

IMG_20160626_103639[1]