A challenge for most visitors to China is adapting to local fare. While you might love Chinese food in your own county, it’s from the first bite of authentic Chinese food you discover what’re used to eating is indeed not the real deal. The real deal can be an adventure all in itself. You never know what’s going to end up on your plate. Being Vegan in China is like being a nun on a nudist beach. You’re always faced with the temptation of having meat in front of you… no pun intended. I’ve ordered many a dish that’s listed under the veggie section of the menu and all ingredients listed are vegan and when the plate is presented there is pork. I’ve concluded pork is a vegetable in China.
I’ve found a delish alternative to enjoying local cuisine without the worry because you prepare everything yourself. It’s Hot Pot. A traditional method of dinning that has been enjoyed in China for well over 1,000 years. A hot pot, or steamboat, consists of a boiling pot of stock in the center of the table that’s surrounded by a wide verity of ingredients that range from meats to mountain fungus (aka mushrooms).
Hot pots can be a bit overwhelming to a novice connoisseur so after much trail and error I have finally mastered the art and decided to create a step by step guide on how to hot pot in Beijing.
First step to successful hot potting is finding a popular establishment that has an English menu. My choice location is Shabu-Shabu which is located just around the corner from my hotel.
Shabu-Shabu offers a different variation of hot potting than most traditional steamboat eateries because it’s done solo. You have your own pot and you decide what stock and ingredients got into it. This is perfect for the vegan or vegetarians in the group because they don’t have to impose their restrictions on others.
Be prepared to wait as hot pot dinning is very popular with locals.
Once you are seated at your pot it’s time to choose the ingredients and dipping sauces from the menu. I go right for the fresh veggie plate and local sliced vegetables like lotus root.
My setup also includes some wholewheat noodles, peanut sauce, fresh cilantro, and sweet potato. My stock has been confirmed vegan by the staff… I will just go with it. A cold beer is also a must. Be careful with ordering beer in China as they think you are saying bill and they get mighty confused as to why white face is ordering the bill before he’s even eaten.
It’s also a good idea to bring some friends along to enjoy the culinary adventure. On this visit I was joined by two lovely fly girls. One from France and the other from the French part of Canada.
You control your boiling pot so use the power carefully and don’t boil all the flavor out of your water or over boil your pot.
Once the water is ready start by adding the harder veggies (and meat) first as those take longer to cook.
Then continue with your flimsy veggies and noodles. After about 30 seconds in the pot you can start enjoying the greens while you wait on the hard veggies to cook.
Get your mixing dish ready. I like cilantro and peanut sauce. You will use this small dish as your serving plate.
Start retrieving your cooked ingredients from the pot, mix in the sauce and open your mouth and have a taste.
My highlight comes when the lotus root is ready! For a vegan, trying exotic veggies and fruits is our version of adventitious eating.
During the preparation if you are ever in doubt that you’re doing something wrong just watch the reaction of your fellow hot potters. You are their dinner and a movie. They get a kick out of watching tourist try to cook and when you’re making a big mistake they will offer a big smile your way.
In the end you will probably have made a big mess, but don’t worry it’s China and locals are not famous for immaculate dinning etiquette.
– Fly Guy