You’ve made the move to Guiyang, possibly from the other side of the world. Before you moved, you’d heard that China has many different kinds of tofu, plenty of egg dishes, and lots of fresh veggies sold on every street corner. Your information wasn’t wrong, just incomplete. In China, pork is life. It’s so important that it doesn’t even need a special word; it’s simply referred to as meat. As a result, local cooks sneak it into as many dishes as possible. Mapo Tofu sounds safe, right? Nope – it’s silken tofu with ground pork. How about a BBQ eggplant? Again, most likely going to have ground pork. Cooking at home is definitely an option, one that I’ll discuss below. It’s the only way to be 100% certain that your food is meat-free. However, Guiyang’s food is too good to miss, and I encourage you to use this guide to explore local food.
I’ve eaten many a meal with frustrated vegetarians who tell server after server they don’t want meat in a dish, only to have ground pork switched out for chicken, bacon, or other animal products. Like plenty of places back home, cooks might not like it if you’re ordering their food ‘wrong.’ Removing pork from a dish completely changes the flavor, and cooks are concerned you won’t like the food if they remove the most important part, to their mind. To help navigate Guiyang’s meat-heavy cuisine, here’s some absolutely necessary vocabulary and some helpful sentences, plus a few generally safe or sneakily hidden meat dishes. The meat vocabulary is included so you can keep an eye out for it on menus. Chinese dish names are frequently descriptive, so you can often spot meat dishes without even having to ask.
sùshīzhě 素食者 vegetarian person
sùshī 素食 vegetarian food
zhūyóu 猪油 lard
càiyóu 采油 vegetable oil
ròutāng 肉汤 broth
ròu/zhūròu 肉/猪肉 pork
péigēn 培根 bacon
huǒtuǐ 火腿 ham
làròu 腊肉 cured pork
xiāngcháng 香肠 sausage
ròusōng 肉松 pork floss
niúròu 牛肉 beef
jīròu 鸡肉 chicken
é 鹅 goose
yā 鸭 duck
yáng 羊 mutton, lamb
yǘ 鱼 fish
Wǒ chī sù 我吃素 I’m a vegetarian.
Wǒ bù chī ròu 我不吃肉 I don’t eat meat. (Remember, people might think this just means pork!)
Zhè ge cài yǒu méi yǒu _____ ? 这个菜有没有______? Does this dish contain ______?
_____ ne? ____ 呢? How about _____? (For continuing line of questioning)
Wǒ duì _____ guòmǐn 我对_______ 过敏 I’m allergic to ______.
Nǐmen yǒu shénme sùshī dè? 你们有什么素食的? What do you have for vegetarian dishes?/ Do you have vegetarian dishes?
Nǐmen yòngde yóu shì zhūyóu háishì càiyóu? 你们用的油是猪油还是采油? Is the oil you use lard or vegetable oil?
Sometimes, people just want to make a quick buck and might fudge the facts a bit to get you to eat at their restaurant. It’s natural to tell people what they want to hear, especially if you might lose a customer if you give the wrong answer. At a street-side fried rice stand, for example, they may use either lard or vegetable oil to fry the rice. Don’t lead with “I don’t eat meat. Do you use vegetable oil or lard?” Instead, try asking “Do you cook with lard or vegetable oil?” In general, lard is considered the better frying fat, so if they use it, they’ll tell you right away. If they know your preference beforehand, the answer may change to the one you want instead of the truth.
Coming from a Western country where accommodations for special diets are very common, it’s normal to have servers who are very aware of every ingredient in a dish. If a vegetarian is ordering, servers can help with info about cooking oils, broth, or other hidden meat products. In bigger Chinese cities, servers may be more used to these special requests. In Guiyang, however, special diets are very uncommon, so you need to do a little work to find dishes that don’t have animal ingredients.
Fried rice or noodles (choose your own vegetable ingredients, watch out for lard, specify that you don’t want pork)
Malaxianguo – (choose your own ingredients, specify vegetable oil)
Fried dishes – (a total mixed bag, but there are plenty of dishes you can eat as long as you specify your needs)
Dumplings – (be careful – almost all dumplings have meat, but there are some tasty vegetable and egg combos out there)
BBQ – Guiyang has got it going on in the BBQ department. Stalls line every corner after dark, and stay open until the wee hours of the morning. They have a great variety of vegetables to grill, lots of tofu, and some other cool foods, like miànjin (面筋), a gluten product that’s chewy and available in many forms. Double check the oil, but most places use vegetable oil.
Tabletop BBQ – Cleaner than the outdoor stalls, and much less chance of cross-contamination with meat products
Sīwáwa – A local delicacy, like little vegetarian tacos. You get rice-flour wraps, dishes of shredded veggies, vinegar, soy sauce and lajiao. Even the soup should be safe; sour soup is made from tomatoes and booze! (The sneaky ingredient here would be lard. You should ask if they add lard to the soup, as some places do.)
Jiānbing – An egg-topped wrap bundled around a crispy fried dough center with some lettuce, local pickles and hoisin sauce. (Pictured above, in the NOTES section.)
A Buddhist restaurant – These restaurants will be totally vegetarian, so you can have a worry-free meal. Prices are usually reasonable, and they have a great variety of dishes. The first photo on this page is an eggplant dish from one of these restaurants.
Cook at home. Guiyang has amazing fruit and vegetable markets, and vendors dot almost every corner. Talk to the vendors, ask about the names of things you like, and get cooking. You can find hand-pulled noodles, homemade tofu, fresh, dried, and pickled varieties of pretty much everything you need. The best part? It’s cheap and fresh. Wash your veggies carefully, though, as organic produce is nigh-impossible to find. Head to Carrefour or Ole for imported ingredients, or get your Taobao on and have them shipped to your house.
DON’T EAT (OR BE VERY CAREFUL)
Hotpot – (broth, possibly lard)
Some forms of lajiao – (many of the oil-based lajiao choices have pieces of duck, chicken, or pork in them for added flavor. Double-check!)
Soup noodles – (broth)
Pork Floss – Sounds like a no-brainer, but this sweet pork tops many a dessert in China. Hair-thickness strands of orange will alert you to its presence. Bakeries are the number one offender for this stuff, ask if your preferred sweets have pork floss before buying.
Moon cakes – Another sneaky sweet, moon cakes may have any kind of filling, including meat.
Below is a photo of a cake that’s just full of pork floss. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, this stuff looks like very fine shreds of caramelized sugar. It’s light brown/orange colored. A friend brought them over thinking they were coconut cakes. Not so much.
As an omnivore, it’s more than likely I’ve missed something. If you know of good vegetarian options in Guiyang, or other dishes that frequently have hidden meat ingredients, please let me know in the comments. I’ll update this guide as info comes in.