As you might expect of the capital of China’s most widely exported provincial cuisine – Sichuan – Chengdu is a city known for its food. Though vegetarian food has been traditionally tough to hunt down in China, Chengdu is home to some excellent vegetarian and vegan restaurants and some traditionally plant-based dishes that shouldn’t be missed.
Sometimes you have to dig a little, or get creative, to find vegetarian food in Sichuan’s capital city of Chengdu. But when you start looking, you’ll find heaps of great restaurants that serve a wide range of dishes for anyone opting to go meat-free. Though often these places aren’t branded specifically as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’, the outcome is the same. A solid truth is that China consumes an astonishing range of vegetables and meat-free proteins as part of its daily repertoire, and finding incredibly flavourful veggie dishes here is an easy pleasure.
That said, strict vegans may have more difficulty, as food is often flavoured with fish sauce or may have hidden ingredients lurking – especially meat included for flavouring in vegetable dishes – so it’s important to ask questions and consider carrying a phrasebook to help restaurant staff understand your dietary requirements.
Here are some of the best vegetarian and vegan food options in Chengdu, from dedicated plant-based restaurants to delicious meat-free Chengdu staple dishes you shouldn’t miss.
One traditional Chengdu dish that’s also naturally vegetarian is liang fen. These cold mung-bean noodles in chilli and vinegar sauce are a classic dish eaten to stave off the hot Sichuan summers. Dongzi Kouzhang (also known as Zhang Liangfen), just across from Wenshu Monastery, is a little open-air shop with a few plastic stools, and the liang fen are pretty much the only thing on the menu.
To sample traditional Buddhist fare, head to the restaurant attached to Wenshu Monastery. The two-storey location has two dining options: either a buffet earlier in the day, or a vegetarian hotpot offering for dinner. All of the food is drawn from traditional vegetarian Buddhist temple recipes – expect options like stuffed lotus root, lion’s head mushrooms and Kung Pao faux-chicken. Hotpot options include a number of meat substitutes.
“Burning Noodles” is a dish hailing from the city of Yibin, south of Chengdu in Sichuan province. Perfect for vegetarians, the dish consists of boiled noodles (sometimes wheat) tossed in a spicy, salty sauce of ya cai (preserved vegetables), chopped roasted peanuts, green onion, chilli oil, sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce and Sichuan pepper, sometimes with a sprinkling of mushrooms too. This relaxed little restaurant serves its namesake noodles alongside other (non-vegetarian) dishes 24/7.
Zenyue offers plant-based food served in a serene, upmarket dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows, evoking a minimalist, Japanese-style Buddhist atmosphere. The dishes are all extremely thoughtful and avoid using soy as a substitute, so everything focuses on flavour combinations and a delicate balance of fruits, vegetables and grains. Think mushroom osmanthus rice soup, blueberry pumpkin quinoa cups, bamboo fungus and soaked-radish fried rice, washed down with chilled tangerine Pu’er tea. There is a set menu and a buffet offering, and everything is completely seasonal.
This absolutely massive restaurant seats 150 people and serves an incredibly long buffet. The menu consists entirely of vegan Chinese dishes, and there’s a huge variety of tastes and flavours. Expect to find stir-fried vegetables, noodles, a variety of rice, fresh fruit and soups.
Vegan dumplings and wontons are the signature offering at this tiny restaurant with just two tables and a line of low bar stools along one wall inside, as well as a scattering of low tables and stools outside and in the wooden entryway. You order from picture menus at the counter, and everything is completely vegan, with the most popular options being spicy dumplings and wontons. There are also vegetable and rice dishes on offer.
The name of this vegetarian restaurant means ‘Clear Water Lotus’, and its offerings are equally elegant. Located on the corner southeast of Wenshu Monastery, it caters to visitors and monastics alike. This is a great place to try vegan versions of Chengdu’s most famous dishes: mapo tofu and dan dan noodles, both of which are ordinarily made with pork mince. Other options include stir-fried tofu, matcha noodles and vegan yogurt. You might also find “vegan chicken feet” being sold in the packaged food shop on the ground floor.
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