Vegan Eating Chinese Style: Bean Curd not Beef

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Vegan eating Chinese style … with beans?  Does it all sound a little far-fetched?  Surprise!  You can get your beans, starch, and veggies at a Chinese restaurant.  Here’s how.

Vegan Eating Chinese Restaurant InteriorWhen you think of Chinese food, do you think of beans? You might not, given the popularity of items like Beef with Broccoli, Sweet and Sour Chicken, and Moo Shu Pork in popular culture. But one bean in particular, the soybean, has been a staple of Chinese cuisine for ages.  It just goes by a variety of names – such as miso (a fermented soybean paste), edamame (fresh, green soybeans), and tofu (also known synonymously as bean curd).

With so many choices on a typical Chinese restaurant menu, it can be easy to overlook the possibility of including beans in your meal.  But by becoming or being vegan, you have an opportunity to widen your field of view and take a good look at your (new) options.  Let’s see if you can spot the soybeans as we traverse the menu from the Bean Curd Restaurant, a local favorite of ours.


Vegan Eating Chinese Appetizers

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For the table, you might order some Edamame.  These are the fresh, green soybeans that are typically steamed in the pod and sprinkled with salt.  They are a great finger food. They’re fun to share and fun to eat – you just pop them out of the pod and into your mouth (and no, you don’t eat the pod.  Ask me how I know).  And they have a rich, buttery flavor that I bet you’ll like.  You might find yourself making these at home on movie night to replace the popcorn.

Vegan Eating Chinese Soups

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Next, try some miso soup.  It took me a few tries to develop a taste for this nourishing medley.  The broth is made with miso, the paste made from fermented soybeans.  It also contains small cubes of tofu for some chewiness.  The big bonus: seaweed.  Is this a challenge for you?  It was for me.  Once I got past my own bias, I found I really enjoyed this sea vegetable that’s a nutritional powerhouse.  I hope you’ll give it a try – or three.


Vegan Eating Chinese Lunch

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As you can see from the screen shot of the lunch menu, it’s a mix-and-match affair to build your noontime meal.  And that’s a great opportunity for a vegan like you.  Here are some suggestions you might try:

  • Choose the miso soup as described above.
  • Ask for the brown rice.
  • Select the tofu for your bean/protein source.
  • Add your favorite veggies – the mixed veggies are stir-fried and the steamed garden veggies are, well, steamed.
  • Lastly, choose your sauce – and be sure to ask your server which ones are vegan.  The ingredients to avoid are typically chicken broth and/or fish sauce.  Or, just make life simple and skip the sauce entirely.  You’ll save yourself the typical oil, sodium, and anxiety (especially if you’re concerned about getting the true scoop on the sauce ingredients).


Vegan Eating Chinese Specials

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You can typically order dinner much as you do lunch above, pulling together your preferred combination of tofu, veggies, and sauce.  But, we’re all tempted by the “Specials” menu, aren’t we?  It’s a pretty simple affair to order the Yaki Udon noodle dish with tofu, or the Portabella Mushroom Home Style with tofu (ask for the tofu to be steamed, not fried), or either of the Thai Curries with tofu.  Just note that the curry dishes can be high-fat choices since they do contain coconut milk.

Beans, Beans, Gotta Eat Smart…

This post wraps up the series – for now – on choosing beans not beef when eating out at your favorite restaurants.  (See the previous posts on Mexican and Mediterranean dining if you haven’t already).  Please drop me a comment below if you’d like to see suggestions for eating out at other ethnic or American-style eateries.  Or, even better, share some of your best tips and ideas with others for choosing beans not beef when you’re out and about.

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