Plant-Based Chinese Ribs, International Cafes—My Fav Discoveries As A Vegan In Shanghai
Shanghai, China. Known to many as the ‘Paris of the East,’ it’s one of China’s biggest and busiest cities. It’s beloved for its hodge-podge of old and new, East meets West. From the skyscrapers of Jing’An district to the old lane houses in the French Concession; for the luxe-seeker to the history enthusiast; there truly is something for everyone in this modern city.
Something you may not be expecting to find in Shanghai, however, is a thriving vegan food scene. And as a fresh-out-of-college vegan who moved here a year ago to teach English, all I heard were warnings. My friends thought I was crazy and that I would waste away to nothing. My family placed bets on how long I would last in this country. And to be honest, I was terrified that they would be right. I didn’t find many resources on how to navigate this city as a plant-based eater, and was sure I’d spend the year eating plain rice and veggies.
But boy, was I wrong. Not only did I find more vegan/vegan-friendly spots than I still have even had time to try, I found an extremely active and supportive vegan community. I’d bump into fellow vegans everywhere I went (more so than I did at home in Michigan)—at my teaching center, around the many Buddhist temples, and at random expat events around the city. Everyone was friendly and eager to share restaurant recommendations.
Further, Shanghai is such an international city with cuisine inspired by and imported from so many countries that I found myself trying foods I never would have had the opportunity to try back home in the States. I’ve been able to try vegan snacks and goods from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Israel, just to name a few.
So all this to say that if you’re thinking of visiting Shanghai but are afraid that you won’t find vegan/plant-based dining options—please don’t be. Whether you’re craving that Western home-style comfort food, a healthy salad/smoothie bowl/juice, some good old-fashioned vegan junk food, or vegan Chinese food in all its mock-meat glory, this city has got you covered.
Below I’ve compiled some of the most popular veggie spots around the city, as well as a few of my personal favorites. Happy eating and happy exploring—this city has so much to offer you, vegan adventurer.
Pure and Whole
Shop 104 No. 1376 Nan Jing West Rd, Shanghai, China
This casual vegan cafe serves pastas, curries, soups, salads, and wraps in Shanghai Centre. The atmosphere is clean, chic, and minimalist—best for a quick lunch while running errands or with a friend.
758 Julu Rd. Shanghai, China
If it’s a refreshing smoothie bowl or some (glass-bottled!) juices that you’re after, check out Lizzy’s for very reasonably priced, fresh offerings. This small shop also offers power bowls, vegan wraps, coffees, and baked goods.
VEGAN COMFORT FOOD
477 Putuo, Shanghai, China
This pizza chain offers two completely vegan pizzas (the Italian and my personal favorite, the Mexican pie) as well as the option to veganize other pizzas. For the gluten-sensitive, this chain also offers gluten-free crusts.
291 Fumin Rd. Xuhui, Shanghai, China
This vegan-friendly Western dining spot boasts an impressive amount of plant-based options. From a vegan pizza with cashew cheeze to its signature beet burger to its vegan and GF fudge-y brownie, it has all the vegan comfort food you could crave. Be sure to confirm dishes are vegan if not explicitly marked on the menu, as this joint also serves up dairy, egg, and meat. Come here if you’re dining with omnivores, as they’ve got something for everyone.
Huasheng Rd, Zhabei Qu, Shanghai, China
This American-styled vegan-friendly fast-food joint serves up your classic diner options. Soy nuggets, veggie burgers, spaghetti bolognese, sweet potato fries, wraps and desserts galore. Green Vege labels itself as healthy-ish, as the kitchen strives to use as little oil as possible in its dishes.
VEGAN CHINESE FOOD
77 SongShan Rd. Shanghai, China.
If you’re interested in trying out some more traditional Chinese fare, this chain offers a variety of mock-meat alternatives to Chinese dishes. From Hongshao ribs to dumplings to sweet and sour chicken, they’ve got it all.
Din Tai Fung
Various locations around Shanghai
Known for their xiao long bao (soup dumplings), this wide-spread chain offers many veggie options for those who don’t want to miss out on their well-known dumplings. Get the vinegared cucumber appetizer, the veggie and mushroom dumplings, the veggie fried rice, and end your meal with sweet red bean or taro dumplings (tastes much better than it sounds!).
OTHER SHANGHAI TIPS
Food delivery services are super popular in Shanghai. Fast, cheap, and dependable, they’re especially great for those who don’t speak Chinese. Download Sherpa’s food ordering app for access to most Western restaurants in the city. You’ll be able to find pretty much every vegan-friendly restaurant mentioned in this article on there. Also, pro-tip: if you have your own cutlery, you can opt out of receiving plastic cutlery with your food on the app!
If you’re going to be in China for awhile, you’ll probably be using WeChat on your phone. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a messaging/social media app that is also widely used to pay for purchases (acts as a virtual wallet that can be connected to your Chinese bank account). There is a prominent vegan community that exists in the form of a group chat on the app, called VoS Official 2017. It’s a great resource for restaurant recommendations, finding out about social events, and finding answers to any other general questions you may have being a vegan in Shanghai.
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Photo: Pure & Whole; Lizzy’s All-Natural; Happy Cow; Tribe; Green Vege; SmartShanghai; DinTaiFung