Chinese food is full of colors, flavors, and textures that appeal to a wide variety of eaters. While ordering vegetarian Chinese food may seem easy at first glance, it can be tricker than one might anticipate. It's not just about avoiding General Tsoa's Chicken and other obviously meat-centric dishes; many Chinese sauces, broths, and condiments contain animal products. To complicate matters further, even some vegetable or mock-meat dishes may be cooked in lard, an animal-based fat. 

But once you know what to watch for and what questions to ask, it's easy to confidently order and enjoy vegetarian Chinese food. After all, Taoism and Buddhism are widely followed in China, both of which adhere to vegetarian lifestyles. 

Before getting into a list of usually vegetarian Chinese food to order, I want to preface this by stating if you're not sure about something, ask. Ask what stock and broths are made from, ask if fish sauce is an ingredient, and ask what kind of oil is used for cooking. If you're a strict vegetarian, you may also want to ask if vegetable-based dishes like egg rolls are fried in the same oil as meat-based dishes. Once you've nailed these basic questions, you can order your vegetarian Chinese food worry-free. 

1. Sesame Noodles

Julia Liang

The magic of sesame oil shines atop a heaping bowl of noodles in this popular dish. It's often also prepared with garlic, sesame paste, vinegar, and sometimes peanut butter and/or chili sauce. It may also be available with tofu and/or veggies.

2. Sichuan-Style Cucumber Salad

Cucumbers are tossed in a mixture of oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and spices, often including garlic and Sichuan or red pepper flakes. 

3. Vegetable Dumplings with Sweet and Sour Sauce

dumpling, pork, meat, soup, ravioli, dough, gyoza, tortellini
Teodora Maftei

Again, double check to make sure the sauces are free from animal products, and if dumplings are served with any dipping condiments, ask about those too. Sweet and sour sauce tends to be a safe, animal product-free bet. 

4. Vegetable Spring Rolls

pastry, sweet, bread, dough
Jessica Chu

Another great start to your meal, vegetable spring rolls are often packed with mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, and spices like ginger and garlic, tucked inside a spring roll wrapper. The exact filling and sauces may vary, so always ask about ingredients if you're unsure.

#SpoonTip: Peanut sauces tend to be vegetarian, and make for an excellent dipping sauce for spring rolls.

5. Vegetable fried rice

A vegetarian Chinese favorite. Fried rice is typically made by stir-frying cooked rice in a wok with eggs and/or vegetables. Ask about the sauces added to flavor the dish. Different places will use different ingredients, so make sure there are no animal-containing sauces like eel or fish sauce added. If you're vegan, ask for it to be made without eggs.

6. Tofu fried rice 

Similar to vegetable-fried rice, with the lovely addition of tofu. Again, if you're vegan, ask them to skip the eggs. 

5. Steamed Vegetables

Torey Walsh

A safe side dish if you're feeling desperate. Pair steamed veggies with a side of white rice and your vegetarian sauce of choice. It's not the ideal meal, but it'll do in a pinch.

6. Sichuan Fried or Spicy Green Beans

Green beans are often a side dish available on Chinese menus. If you see a Sichuan Fried or spicy option, give them a whirl. Stir-fried with garlic, ginger, peppercorns, and/or pepper flakes, these are a flavorful addition to a meal and delicious with rice.

7. Vegetable Stir Fry

vegetable, broccoli, chicken, rice, stir-fry, pepper, meat
Katherine Baker

A simple dish, chopped assorted vegetables are cooked in a wok with oil, and usually served with sauce and served with rice. Sauces will vary, so always ask.

8. Peanuts and Spinach

This is a traditional Chinese vegetarian dish made with peanuts, spinach, and garlic. It may also contain wasabi root depending on the restaurant. A safe and green side dish for your vegetarian feast.

9. Mapo Tofu

If you ask for ground pork to be left out, mapo tofu is a spicy, ginger and pepper-infused dish made with scallions, garlic, and of course, tofu. 

10. Broccoli and Garlic

A popular side dish found on many menus, broccoli and garlic dishes make broccoli shine with scallions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and sometimes pepper. Be sure to double check to make sure they don't use any pork-based oils or sauces in preparation.

11. Vegetarian Chinese Buns

Many restaurants offer steamed buns with various fillings, some of which may be vegetarian. Mushroom, vegetable, tofu, and red bean paste-filled buns are generally a safe bet, but as always, ask if you're unsure. Stick to soy sauce or sweet and sour as a dipping sauce. 

12. Tea-Marbled Eggs or Quail Eggs

If you eat eggs, give tea-marbled eggs a try. Hard-boiled eggs are marinated in tea, soy sauce, and spices and served as a snack or side. If you're vegan, skip these.

13. Vegetable Lo Mein

A soft noodle-based dish typically made with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and a variety of vegetables. 

14. Vegetable Chow Mein

Steamed or cripsy stir-fried noodles serve as the base in chow mein dishes. Vegetable chow mein is usually accented with a variety of vegetables, and some menus may allow you to add tofu or mock meat. 

15. Kung Pow Tofu

Crispy tofu and vegetables are stir-fried in a spicy sauce, made with vinegar, ginger, garlic, and Sichuan peppercorns (or other hot spices). Frequently served with rice, this is a satisfying meal if you like it hot.

Vegetarian Chinese food can be delicious, as long as you know how to order. Read menus carefully, and don't be shy—always ask your server about meat and meat-sauce free dishes so there are no surprises.