Festival makes you want to eat your veggies

Wu Huixin
At Hangzhou's Xiangji Temple, dozens of creative chefs show that you don't need meat to make tasty, creative dishes.
Wu Huixin

Hangzhou has been a center of Buddhism since ancient times, so it makes sense that the city also has a long history of catering to vegetarians with Buddhist beliefs.

Vegetarian food is considered a healthy and ethical alternative to eating meat, but it can be creative and decadent too. Over the past five years, Xiangji Temple has hosted the Hangzhou Vegetarian Festival to showcase the best in local veggie fare.

This year, the event kicked off on October 30, and visitors found plenty of mouthwatering vegetarian food during the three-day event. About 40 food businesses displayed their new ideas and culinary skills, from plant-based meat dishes to vegan pastries.

A common stereotype about vegetarian food is that it’s only vegetables and tofu. Another misconception is that only vegetarians go to temples. However, a clutch of creative vegetarian restaurants and workshops have sprung out in recent years to prove that these beliefs are wrong.

Jianyun Vegetarian Diet, a vegetarian organization, displayed a veggie look-alike version of Dongpo pork.

“I used white gourd to imitate the mouth feel of pork rind. To recreate a texture of real flesh, I added soybean protein into minced mushrooms,” said Wang Jianbeng, executive chef at Jianyun.

“Along with changing ideas about diet and nutrition, more and more people turn to vegetarian food to keep healthy,” Wang told Shanghai Daily. “Every month, at least 40 people study how to cook innovative food at our organization.”

In addition to the “fake meat” dishes which have become important on most Chinese vegetarian restaurant menus, many chefs have invented plant-based pastries.

Ma Bihong and her colleagues invented succulent-like desserts with local beans.

“We use pumpkins and tea to dye the food with no additive at all,” Ma told Shanghai Daily.

The three-day event also included lectures from well-known nutritionists, including Dr Xu Jia from Peking University and Dr Xu Yi from Zhejiang University. 

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