Being a vegan in China can be hard, and sometimes you try your hardest and you still can't be sure. I've been having a lot of problems lately, judging myself and worrying about being judged. I went to a Greenpeace event a few weeks back, where a (white, British) vegan scolded me for going to non-vego restaurants with my non-vego friends. The first vegan I met here, on my first day, came with us all to a restaurant and then didn't eat a thing. She told me she never eats at non-vego restaurants, and I thought at first, that's a bit hardcore. But having been here five weeks now, I realise it's what she has to do to be totally confident that she's living animal-free.
The only time I'm confident that my meal has no animal products is when I'm in my house and I'm cooking for myself, and when I visit the vegan restaurant down the road (and most of the time I'm confident about the vego restaurants, too, if I ask the right questions). The term vegetarian food (素菜) here is generally understood as 'there's no meat as a main ingredient', and it sometimes means I get a bit of a mince garnish on my beans, a little pork in my eggplant. Today at lunch I asked 'does this have meat?' The chef looked at me and was like 'why?', as if it was a ridiculous question to ask. I once asked 'does this have egg?' and got the answer, 'it doesn't have egg, it's sweet!'; but I'm pretty sure it had an egg-wash. I giggled and ate it anyway, because it was a friend's grandmother and she'd gone to so much effort to get vego treats for me.
I'm making these compromises or having these questions at least a couple of days a week. I try my hardest to stay vegan, but even speaking Mandarin I can never be quite sure, and I worry about what people would think, if they knew that today I picked the egg out of my meal and kept eating rather than having to miss lunch.
This is part of the reason why reviews have dropped off. I've eaten a lot of amazing meals since I've arrived here, and my friends in Beijing, every one of them a meat eater, let me pick almost every dish when we go out for food. I've discovered some delicious local dishes, filled with unexpected combinations (cabbage + glass noodles, I don't know how to describe this wonder). I'm for the most part content with the decisions I'm making, but I feel like I cannot with confidence recommend these places to people, for fear that I'm wrong. I've made my peace with knowing I lose my vegan powers intermittently during my time here, but I don't want to put other vegos and vegans unknowingly at risk. I'm thinking about starting to review the places I go to, but adding caveats about how hard it was to be confident it was vegan and other things like that.
Anyway, this eight treasures pudding on a stick. I thought it was vegan but in hindsight I don't think it was, which pisses me off because it was delicious and in a way serves me right for being too intimidated by the Jinan accent to ask. Steamed in a bamboo stem and served on a stick and filled with fruits, what genius! Also genius: the eggs on a stick. Cracked into moulds and fried on to the stick. Obviously not vegan but interesting to look at.