I just returned home to Texas after a six month stay in Beijing, where I was teaching English to little kids and cultivating my blog. Before I went, I imagined that being a vegan in China would be fairly easy. Even though China has adopted a more Westernized diet in recent years (lots of meat and dairy), I figured it would be pretty easy to find plant based dishes.
Boy was I wrong! All I ate the first two months I lived there was rice with vegetables because that’s all I could find in the way of vegan options. That got tiring after a while and didn’t give me an array of needed nutrients. Eating out was wreaking havoc on my digestive and immune systems because the quality of food is so low in China, plus they tend to over-do it with the oil. I was always sick, had headaches, couldn’t sleep well, and felt tired and light headed. I decided to stop eating out, get a blender and food processor, and make all of my meals at home. What a difference!
For anyone that plans on being abroad for an extended amount of time, here are some suggestions for quick, easy meals that are healthy and plant based.
I got to explore new types of fruits and vegetables in Beijing that I had never tried or seen in the United States. I loved making fruit salads for a mid-day snack. Dragon fruit and yellow watermelon were two new ones that I enjoyed using. The only problem is that it can be hard to find good, organic produce in the stores there, and some of the non-native Chinese fruits like blueberries and mangoes are imported and don’t taste as good.
Making fruit salads is a great way to get raw foods in your diet while traveling. Just make sure to ask about food warnings. For example, in Beijing, they recommend peeling certain fruits & veggies (especially apples and pears), and thoroughly washing any produce that you plan on eating raw.
The orange looking fruits are kumquats and the one below is a longan. Longans are native to Southern Asia and belong to the same family as lychee fruit. They are a good source of Vitamin C and antioxidants. It has an almost nut-like shell that you have to peel to get to the fruit, which tastes kind of like a tropical grape. Watch out for the shiny jewel seeds in the center.
I also loved buying fresh coconuts, opening the tops and drinking the water with a straw. Then I would scoop out the meat and eat it as a snack or even for dessert. It was really filling, and now that I think of it, would have been delicious dipped in chocolate! I could definitely see a positive difference in my skin after consuming fresh coconuts every day for a week.
Going along with my fruit salad, once I got my blender I went smoothie crazy! It’s much easier for me to consume a large quantity of fruits and veggies once it’s in smoothie form, and it’s easier on the digestive system as well. I love the fiber that smoothies provide, as opposed to juicing. To get an extra kick of nutrients, I would add in a teaspoon of spirulina and grind up some flax seed to toss in.
I found this raw organic spirulina from Earth Circle on a popular website called TaoBao, which is like the Chinese version of Amazon. I was really pleased with it and it lasted me close to 3 months.
I would also stock up on coconut milk whenever I visited one of the western grocery stores in Beijing and add that to my smoothies when I was feeling fancy.
I love the green color that the spirulina gives it.
Salads & Hummus
Getting enough raw food in my diet was my biggest concern, so I knew salads would be important to incorporate. I found a couple different organic farmers in Beijing that allowed me to order online and they delivered right to my door. That made eating healthy a lot easier!
I would make simple salads for lunch or before dinner that consisted of kale and other greens, onion, tomatoes, carrots, and a heaping of sauerkraut for all that fermented goodness! Then I would drizzle in some extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon or apple cider vinegar, and a little salt & pepper.
I would also toss bean sprouts on for good measure.
I wasn’t super impressed with the quality of the avocados over there, but when you’re mashing them up for guacamole it’s harder to tell!
My favorite go-to was hummus. It’s so filling and easy to make. I would buy a small bag of the dry chick peas, soak them overnight, and then cook them the following day. I had enough to make hummus for about 5 meals and I would store it in the fridge.
I’d make what I like to call hummus bowls. I’d lay down a big pile of greens and mix them with some olive oil and lemon, then spread my hummus on top and garnish it with lots of tomatoes and sunflower seeds. Super delicious!
I experimented with different variations of chick pea hummus and red lentil hummus is always a great alternative!
These were the staples of my diet in China, along with a few other things, and I could definitely see a noticeable difference in my health when I transitioned over to eating whole, raw foods. If you’re traveling anytime soon, try out these ideas and let me know if you have any other great suggestions!