Vegetarian cuisine served at a Shanghai restaurant. (Photo/CNS)
Although the temperature in Shanghai has threatened to dip below zero in recent days, several renowned vegetarian restaurants in the city are still enjoying brisk trade underscoring the no-meat lifestyle's growing popularity among the city's residents.
Until relatively recently, vegetarian food was difficult to find anywhere in China other than in Buddhist temples. Yet the country is not unfamiliar with the concept of voluntarily foregoing meat (Shanghai's first vegetarian restaurant was opened in 1922) but, due to the small number of people who don't eat meat, vegetarian foods have often mimicked cooked meat, with rubbery but not unpleasant approximations of flesh fashioned from bean curd being the focal point of soups, rice and noodle dishes.
In Taiwan, vegetarians number around 2 million (approaching 10% of a population of 23 million) and restaurants catering to non meat-eaters can be spotted everywhere and are popular among the health-conscious and young trendsetters. These groups account for most of the market, although there are sections of the population whose Buddhist or Daoist beliefs keep them from eating meat.
The state of vegetarianism in China is today resembles Taiwan's in past years. The practice of giving up meat has become closely associated with a "low-carbon lifestyle," and is seen as a totem of environmentalism, a philosophy increasingly embraced by the nation's young people.
In Shanghai alone, some 20 to 30 eateries and chains have sprouted around the city in recent years - and these are not mere snack stalls or modest noodle and soup shops. They commonly feature elaborate decor, artfully presented dishes as well as high quality service with prices to match.
The proprietor of one in a fashionable quarter of the city says more and more government and white-collar workers have switched to vegetarian restaurants as preferred venues for business and social gatherings.