Renata Mirkova is from the Czech Republic and goes by her Chinese name Xiao Mi. She is a vegan foodie, a big fan of baked sweets, and is crazy about hardcore, punk, reggae and DUB music. She first came to Chengdu in 2012, and is now pursuing a postgraduate degree in the Department of Chinese International Education of Sichuan University. This article was originally written in Chinese.
Eating, for many people, is a way of staying alive, while for me, eating is the main thing I live for. I am a so-called "foodie", and also a vegan.
Before my first journey to China in 2012, I kept worrying that I might not be able to like the food here. But Chengdu, selected by UNESCO as the 2010 "City of Gastronomy", didn't disappoint me. It is indeed a culinary heaven, which not only caters to omnivorous diets, but also to vegetarians, who are provided with a wide array of food choices here.
Being a vegetarian is now trendy around the world - not only in Western countries, but also in China. Though it might be a mere trend for many, for me, it is a lifestyle that transcends eating. There are mainly two types of vegetarian diets: vegetarian and vegan. The latter not only excludes meat, fish and seafood, but also dairy, eggs and honey. I became a vegetarian ten years ago, and then a vegan two years ago. Some people suspected that I made this change to lose weight, while in fact, I just wanted to make a moral choice and help protect animals. Human beings should not live at the cost of animal lives - at least for me this is so. As time went by, I also came to believe that being a vegan is good for the environment. Our gluttony has led to the breeding of many livestock raised for our earth to bear.
Every time I tell a Chengduer that I'm vegan, I'm kindly reminded that it's difficult to pull off in Chengdu - not at all for me though. Vegan food can be found everywhere in Chengdu: stir-fried vegetables, noodles, rice noodles, dumplings, barbecue, stir-fried rice, and special vegetarian restaurants.
The First Time I Ate Vegan in Chengdu:
Five years ago, during my first flight to Chengdu, I met a Swedish boy who was sort of a newbie to China but who had a friend pick him up at the airport. The three of us went to Sichuan University and ate there. My mind was racing with apprehensive curiosity about the food, for the "Chinese food" back in Czech was not very enticing, or to put it more bluntly, quite awful. Our Chinese friend ordered for us: Sweet and Sour Fillet of Pork, Dry-Fried Green Beans with Minced Pork and Preserved Vegetables, Ma-po Tofu and Fried Shrimp with Corn and Salted Egg Yolk.
The Ma-po tofu instantly captured my heart. It was covered in an appealing mix of lustrous flavors - red sauce, green minced scallion and milky beancurd. The tofu cubes, glossy all round, bathing in a pool of fragrant chili oil, highlighted by the pepper powder sprinkled over them. Tender and slick, they were an unyielding prey to our chopsticks. But once captured and placed in my mouth, Inot only felt a full sense of achievement, but also a tongue-tingling buzz of refreshment. The unforgettable flavor of the soft tofu, crispy scallion and thick sauce lingered long on my palate. Here is a tip for vegetarians: Ma-po tofu has minced pork spread on it. It is so spicily delicious that it may easily find its way into your tummy before you know it.
My Favorite Snack: Sichuan Tianshuimian
I am a big fan of snacks. Whenever I discover an unfamiliar snack, whatever it is, I will buy it just in case I never see it again. I never allow myself to miss out on any new food-vegan food, of course. Sichuan Tianshuimian (sweet water noodles) ranks as my favorite Chengdu snack, for which I would never grudge a trudge.
I first tried it in Sichuan University's cafeteria. It tasted good, but I preferred the Tianshuimian served in Xiaomingtang on Kehua North Road when my friend Lao Wang took me there. In the grey pottery bowl lay some thick noodles - real thick, I mean. The noodles, covered with a mere sprinkle of crushed peanuts, aren't immediately appetizing when you first look at them. But the trickis to find the "treasury" hidden below and stir it in with the noodles, until the noodles are coated with its gooey deliciousness. After putting it in my mouth and chewing, I was totally awe-struck. The sauce was thick, spicy, sweet and fragrant. The sweet-spicy sauce, crispy peanuts and thick robust noodles made it a real treat. However, to my regret, the bowl was too small for me and I was too shy to order more. I wish there weremore serving size choices.
Vegan food can be found everywhere in Chengdu: stir-fried vegetables, noodles, rice noodles, dumplings, barbecue, stir-fried rice, and special vegetarian restaurants.
Excerpted from HELLO Chengdu January Issue.