Exchange Diaries: A vegetarian in Hong Kong

For those who don’t know me, I’m a vegetarian.

My maternal grandfather, who I’ve never met before, became a vegetarian in the name of animal rights during a time when the animal rights movement wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. Therefore, my mother was raised a vegetarian from day one, which led to my sister and I being raised the same way. Even my dad, a devoted meat eater, made an independent decision to become a herbivore about 15 years ago.

So, there are only two hurdles preventing me from becoming an omnivore: One, I find it a little gross to eat (though I have no problem staring at the carcasses hanging on the streets of Hong Kong), and more importantly, my body just won’t accept it. It’s true. About two months ago, I had quite a bit of chicken (because I was assured it was fake chicken, even though it had bones in it) and my stomach gave me a hard time for the rest of the day.

You’re probably wondering how I’m not starving in Hong Kong, where meat is considered a staple. It’s certainly a challenge compared to home, where you can even walk into a steakhouse and manage to find something vegetarian. But it’s not impossible. Most places have something that’s vegetarian; it’s just that it’s not labelled as vegetarian. That’s because there isn’t a universal term.

In Cantonese, the best way to say that you’re vegetarian is “ngo sik zaai ge,” which literally translates to “I eat vegetables”. However, getting the tones is quite important. Otherwise, I just get a blank stare, which is when I start repeating the sentence in different ways. It does help to go with local students, who have been so nice in helping me out, but I do feel really bad to feel so picky, even though I’m by no means a picky eater.

Nevertheless, I do have to say that I’ve tried and enjoyed a number of great dishes in Hong Kong, ranging from dim sum (at least a couple of dishes), dou fu fa, steamed buns, a whole range of soups, noodles, rice (or a combination of all three) and pretty much all desserts. But I do miss my salads, pizza and maple-syrup ridden pancakes! It is important to note that these three things are available in Hong Kong; it’s just that they are expensive and not accessible. Who knew that I’d miss these three things so much! But for now, no day would be complete without a bowl of rice or noodles.

Hong Kong might not be a vegetarian’s paradise, but it certainly should not be crossed out as a potential destination.

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