Dim Sum for Vegetarians
Author & Photographer: Harini Shah
Among some of the hardest times I’ve had in dealing with my diet, finding good vegetarian food when my friends and I go out for dim sum in Chinatown tops the list. The Susan-style tabletops demand being filled with rolls and buns filled with a variety of meats. I barely get to mention a few dishes that are vegetarian-friendly before hungry stomachs begin to call out for the pork buns and shrimp rolls that my friends can’t help but order in bulk.
I don’t blame them – Chinatown dim sum is notoriously scrumptious within the UChicago community, whether it be through house trips or late-night dim sum runs. When I chose to try meat my first year, I loved these dishes. But since I decided to switch back to my vegetarianism and have stayed true to this diet the past year, I sought a better solution to meet my dim sum needs and continue with the diet I have tried so hard to maintain. On a dim sum escapade a few weeks ago, I brought up my concerns to a few friends. I was surprised to find that 3-4 of my friends shared the same concerns. They recently went vegetarian and also had a tough time getting a solid meal out of dim sum nights. It’s hard when the only things you can eat are the vegetable fried rice and noodle dishes.
Whether I lucked out in finding myself in the company of a bunch of vegetarian friends, or discovered an actual issue to be addressed, I sought to find a solution this question: what are the best vegetarian-friendly dishes to order that will impress both meat-eaters and plant-eaters alike? I visited two of the most commonly trekked dim sum places in Chinatown: Minghin and Triple Crown. Below are some staples that I discovered are loved by all:
1. Ma Po Tofu
A popular Chinese dish from the Sichuan province, mapo tofu consists of tofu in a spicy sauce made with fermented broad-beans, fermented black beans, and chili paste. The dish typically comes with minced meat, but both restaurants I went to were cool with removing the meat.
2. Lo mai gai (sticky rice)
Served during yum cha, this dish is a southern Chinese food which normally contains glutinous rice filled with chicken, Chinese mushrooms, sausage, and scallions. I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I requested to have it made vegetarian, both restaurants were able to do so! The vegetarian one had mushrooms and veggies in it.
3. Stuffed eggplant
Although I’ve realized many aren’t eggplant people, this dish comes in a variety of ways (a la carte or dim sum-style) and turns out delicious every time. Originally, a few of my particularly carnivorous friends weren’t too keen on trying this one, but they came around after trying one or two bites – it tastes delicious, usually seasoned with bean sauce.
4. Custard buns
An absolute must for the vegetarian. It comes rolled, in bao-form, or shaped like fun little pigs (Minghin). Great for everyone and a perfect dessert— if that’s what you’re going for.