The eating of meat can be a contentious issue in western diets – the decision about whether to eat meat at all, and which meats to eat – and discussions sometimes get quite heated.
If you are a vegetarian visiting China, then don’t worry. Chinese cuisine takes vegetables very seriously, and there are some wonderful vegetarian restaurants where you can even sample meaty flavors with some very clever faux meats.
Many (non-vegetarian) people in the west are nevertheless squeamish about eating any meat other than that from cows, sheep, pigs, fowls (chickens, ducks, turkeys) and occasionally goat or rabbit. As well as this, the only parts of the animals that are commonly eaten are the fleshy meat parts.
Chinese people, on the other hand, not only eat meat from a great many different animals, they also eat every possible part of the animal. The reason commonly stated for this is a historical one referring back to the devastating famine of 1959 – 1961, when starving people learnt to eat everything possible. But of course, even before that, Chinese cuisine included far more meat options than the western diet.
The first thing you notice about the meat in Chinese food is that it is cut up into small pieces. Obviously this is important if you are going to eat all of your food either with chopsticks or a soup spoon. It also means that it will cook more quickly, using less fuel, and flavors are allowed to penetrate the meat easily. So a Chinese meal will never serve up a big juicy steak on a plate, and there is always a balance with vegetables as well as great care being taken with sauces and flavors.
Your trip to China is an adventure, and the best advice is to embrace that and enjoy the wonderful new tastes and sensations along with the culture that surrounds it. Don’t miss the opportunity (if you get it) to taste donkey, snake, small birds, almost-hatched chickens in the egg, silkworm moth larvae, fried scorpion, frogs.
Most likely you will have opportunities to eat lots of pork, which is the most popular meat in China. And, of course, chicken is always on offer. But don’t limit your diet to the fleshy parts, as there are so many interesting dishes that include intestines, tripe (stomach lining), blood (ducks’), maybe even a very tasty rabbit’s head. Whatever meats you try, you know that it will be tasty and probably good for your health.