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Chinese Buddhist cuisine

Buddhist cuisine is known as zhai1 cai4 (齋菜) among Chinese.

When picking up the menu in a Chinese Buddhist vegetarian restaurant, one may wonder if the menu is misprinted. One will find the menu listing dishes such as chicken, duck, beef, lamb, pork, fish etc in addition to the vegetable dishes. All these meat dishes are made of imitation meat. Some of these taste like the real thing.

Due to religious beliefs, many Buddhists do not eat animal products because they don't believe in killing. Other Buddhists will interpret the precept against killing to mean human beings and thus indulge in omnivorous behavior. Even Buddhist monks in some parts of the world have been known to eat meat.

Many adherents would allow milk and (unfertilized) eggs in their diet, but some strict believers would not. Some Buddhist vegetarians don't eat onion, garlic nor leek either. Buddhist cuisine is not necessarily vegan. someone need to expand on the Buddhist rules on dietary restrictions.

In order to cater to those Buddhist customers who have missed the meat dishes, Buddhist vegetarian chefs become extremely creative in imitating meat using gluten, tofu, agar and other plant products. Gluten and tofu are very versatile material, because they can be manufactured into various consistencies and textures. With the proper seasoning and flavour, they can mimic various kinds of meat quite closely. Many soy (mainly those fermented) products provide the meaty favour. Pure vegetable dishes in these restaurants are not different from those offered in regular Chinese restaurant, perhaps with the only exception that lard would never be used in Buddhist cooking. Occasional customers to a Buddhist restaurant tend to forget about the pure veggie dishes and order a table full of imitation meat dishes due to the novelty.

Buddhist vegetarian restaurants can be profitable businesses because the material cost is much cheaper than meat, but the dishes are priced as if they are made of real meat. Also, Buddhism is so widespread in China that there is never a shortage of customers.

See also

Chinese cuisine, cooking, cuisine, Wikipedia Cookbook

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