Category Archives: restaurants – vegetarian

The Freshary: natural-vegan-organic-environmentally friendly desserts?

I first heard about The Freshary back in March, but only made my way to the environmentally-conscious, all-natural, part-kosher, certified-organic vegan dessert shop on Julu Lu a few weeks ago. It was a sunny, ice-cream-perfect Friday afternoon and I was to meet Sean there for some sweet treats.

I’d been curious about this place for a while. The organic movement is only just starting to catch on here, environmental issues don’t seem to ring loud in the public’s mind, and vegan — well, that’s a hard sell in most places, let alone the pork-loving city that is Shanghai. Clearly this shop isn’t trying to go mainstream, but it did open its second store within six months of their initial SML Center opening. Who is their market? Mostly westerners with a sweet tooth and dietary restrictions?

The shop was devoid of customers when I arrived, so I started chatting with one of the servers inside. The first non-meat-eating Chinese I’ve met here, she was friendly and eager to share her favourite restaurants and how-I-became-vegan story (environmental reasons). When asked how she deals with social occasions with non-veggies, she told me that she often brings her own food when dining out with friends. When going for hotpot, she will request a pot of boiling water in lieu of a “meat/bone”-broth — which is brilliant, actually, since I don’t care much for the ubiquitous chemical-laden soup bases either, and much prefer to flavour my hotpot catches with (perhaps equally chemical-ridden) sauces. I wonder if she gets charged for the water, though. She also has a bunch of vegan friends (and boyfriend), which kinda amazed me. The chat was refreshing and gave me a welcome glimpse into the emerging environment-conscious scene in China.

Anyway, Sean soon arrived and we decided to share a vanilla-black sesame ice cream (you can also get the flavours separately). Their standard soft serve in a regular cone is 25 RMB, but since we were accidentally served a huge portion in a glass and then ordered a chocolate cone on top (which was delicious), it somehow came to 30 RMB.

The ice cream was closer to the texture of frozen yogurt, substantial and lightly sweet without being heavy or cloying, which made it quite refreshing. I liked the flavour of the black sesame, but wish the vanilla flavour could’ve come out stronger. Some would find it too bland, but this is probably the way ice-cream should be — we’ve all just been spoiled by high fructose corn syrup. Because there are no preservatives, we were told, it melts more quickly than regular ice-cream, so I’m not sure how it would’ve fared outdoors.

The Freshary’s website says you can get a free “minnie muffin” with the purchase of an ice cream, but it turned out there was no free muffin. Since we were there, though, we decided we might as well try them, and chose the blueberry and the peanut butter-jelly muffins (15 RMB for 2; 23 RMB for chocolate ones) from 8-10 different flavours. They were mini indeed — less than 2 inches in diameter — and tasted… healthy. Like whole grain and real ingredients healthy, the kind of muffin you could eat for breakfast and not feel guilty about — a far cry from City Shop’s sweet, greasy, indulgent cake-like affairs. Which was great, but at the price, the muffins were a little too bite-sized to become my breakfast staple.

The shop also sells chocolates, pretzels, and other baked goods, which we didn’t try. During the hour that we were there, one other couple (western guy and Chinese woman, surprise) came in and sat down. It seemed to me that with their location off bustling Jing’an on quiet Julu Road, it might take a little more than impressive certifications — a bigger drinks list, perhaps, and slightly lowered prices — to draw a steady in-store clientele. Of course, I was only there on a random Friday afternoon; for all I know the place could be packed on a weekend evening (I hope so!).

Since I can eat eggs and dairy, the Baker and Spice downstairs from my office will likely remain my go-to for splurging on baked goods. That said, being a fan of The Freshary’s forward-thinking values and practices, the shop’s decor and friendly service, I’ll be back next time I’m in the neighbourhood and craving something healthfully sweet.

The Freshary

Julu Road
907 Julu Lu near Changshu Lu
(21) 6445-2137

SML Center
618 Xujiahui Lu, B2, T-3
(21) 6093-8282



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All-you-can-eat that’s not meat: Jendow Vegetarian buffet (人道素菜)

Let’s face it: almost all all-you-can-eat deals around are, at best, not great value if you don’t eat meat, or, at worst, as with Brazilian BBQ buffets with their mobile meat servers, downright hostile to vegetarians. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably never enjoy a lavish buffet at a 5-star hotel again. Sad, but ultimately good for my wallet and waistline.

Well, turns out there’s an innovation for every need. Jendow Vegetarian (人道素菜) is an upscale buffet establishment with several locations in vegetarian-friendly Taiwan (where it first opened in 1982) and one in Shanghai. Hidden away next to Long Hua Temple in Xuhui District, the restaurant is unassuming, even unappetizing, from the outside, but upon entering one is transported to a large, tastefully furnished hotel-like dining area with a seemingly never-ending, well-presented array of food. The seats are quite comfortable, a must considering buffets are generally minimum two-hour affairs.

The buffet consists of maybe a dozen spreads like this, representing primarily Asian cuisines but with a couple western plates thrown in for good measure. Its offerings range from create-your-own salad to Chinese-style cold dishes, from a Japanese sushi/sashimi and tempura station to dimsum and Taiwanese snacks. There are also a couple of stations where cooks will make you a bowl of soup noodle, a plate of pasta, or a veggie hotpot on the spot. Drinks include juices, Chinese herbal teas, coffee, and even Hong Kong style milk tea. There is a bar closer to the entrance but it was unmanned the night Sean and I were there.

Considering it’s all vegetarian, the selection is impressive, even overwhelming, making it a hefty challenge to get to even close to all of it even if you get there when it opens and don’t leave til they start shooing you out (not that we tried).

We started with the soups, a pumpkin soup and a cream of mushroom. The pumpkin was good, but the latter, rich and creamy and full of several varieties of mushroom, was so amazing I had two bowls. Not your average Campbell’s.

We tried maybe half the dishes in total, tasting only a bit of each in order to save room for the next plate and getting seconds on the stuff we liked. From the Japanese station, the sushi was good; the “salmon sashimi” was bland and rubbery; the tempura and made-to-order handrolls were delicious. There were a lot of dishes — aloe slices, coral, pumpkin cheese — I’d never encountered before, even at vegetarian restaurants, and they were a bit hit and miss.

For some reason I got full pretty quickly, so I didn’t get to the made-to-order noodles and such. Out of the Asian main course section, there was a pumpkin fried noodle that warranted seconds, but most of the other hot dishes were either not particularly memorable or not available when I was up there (one staff told me they were getting refilled in the kitchen, but I didn’t go back to check).

We saved room for the vast array of desserts: all manners of cakes, puffs, donuts, jellies, Chinese sweet soups, an interesting custard cooked in an eggshell, “homemade” chocolates (i.e. dark chocolate-covered nuts), and Häagen-Dazs as well as an egg-free brand of ice-cream. Not sure why they didn’t find a truly vegan ice-cream, but one kid who we saw make at least 6 trips to the ice-cream freezer seemed quite the fan. Though eye-popping in variety, only a few of the desserts were actually of decent quality; after a while, all the cakes started tasting the same.

As we were there on a Tuesday evening, the crowd was a bit thin, meaning more attentive service but less frequent turnover for the dishes. By 8:30pm they were already packing up. While it seemed at times they were going for quantity over quality, as in the case of the desserts, there were enough solid choices to get me happily full, and enough that I’d left untasted that could warrant a return trip. At 168 RMB (148 RMB for lunch, 15% gratuity on public holidays), it’s not a cheap meal, but the classy environment and the very fact of it being a genuine all-you-can-eat for vegetarians (a minority of the food is off limits for vegans) make this a good place to go for a special occasion.

After dinner, we biked over to the newish Xuhui Riverside Public Open Space (a.k.a. Shanghai Corniche) for a digestive stroll. On that summer weekday evening it was populated with locals of all ages dancing, rock-climbing, walking off their dinners and in general enjoying the breeze on the spacious, peaceful promenade.

Jendow Vegetarian (人道素菜)
2787 Longhua Road, near Longhua West Road (by Long Hua Temple), Xujiahui
龙华路2787号 (龙华迎宾馆内,近龙华寺)
(21) 6457-2299
Lunch: 11:30-14:00 ~ Dinner:17:30-21:00 (get there early!)


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Cleansing the body and spirit at Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食)

Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食) is a vegetarian restaurant located on tranquil, tree-lined Xinhua Road. Its storefront window claims a menu free of mock meats, fried or deep-fried dishes, MSG, and carbonated beverages.

Wu Guan Tang is another name for zhai tang (斋堂), the hall where meals are taken by monks in a Buddhist temple. Wu Guan refers to the five observations a monk must keep in mind during the meal. (Some more info in English and Chinese.) And indeed, the interior of the restaurant evokes a serene, spiritual atmosphere — ironically hard to find in Shanghai’s touristy and money-grabbing temples — that encourages slow and thoughtful eating.

Sean and I had come here once before when our vegan friend came to visit over a year ago, but had somehow forgotten about it since then. Another friend of mine told me recently he’d tried the place and didn’t like it at all (too bland), which subtly kept me away until a reminder from an employee at vegan dessert shop The Freshary (which I’ll write about soon) inspired us to give it another go on Friday.

Their Chinese and English-Chinese menus are handwritten, showcasing daily selections of juice/congee/soy drink/etc. that repeat by week. Unfortunately, there are no pictures and the English names of many of the items aren’t very descriptive (e.g. “Mixed vegetable in sauce”), so it can be hard to make informed choices on a first visit unless you have done some research beforehand or ask the server for recommendations.

We started with two cold dishes, a refreshing Cold noodle in vinegar-pepper sauce (酸辣凉皮, 25 RMB) — mung bean strips with peanuts, walnuts, cucumber strips, and three sauces — and an Eggplant in sesame paste (麻酱茄条, 22 RMB), which was melt-in-your-mouth tender but barely tasted of sesame paste, if at all.

We also ordered two of their signature dishes. The Special baked potato (烤土豆, 18 RMB) is to die for: soft and buttery (not sure if they actually used butter though) with a thin, slightly chewy skin that’s full of flavour. The Steamed potato with carrots and pears (一品鲜, 28 RMB), more like mashed potato/carrot with slivers of mushroom served inside a large bell pepper, is also one to be savoured. A photo of this dish graces every English and Chinese webpage about this restaurant.

We also threw in a recommendation from the waitress, drawn in by the word “pita”. The Pita with kale borecole and wing beans (榄菜龙豆口袋饼, 35 RMB), with its funnily-shaped beans and inky sauce, looked a bit ominous at first, but was quite good with the warm pita pockets. We added a strip of cold eggplant to each pita to add textural variety.

All of these dishes exhibited delicate flavours that some may find too bland. But Sean, who likes to add salt to every other dish I make at home, really liked it, so this says something! In a quiet, secluded environment like this where loud flavours would be out of place, it is perhaps easier to find appreciation for a more subtle set of flavours. While I enjoy Vegetarian Lifestyle’s flavourful mock-meat dishes, there is only so much deep-fried bean product I can take in a month. I like that this restaurant dares to celebrate the vegetable for what it is, and to make vegetarian food truly light and healthful.

All in all, Wu Guan Tang is the place to go if you are in the mood for a clean, unpresuming, well-made meatless meal (and some killer potato dishes) in a relaxing environment, or if you’re a vegetarian looking for a break from oily mock meats. I’ve read that there’s an outdoor third floor dining space, and plan to check that out when the temperature starts to drop again and mozzies go back into hibernation.

Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食)
349 Xinhua Road, near Dingxi Road
(21) 6281-3695 (reservations recommended)

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Detox at Vegetarian Lifestyle (枣子树)

My Dragon Boat Festival weekend wrapped up on Monday with a meal back on familiar ground: the popular Vegetarian Lifestyle restaurant. At first I was hesitant about bringing my mom and grandma here, but after a heavy, meat-centric few days we all welcomed the prospect of a light(er) meal. Plus, I wanted to ease their doubts about my recent meatless lifestyle and show them vegetarian food isn’t all bland and boring or limited in choice. My mom, for her part, has tried out quite a few vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong, but has been unimpressed by most of them.

Thankfully, my grandma, an avid meat eater usually dismissive of vegetables, was a good sport about the whole idea, partly because we promised her we’d stop by Xiaoyang’s on Wujiang Lu after lunch for another round of the fried dumplings they’d first tried on Friday.

Vegetarian Lifestyle markets itself as a restaurant committed to “low-carbon living”, incorporating organic ingredients and a no-meat (or egg, I think), no-MSG, no-alcohol, no-smoking policy — all very rare in these parts. While their dishes can sometimes be hit or miss (think bland or oily), what I love about this restaurant is the opportunity to try lots of new and different foods and creative ingredient combinations — it showcases all the wonderful possibilities within meatless cooking/dining, while their clever mock-meat creations provide new vegetarians — and their omnivorous dining companions — with their “meat” fix. It’s a bold concept, but obviously works, as there are now multiple locations in Shanghai and the Jing’an one seems to always be packed.

After being dropped off at the wrong intersection and walking 10 minutes in the rain, we got seated almost right away in their clean, comfortable, well-lit dining area and got to work flipping through their giant menu. As it was a public holiday, the set lunch was unavailable, though that worked out for the better as we had a full range of options and were in no rush.

While we waited for our food to arrive, we were served some fruit and a delicious barley tea that was refilled throughout the meal.

The first dish that came was a cold one, mung bean noodle strips with shredded carrot & cucumber (麻酱三丝). The simple ingredients were brought to life a very fragrant, flavourful sesame paste.

Other dishes we ordered:

Amaranth (苋菜) in broth. The greens were tender and not overcooked, and while the unusual ingredients — red bell pepper, ginger slivers, orange rind — perched on top shocked the taste buds at first, I quickly got used to it and actually found it a refreshing alternative to the typical garlic pairing.

The wild rice stem, or water bamboo, came dressed in mock meat crumbles (素末茭白). I don’t think I’d ever had this before — while a bit bland on its own, the vegetable had a pleasant texture. The mock meat didn’t add much to the dish.

The “eight treasures in hot sauce” (八宝辣酱), which wasn’t actually spicy, was spectacular. This is what we were able to pick out: doufu gan (dried bean curd), mushroom, peanut, green pea, vegetarian shrimp, something that tasted exactly like preserved ham (腊肉), and maybe bamboo shoot? This sweet-and-savoury dish was an addictive explosion of flavour and texture that was perfect company for rice, and I plan to order this every time I come here from now on.

The matsutake with XO sauce (XO酱焗松茸), one of the priciest dishes on the menu, was sadly one I couldn’t appreciate. I liked its size and texture, but there was a rather strange — almost foul — taste (or smell?) which the sauce did not cover up, though apparently that is what this rare and expensive “pine mushroom” is prized for. This was also the only dish my grandma complained about.

In acknowledgement of Dragon Boat Festival, the restaurant was giving out mini osmanthus & red bean zongzi (rice dumplings), which was a nice surprise. Full from all the food, we just split one and I took one home (and reheated for breakfast the next morning).

It was still raining when we left, so we caught a cab to nearby Wujiang Lu food street for the much-awaited fried dumplings. But to my mom’s and my surprise, as we neared our destination, my grandma suddenly announced she was actually quite full, and would probably be fine without it (which was almost music to our ears as we’ve been trying to encourage her to eat less meat for her health). So we said our farewells in the taxi and parted ways, ending our multi-generation food-filled weekend in Shanghai.

Other great dishes I’ve tried:
Black pepper “beef” (黑椒素牛排)
Sweet-and-sour deep-fried crispy mushroom (酥香脆菇)
Wuxi “spareribs” (无锡酱排)
Lettuce wrap (乾坤生菜素松)
Salt-and-pepper battered lotus root (椒盐藕片)

Dish to avoid:
Their xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). Yeah, yeah, how could I have thought that vegetarian XLB could be any good? (I have heard good things about the ones at Din Tai Fung, though.)

Vegetarian Lifestyle a.k.a. Jujube Tree (枣子树) Jing’an branch
258 Fengxian Rd. near Nanhui Rd.
6215-7566 (reservations highly recommended)


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Vegetarian Lifestyle set lunch

I’d been to Vegetarian Lifestyle once before about a month ago, but only discovered their set lunch last week.

At 22 RMB, the set lunch at this popular “modern” vegetarian (actually vegan I believe) restaurant is an amazing deal: a well-presented platter of soup, appetizers, (surprisingly flavourful) greens, a mock meat main dish, rice (mix of brown and white), and fruit, all served with some good tea in a clean, pleasant environment. Also, the food comes within 2 minutes or so — but looks and tastes far from cafeteria food — which is a huge plus if you’ve only got an hour for lunch and don’t work next door.

The sweet and sour vegetarian spareribs (lower right corner in photo) were incredibly good — the flavour and texture were on point and they did not feel greasy even though they were likely deep-fried. I could’ve had 10 more plates of the stuff.

The set lunch menu changes daily so there’s no choice — or time-consuming indecision — involved, though you could also order a la carte if you don’t like what’s on the menu, are willing to spend more, and have the luxury of time. For the price and environment and flavours, though, I’m willing to take whatever they give me :)

Vegetarian Lifestyle (a.k.a. Jujube Tree) 枣子树

  • Jingan branch
  • 258 Fengxian Rd. near Jiangning Rd. 静安区奉贤路258号近江宁路

  • Gubei branch
  • 848 Huangjincheng Rd. near Shuicheng South Rd. 长宁区黄金城道848号近水城南路

  • Luwan branch
  • 77 Songshan Rd. near Huaihai Rd. 卢湾区嵩山路77号近淮海路


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    Veggie burger quest I: Anna Maya

    After reading an NYTimes article on the proliferation of creative and delicious veggie burgers in restaurants across America, I was inspired to go forth, albeit with hopes set pretty low, to see what Shanghai has to offer in that department.

    My first chance came a few days ago, when I met up with a friend at Anna Maya, a cute, cozy vegetarian café in the French Concession that looks and feels miles away from China. Its interior is thoughtfully decorated and feels kind of rustic, like the inside of someone’s cottage, with wooden floorboards and rafters, antique furniture, vases and potted plants, and sofas on one end. There was also a display of yoga-related pamphlets and free booklets (in Chinese) on vegetarianism.

    Their small hand-written menu listed an assortment of soups, salads, Japanese-style fare like soba noodles and curry, fresh juices, desserts — and, of course, the “ultimate veggie burger” (65 RMB) that I’d read about online and come for. My friend ordered the same thing. When we asked the waitress, in Chinese, whether the burger came with anything on the side, she got confused and tried to convince us to order a soup or a salad. After a frustrating minute of dialogue we decided just to wait and see what we would get.

    What we got looked promising, and healthful:

    The patty, which was made from chickpeas, corn, cauliflower, brown rice, turmeric, and coriander, had a fresh, albeit subtle, flavour, and the patty didn’t crumble excessively, which was a plus. The whole-wheat bun it was served on, however, was too dense and dry, and the half of a cherry tomato, lettuce leaf, and slice of avocado did little to moisten our mouths. The owner was nice enough to come around and ask us how we were doing, and when we told her it was a bit dry she brought over a dish of white sauce, which made it slightly better. But it still didn’t give me the full, satisfying feeling I expect from a burger, meat-based or not — especially one that claims to be “ultimate”. Maybe if they livened it up by toasting the bread and throwing in a couple more tomatoes, raw onion, and other garnishes… it would stand a chance.

    After we were done, we went up to the vegan dessert display, which had 6 or 7 items ranging from banana pudding to strawberry tofu tart to apple crumble. The owner, a Japanese lady who was friendly and clearly passionate about the food she served, lit up as she explained the desserts to us. We were intrigued by a brown rice-red bean tart of sorts and decided to share a slice (35 RMB).

    It cradled in its nutty vegan crust sweetened brown rice, red bean paste, and other unknown sweet things, and came with a small bowl of red bean paste, which was much needed as the tart itself was somewhat dry and tough and required a bit of jaw work. In spite of the texture, I enjoyed its deep and wholesome sweetness as well as the idea that for a dessert, it was pretty damn nutritious.

    I really wanted to love my meal at Anna Maya, just because I liked the café’s ambiance and friendly owner. But even though the flavours were well-mixed, the textures weren’t quite right in the two dishes we tried (maybe that’s just how it has to be if you can’t use dairy and eggs?). While it wasn’t outrageously overpriced as one might fear such a niche restaurant might be, it would’ve added up if I wanted a soup or a drink (~30 RMB). The service was on the slow side, which was ok with me, but while the staff were nice, they could have been better trained.

    I might return to try their other desserts — like their most popular chocolate tofu tart, which was sold out that night — but I won’t be ordering the burger again.

    Anna Maya Vegetarian Cafe
    3 Taojiang Lu, near Hengshan Lu (上海市桃江路3号,近衡山路)
    Tel: 021-6433-4602


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