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What to eat when I'm in China? (Travel in general)

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created October 15, 2010 at 11:34 PM

This question might be relevant to others who are traveling and want to stay as close to the paleo way as possible.

I'm going to China for a couple of weeks next month and I reckon my paleo diet will pretty much go out the window.

I just read an article saying that rice is the least bad of all the grains so I guess I can occasionally have some in my meals.

Other Asian countries often have various kinds of soup which involve just meat and veggies, I assume China has the same.

Other than that what can I do? Avoid certain types of noodles? (Egg Noodles Vs Rice Noodles?)

5662d1262516ccbd70249e7aeaf58901

(681)

on May 19, 2012
at 07:14 AM

Article about sewer oil and swill oil in China: http://grist.org/article/food-2010-10-25-a-close-encounter-with-chinese-sewer-oil/

3a966a805e09d88b0f223f2985392e4f

(836)

on January 21, 2011
at 08:43 AM

Paola, is it possible to email you? I am coming to Hong Kong in a week and a half and want to get a lot of protein but also stay on budget. My email is in my profile here.

499f188c87c6980742b9ba98caa6f563

(683)

on October 17, 2010
at 10:52 PM

you guys are probably right -- but I did ask at a couple of local restaurants in the hutongs of Beijing, and they did say they used lard. The situation is probably fluid, and not changing for the better!

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on October 17, 2010
at 01:51 PM

Paola, yes, I live in Ningbo.

5672b2d190891342389e764cc4056ca9

(1304)

on October 17, 2010
at 06:14 AM

Nico, are you in China too?

5672b2d190891342389e764cc4056ca9

(1304)

on October 17, 2010
at 12:19 AM

Nico, now I live in Hong Kong; I've spent one year in Nanjing and travelled here and there, especially in the western provinces. Ben, MSG unfortunately is used a lot in China, and sold in grocery stores in the salt section... It hits me almost every time I eat out (incredible hunger, headache, swelling), and it's worse when I eat in cheaper restuarants, because it's used to improve taste and save big time on food quality. It's becoming more and more common for health conscious city dwellers to ask restaurants not to use it in their meals.

5672b2d190891342389e764cc4056ca9

(1304)

on October 17, 2010
at 12:14 AM

Nico, now I live in Hong Kong. Ben, MSG unfortunately it's used a lot in China, and sold in grocery stores in the salt section... It hits me almost every time I eat out (incredible hunger, headaches, swelling), but usually when I eat in cheaper restuarant. It's used to improve taste and save big time on food quality. It is becoming more and more common for health-conscious Chinese to ask restaurants not to use it in their meals.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on October 16, 2010
at 01:54 PM

@garymar, I think, from what Chinese friends tell me, that your claim is unfortunately a bit outdated. In most cities it seems that vegetable oils have become the medium of choice. Prolly comes down to cost and availability - the same companies flooding our markets with n6-laden veg oils are prolly working over there.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on October 16, 2010
at 01:51 PM

@Paola, so MSG really is everywhere in China? I was under the impression that heavy MSG-usage was more something in American Chinese restaurants and just associated with mainland China.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on October 16, 2010
at 05:22 AM

Hi Paola, Just out of curiousity- where do you live in China?

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on October 16, 2010
at 05:10 AM

I don't think this is true. In my experience there are lots of restaurants that use veggie oil. In fact, word on the street here in China is that a lot of cheaper restaurants are using "sewer oil"- oil taken from sewage (so gross!).

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on October 16, 2010
at 12:37 AM

That's been my experience as well. Lotsa courses served, most of which have no grains or only a bit (outer coverings on dumplings). Mostly it's all meat and veggies. Rice comes at the end. Many experienced Chinese expect Americans to often not 'like' rice anyway so they don't seem to press too hard on that one. They figure Americans are just sorta weird sometimes and don't take it personally. Just eat the rest and gush over how tasty it is (and you probably won't be lieing) Pick the ones that are most paleo and especially gush over those so you can eat more of those.

8564091e3cf82ea53843c0dbcf57857a

(990)

on October 16, 2010
at 12:06 AM

Hm I should add that noodles and rice are generally served at the end of the meal at restaurants only if everyone wants it. Chances are you'll have meals where if you say you're full before the starch is served, they won't bother. If you're staying with families in their homes, they'll have more rice. Breakfasts will probably have congee (rice porridge).

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7 Answers

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2
5672b2d190891342389e764cc4056ca9

(1304)

on October 16, 2010
at 01:40 AM

The macronutrients are not a problem: most dishes keep rice on the one side, and meat and veggies on the other.

The major problem is to avoid vegetable oils (corn, peanuts, canola, etc.) that are used everywhere on everything; unfortunately, lard is now considered an old-fashiohed food used by grannies who didn't know better...

Other problems are:

  • MSG is everywhere, used like salt.

  • Dishes are loaded with sugar.

  • Soy sauce (made with wheat) is everywhere (tough life for gluten-intolerant people!)

  • All sauces used both by restaurant and in home cooking (XO sauce, oyster sauce, black bean sauce, hoisin sauce, chilly sauce etc.) are made with vegetable oils and loaded with thickeners and flavorings.

That said, if you are going for only two weeks, I wouldn't worry about it. But if you are really concerned, my suggestion is to eat the simplest dishes you can find, like roast meats and stir fried veggies. No complicated stuff with heavy sauces. BBQ meat is a good choice, but watch sugar and soy sauce. Steamed fish is excellent, if you can find it. In northern China, you will see people selling roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes in the streets, go for it! I wouldn't worry about some rice from time to time.

If you are neither celiac not diabetic (and don't have strong intolerance to MSG), your food experience in China should be ok. I have been living in China for several years. I mostly eat at home, but I would do the same everywhere else in the world. The problem is not China, but restaurant and processed food.

5672b2d190891342389e764cc4056ca9

(1304)

on October 17, 2010
at 12:19 AM

Nico, now I live in Hong Kong; I've spent one year in Nanjing and travelled here and there, especially in the western provinces. Ben, MSG unfortunately is used a lot in China, and sold in grocery stores in the salt section... It hits me almost every time I eat out (incredible hunger, headache, swelling), and it's worse when I eat in cheaper restuarants, because it's used to improve taste and save big time on food quality. It's becoming more and more common for health conscious city dwellers to ask restaurants not to use it in their meals.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on October 17, 2010
at 01:51 PM

Paola, yes, I live in Ningbo.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on October 16, 2010
at 05:22 AM

Hi Paola, Just out of curiousity- where do you live in China?

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on October 16, 2010
at 01:51 PM

@Paola, so MSG really is everywhere in China? I was under the impression that heavy MSG-usage was more something in American Chinese restaurants and just associated with mainland China.

5672b2d190891342389e764cc4056ca9

(1304)

on October 17, 2010
at 06:14 AM

Nico, are you in China too?

5672b2d190891342389e764cc4056ca9

(1304)

on October 17, 2010
at 12:14 AM

Nico, now I live in Hong Kong. Ben, MSG unfortunately it's used a lot in China, and sold in grocery stores in the salt section... It hits me almost every time I eat out (incredible hunger, headaches, swelling), but usually when I eat in cheaper restuarant. It's used to improve taste and save big time on food quality. It is becoming more and more common for health-conscious Chinese to ask restaurants not to use it in their meals.

3a966a805e09d88b0f223f2985392e4f

(836)

on January 21, 2011
at 08:43 AM

Paola, is it possible to email you? I am coming to Hong Kong in a week and a half and want to get a lot of protein but also stay on budget. My email is in my profile here.

2
8564091e3cf82ea53843c0dbcf57857a

(990)

on October 16, 2010
at 12:03 AM

It's pretty easy to focus on meat and veg dishes in China. Soups are good and don't usually have noodles in them. Plenty of beef, pork, and lamb in the north (Beijing, Xian), and more seafood in the south (Shanghai, Hong Kong).

When I was in China I ate some rice if there weren't enough options at meals, but I focused on meat and veg. If you're very sensitive to gluten then stay away from noodles, dumplings and heavily sauced dishes.

I wrote a bunch of blog posts about my last visit, with some pictures of food if you're interested: http://www.scdkat.com/category/china2010/

If you're going to Beijing, you have to have the lamb hot pot and the Peking duck. So good!

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on October 16, 2010
at 12:37 AM

That's been my experience as well. Lotsa courses served, most of which have no grains or only a bit (outer coverings on dumplings). Mostly it's all meat and veggies. Rice comes at the end. Many experienced Chinese expect Americans to often not 'like' rice anyway so they don't seem to press too hard on that one. They figure Americans are just sorta weird sometimes and don't take it personally. Just eat the rest and gush over how tasty it is (and you probably won't be lieing) Pick the ones that are most paleo and especially gush over those so you can eat more of those.

8564091e3cf82ea53843c0dbcf57857a

(990)

on October 16, 2010
at 12:06 AM

Hm I should add that noodles and rice are generally served at the end of the meal at restaurants only if everyone wants it. Chances are you'll have meals where if you say you're full before the starch is served, they won't bother. If you're staying with families in their homes, they'll have more rice. Breakfasts will probably have congee (rice porridge).

1
02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on October 16, 2010
at 05:16 AM

In my opinion China offers plenty of paleo options. Like others have said the sauces are best avoided. If you're around Shanghai there are a lot of dishes that are basically veggies with meat or seafood. Like I mentioned in a comment, the use of questionable vegetable oil is an issue, but in moderation it's probably fine.

Hot Pot is always good choice. You just dunk meat and veggies into boiling broth.

So while you may not be 100% paleo while eating here, I think you'll be close enough.

0
Dcd707b8de2bba775f982df13fc9ecc8

on April 25, 2011
at 11:43 PM

oooof good luck. I was on a world tour with a show, and found china the hardest place to find food. Which is saying a lot, because we were all over the map, and I am a very adventurous eater. There was zero white meat chicken, zero. Dark meat was fine for a week, and then I just got sick of the taste.The duck was really good, but i couldn't keep eating just that. Also, a lot of the food tasted dirty to me, If that makes sense? After a while of eating some questionable meats... I swear I ate dog, I did NOT order it , but it was on the menu, and I think there was a mix up :( . I found that the Korean barbeque places were the best. They bring you the raw meats and seafood and you cook it your self. I wasn't paleo at the time , but what can be more paleo than that? You don't have any added sauces if you don't want them, and you can eat an entire meal of just meat and fish (veggies if you want or need them). I don't recommend this as it is totally not paleo, but I got so sick of the Chinese food, that I started to go to TGI Friday's for salads. Crazy, you can find the sh*##iest american food in any country. Hope this didn't sound too negative, yikes. But this was my experience.

p.s I totally agree with Resurgent, If you can have a local person to translate, you will have a much easier time than I did. Trying to ask for changes to the menu did not happen for me, as i spoke no Chinese. Having a translator would have also saved me from eating dog :(. So, If it is at all available to you definitely take advantage!

0
39dfa638e29539e524e2d9283a941d53

on April 25, 2011
at 10:29 PM

way easier to eat semi-paleoin China than in the US. They do use canola oil to fry everything, unless you seek out places that use 牛油 (niuyou/tallow). Cordain or someone makes the case that canola is not bad for you like soybean oil. I have no idea.

And yes, MSG is in everything. Only some regions add sugar to things, most do not.

Rice is not a big part of restaurant food in most places. Just meat and vegetables.

You aren't going to maintain dietary purity in China, but you will do way better than you would trying to stay paleo in american restaurants.

0
A089b683ee0498f2b21b7edfa300e405

on October 16, 2010
at 01:19 PM

I travel to China often - Its not that hard. Most restaurants can serve you a complete Paleo meal if you let them know what exactly you want. Your best bet is to have a local (who can speak English) go with you and you let him know that you want just veggies sauteed in butter, not oil; roast meat, there's just too much choice and avoid all kind of sauces and rice. I have traveled to various cities and stayed up to 2 weeks at a stretch without worrying - but I always had a local person by my side.

0
499f188c87c6980742b9ba98caa6f563

(683)

on October 16, 2010
at 01:09 AM

One great thing about China: everything is fried in lard or other animal fat. Only the fancy hotels catering to international business and tourism will have switched to vegetable oils.

At the famous Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing, Quan Ju De, I had Peking Duck but also duck hearts, duck tongues, etc. You can get feet too if you ask!

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on October 16, 2010
at 05:10 AM

I don't think this is true. In my experience there are lots of restaurants that use veggie oil. In fact, word on the street here in China is that a lot of cheaper restaurants are using "sewer oil"- oil taken from sewage (so gross!).

499f188c87c6980742b9ba98caa6f563

(683)

on October 17, 2010
at 10:52 PM

you guys are probably right -- but I did ask at a couple of local restaurants in the hutongs of Beijing, and they did say they used lard. The situation is probably fluid, and not changing for the better!

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on October 16, 2010
at 01:54 PM

@garymar, I think, from what Chinese friends tell me, that your claim is unfortunately a bit outdated. In most cities it seems that vegetable oils have become the medium of choice. Prolly comes down to cost and availability - the same companies flooding our markets with n6-laden veg oils are prolly working over there.

5662d1262516ccbd70249e7aeaf58901

(681)

on May 19, 2012
at 07:14 AM

Article about sewer oil and swill oil in China: http://grist.org/article/food-2010-10-25-a-close-encounter-with-chinese-sewer-oil/

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