9 Vegetarian Dishes for Meat Lovers in Shanghai

By Sophie Steiner, September 10, 2020

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A few years ago in Shanghai, we had to really dig for that handful of vegetarian-friendly restaurants, with the idea of a vegan venue pretty much off the table. Now, with all the plant-based meat alternatives, non-dairy milk options and vegan substitutes available on so many menus around the city, vegetarian dishes are becoming more appealing to carnivores and non-meat eaters alike. 

We’ve put together a list of some our favorite classically meat-filled dishes that have been given a serious vegetarian makeover so successfully that we don’t find ourselves even missing the meat. 

Two Hands Tofu Burger

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Two Hands Burger came to life in July 2019 as the brainchild of Taste Collective and Chef Chris Zhu. While the Australian wagyu smash-burger has enjoyed its time in the limelight, its vegetarian counterpart is gaining quite the cult following. The thick cut marinated tofu and mushroom patty is flash fried and topped with classic, gooey American cheese, pickles, onions and secret sauce, all nestled between a perfectly pillowy potato bun. For the second time this summer, Shanghai gets to experience the awesomeness that is this popup – this round at The Blarney Stone on Wed-Thu, Sep 16-17 from 7-11pm. Hopefully someday this popup will become a mainstay restaurant… a true foodie dream come true.  

Charcohol’s Grilled Dry-Aged Maitake

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If it’s not Thursday at Cages, or you don’t want to wait in the lunch line at Garlic Barbecue, Charcohol’s Grilled Dry-Aged Maitake ‘meat’ is only a mushroom away. Treated like a prime cut of beef, this cluster-shaped mushroom commonly known as Hen-of-the-Woods is recognizable by its earthy, succulent flavor that mimics meat. After being smoked, the mushroom ‘steak’ is dehydrated for three days and then cooked with an aromatic sauce of burnt onions, coffee grounds and lemongrass. The dish is brought together by the fresh sprinkling of distinctly mushroom and almond-flavored shaved Mimolette cheese from Lille, France. 

Duli’s Corn and Cauliflower Fritter with Bao 

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For a vegan play on the Taiwanese guaboa, Duli skips the typical fatty layers of pork belly and instead creates the crispiest fritter out of chickpeas, cauliflower, whole corn kernels and aquafaba (the liquid left over after cooking legumes that can be beaten into a thick, calorie-free, vegan-friendly whipped cream-textured foam). After flash frying these falafel look-alikes, they are smothered in a sesame sauce that rivals Wei Xiang Zhai’s. Roll that all into a plush homemade bao bun and throw in some pickled cabbage, and you’ve got yourself a vegan ‘bao burger’ that could convert even the most devout carnivore.

O’Mill’s Avocado with Pesto Pizza

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Aside from the classic New York-style cheese, pizza is best served with a multitude of toppings, and in our humble opinion, the more meat the better. A major exception to this rule comes in the form of O’Mills Avocado with Pesto pizza, a creative spin on guacamole meets ‘za that actually works. We have yet to taste an O'Mills pizza that doesn't wow us (seriously, that crust is insane), but this one is something special. The creamy, mashed avocado juxtaposed against the large – dare we say – 'meaty' chunks of avocado creates a noteworthy play on texture that satisfies all senses. The pie is sprinkled with shaved parmesan and drizzled with an aromatic pesto, always a scrumptious match for melty mozzarella. 

Pie Society’s Vegan Tofu Katsu Curry

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Although Pie Society offers a variety of vegetarian and vegan-friendly pies and mains on the reg, like the Feta Attraction spanakopita pie or the hearty Vegan Texan Chili with Omnipork, their Vegan Tofu Katsu Curry is creating just as much buzz. Three uber-thick slices of ridiculously crispy tofu katsu sit perched atop a medley of thick gravy-doused root vegetables. Served with basmati rice, this filling work day lunch comes in at under RMB50.

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Yunhe Mianguan’s Veg Goose Spring Rolls 

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This Suzhou-style noodle house is popular amongst locals for sanxiamian, or three shrimp noodles, a delicate dish commonly enjoyed in Suzhou during the Fall.  However, it’s the Vegetarian ‘Goose’ Spring Rolls that are a true standout for us. The shatteringly crisp fried filo dough is stuffed to the brim with marinated enoki mushrooms that mimic the flavor and texture of shredded goose meat. Although we will never say no to noodles, it’s side dishes like this that are worth the daily around-the-block queue starting long before the restaurant opens its doors.

Oha Eatery's Mountain Style Red Hot Sour

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Chef Blake Thornley is the master behind the avant-garde menu at Oha Eatery, and a true mad scientist at heart. Imaginative, gritty and forward in the best way possible, Thornley combines his previous experience conducting lab work with his love for food to create inventive dishes that you won’t see on any other menu in town. Drawing on his passion for all things Guizhou cuisine, he mixes traditional mountain-inspired flavors with modern cooking techniques to create dishes that confuse yet intrigue the senses. In his version of a hot and sour soup, thick-cut pieces of firm tofu, coupled with meaty tea tree and button mushrooms, all soak in a pleasantly spicy and sour broth, leaving you satisfied despite the lack of pork or chicken stock usually involved in preparing the dish. 

Maiya Rice Canteen's Braised Omnipork 

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Drawing upon her partial Taiwanese heritage, Chef Jamie Pea’s take on luroufan at Maiya Rice Canteen is currently the only version in China that uses Omnipork, a plant-based meat alternative that appeals to vegetarians and carnivores alike. Served with a variety of toppings, like a gooey onsen egg, caramelized onions, soft tofu, roasted mushrooms and cucumber salad, every bite is better than the last. For a smaller vegetarian bite, we highly recommend the crispy yet meaty Omnipork Meatballs that are coated in breadcrumbs and topped with hazelnuts, a standout appetizer that we will gladly return for.

Commune Reserve’s Angry Cauliflower

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Shanghai sees no shortage of top-notch wings, but for non-meat eaters, you can enjoy the exact same flavor and texture of some of our favorite wings in the city at Commune Reserve. Cauliflower nuggets are coated in a crispy layer of breading before being smothered in thick Korean gochujang sauce. The wings come in a set of five, but the cauliflower is an even larger portion, allowing you to enjoy more of that addictingly lingering heat. Bonus: you can choose to eat the Angry Cauliflower with a fork so you won’t leave covered head to toe in sticky sauce, making it the more ideal choice for date nights or work outings. 

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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