Is Asia Vegan-Friendly? A Guide to China, Japan, and the Philippines

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The history of veganism in Asia is long and complex. It’s not just about the food, but also about the religion.

The practice of vegetarianism in Asia dates back to the Zhou Dynasty in 256 BCE when it was considered a luxury available only to the wealthy. Although meat consumption in modern-day China has increased, it’s still considered a delicacy.

In this guide, I’ll take you through the history of veganism in Asia, from ancient times to the present day. Plus, I’ll share some of the most popular vegan dishes in the region.

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The Evolution of Vegetarianism and Veganism in Asia: A Look into History and Religion

  • Vegetarianism and vegetable consumption has a long history in China, dating back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE).
  • During this time, meat consumption was considered a luxury and was only available to the wealthy.
  • The practice of vegetarianism was associated with compassion towards animals and humans alike.
  • The word for vegetarianism in Chinese, “sùshí,” means “plain food” and includes dishes made with grains, vegetables, and soy products.
  • Despite the increase in meat production and consumption in modern China, the number of people following a vegetarian or vegan diet is still significant, with an estimated 50 million people practicing vegetarianism and 5 million practicing veganism, which is around 3 percent of the population.

The Role of Religion in Veganism in Asia

  • Religion has played a significant role in the practice of veganism in Asia, particularly in countries like Japan and Taiwan.
  • In Japan, the Buddhist concept of compassion for all living beings has influenced the rise of veganism and vegetarianism.
  • Many Japanese people follow a plant-based diet called “shojin ryori,” which is typically served in Buddhist temples and includes dishes made with vegetables, grains, and soy products.
  • In Taiwan, the religious group known as the “I-Kuan Tao” promotes veganism as a means of compassion towards all living beings.
  • The group has a significant following in Taiwan and has even extended to other countries like the United States.

The Complex Relationship between Vegetarianism and Religion in Asia

  • While vegetarianism and veganism are often associated with religion in Asia, the relationship between the two is not always straightforward.
  • In countries like China, where meat consumption is still fairly high, vegetarianism is often seen as a choice for health or personal preference rather than a religious practice.
  • In addition, some religious groups in Asia, like the Taoists in China, actually include meat in their diet as a means of balancing the yin and yang energies in the body.
  • Despite these differences, the availability of plant-based foods in Asia is making it easier for people to make the choice to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, whether it is for religious, health, or environmental reasons.

Exploring the Vegan Scene in China

China is a vast country with a long history of vegetarianism and veganism. However, the misconception that Chinese cuisine is all about meat dishes still prevails. But the truth is that there are plenty of vegan options available in China, and the country is slowly but surely becoming more vegan-friendly. Here are some points to consider:

  • China has the largest population of vegans in the world, with an estimated 50 million people consuming a plant-based diet.
  • The vegan market in China is growing rapidly, with more and more companies starting to offer vegan products. Some of the biggest brands include Lee Kum Kee, a traditional Chinese sauce company, and Vitasoy, a soy milk brand.
  • While it can be difficult to find vegan products in smaller parts of China, the larger cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are stocking up on vegan products faster than ever before.
  • Soy is a staple in Chinese cuisine and has been consumed for generations, making it a perfect alternative for vegans. According to research, soy consumption in China is reaching an all-time high.
  • Chinese supermarkets are starting to include more vegan products, making it easier for vegans to buy regular groceries.
  • Chinese restaurants are also starting to offer more vegan dishes, and some restaurants are even starting to specialize in vegan cuisine. Some popular vegan restaurants in China include Green Common, Pure & Whole, and Veggie Table.
  • Religious practices also play a role in the popularity of veganism in China. Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism all have a long history of vegetarianism and veganism, and this has influenced the food culture in China.
  • Some common vegan dishes in China include sweet and sour vegetables, stir-fried tofu, and vegetable dumplings. However, it’s important to note that different regions in China have their own set of styles and dishes, so it’s always helpful to do some research or ask for help when trying to find vegan options.
  • While it’s true that some Chinese dishes contain animal products, it’s easy to make changes and find substitutes. For example, egg can be substituted with tofu, and meat can be substituted with mushrooms or seitan.
  • It’s also important to note that veganism can be considered expensive in China, especially for those who are used to eating meat. However, with the increase in popularity of veganism, prices are starting to come down.
  • Overall, China is slowly but surely becoming more vegan-friendly, and the vast majority of Chinese people are open to trying new things. So if you want to start your vegan journey in China, you’ll find plenty of help and support along the way.

Exploring the Vegan Scene in Japan

Despite being a country known for its love of seafood and meat, Japan has definitely become more vegan-friendly in recent years. While traditional Japanese cuisine heavily features fish, egg, and meat, the country has started to embrace plant-based diets and veganism as a potential form of healthy living.

The Rise of Veganism in Japan

The rise of veganism in Japan can be traced back to the Edo period, which started in the 17th century. During this time, the practice of vegetarianism began to gain popularity among religious groups. However, it wasn’t until later in the 20th century that the concept of veganism as we know it today started to gain traction. In January of this year, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare released a scientific report on the potential health benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets.

Food and Products

Despite the fact that traditional Japanese cuisine is not vegan-friendly, there are still plenty of vegan dishes available in Japan. Here are some things to keep in mind when exploring the vegan scene in Japan:

  • Soy products are widely available and commonly used in Japanese cuisine.
  • Miso soup is a popular dish that can be made vegan by leaving out the fish broth.
  • Rice is a primary staple in Japanese cuisine and is vegan-friendly.
  • Vegetables are commonly used in Japanese dishes and are a great source of protein.
  • Unlike in Western countries, veganism is not yet a popular concept in Japan, so it may be difficult to find vegan options in some restaurants or markets.

Vegan-Friendly Brands and Companies

Despite the challenges, there are some vegan-friendly brands and companies in Japan worth checking out:

  • Natural House: A health food store chain that offers a variety of vegan products.
  • Vege Deli: A vegan food delivery service that offers a variety of vegan dishes.
  • T’s Tantan: A vegan ramen chain that offers a variety of vegan ramen dishes.
  • Daiya: A popular vegan cheese brand that can be found in some Japanese supermarkets.

Exploring the Vegan Scene in the Philippines

Are you a vegan planning to visit the Philippines? Or are you a local vegan who wants to explore more vegan options in the country? Either way, this guide will be helpful for you. The Philippines may not be known as a vegan-friendly country, but worry not, as there are a lot of vegan dishes and restaurants that you can find here.

Philippines: A Country of Many Languages and Cultures

The Philippines is a country with a wide range of languages and cultures, and this is reflected in its food. While the country is mainly known for its traditional meat dishes, there are also a lot of vegetarian and vegan options available. It’s important to note that not all dishes labeled as vegetarian or vegan may be fully vegan, so it’s always best to check with the restaurant.

Vegan-Friendly Cities in the Philippines

Here are some cities in the Philippines that are known to have a lot of vegan options:

  • Manila: The capital city of the Philippines is a great place to start exploring vegan options. There are a lot of vegan restaurants located in the city center, plus a lot of restaurants that offer vegan options. Some of the best vegan restaurants in Manila include Green Bar, The Vegan Dinosaur, and The Good Seed.
  • Cebu: Cebu is another city in the Philippines that has a lot of vegan options. Some of the best vegan restaurants in Cebu include Lun-haw Vegan Cafe, The Good Choices Cafe, and The Vegan Kitchen.

Delivery and Takeout Options

If you’re looking for quick and easy vegan options, there are a lot of delivery and takeout options available in the Philippines. Some of the best delivery and takeout options include:

  • Happy Veggie: This is a vegan food delivery service that supports local farmers and uses natural and fresh ingredients.
  • The Vegan Grocer: This is an online vegan grocery store that offers a wide range of vegan products, including fresh produce, snacks, and vegan meat alternatives.

The Blossoming of Veganism in Korea: A Look into the History of Compassion and Respect for All Beings

In recent years, veganism has been gaining visibility in Korea, with more and more Koreans identifying as vegans or vegetarians. This blossoming of the vegan lifestyle can be attributed to several factors, including:

  • The effect of North American and European veganism trends
  • The rise of vegan celebrities in Korea
  • The increasing availability of vegan restaurants and grocery stores

Celebrating Veganism in Korean Festivals

Korean festivals celebrate many aspects of the vegan lifestyle, providing educational opportunities for locals and tourists alike. Some of the most popular festivals include:

  • The Seoul Veggie Festival
  • The Jeju Veggie Festival
  • The Busan International Food Expo

Demystifying Korean Cuisine for Vegans

While traditional Korean cuisine is not always vegan-friendly, modern Korean cuisine has adapted to the rise of veganism. Many local restaurants now offer vegan options, and some have even created entirely vegan menus. Some popular vegan Korean dishes include:

  • Bibimbap with tofu instead of meat
  • Japchae with mushrooms instead of beef
  • Kimchi fried rice with vegan kimchi

In conclusion, the history of veganism in Korea is rooted in the country’s long-standing tradition of compassion and respect for all beings. While it may have taken some time for the vegan lifestyle to gain popularity, it is now a blossoming trend in modern Korea, with more and more locals and tourists identifying as vegans or vegetarians.


So, that’s how vegetarianism and veganism have a long history in Asia, and how religion has played a role in making it popular. 

It’s a growing trend, especially in China, and it’s a great way to start a healthier lifestyle. So, don’t be afraid to try it yourself!

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.