Dorje Dongdong's zen-style restaurant in downtown Xining, the plateau capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province, offers vegetarian hotpot, which has been raved about by food lovers one year after its opening.
Born in a Tibetan Buddhist family, Dorje, 34, only became a vegetarian three years ago, when his first daughter was born.
"Tibetan people living on highlands need energy from yak meat, although we believe in Buddhism. But as the Tibetan nomad life has changed, it has been a long-time struggle for me to quit eating meat," said Dorje.
Growing up on the highland pasture 3,500 meters above the sea level in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu in Qinghai Province, Dorje's family used to keep 100 yaks. Yak meat and zanba, a staple food made of highland barley flour roasted with butter, are the family's daily diet.
On the restaurant menu, the main dish is a mix of vegetables for a hotpot made with Tibetan tea.
Dorje said nowadays, the vegetable supply from Xining and the city of Chengdu in neighboring Sichuan Province is stable.
He said the dishes in his restaurant, based on traditional Tibetan food, are trendy and delicious. One popular item is a hamburger-like bun, with the bread made of highland barley filled with mixed vegetables.
Dorje said the trend of a vegetarian diet is not just about religious beliefs, but about the rising awareness of a healthy diet as well.
He said although his parents still eat meat for dinner, they also eat vegetables and fruits. His two sisters are now vegetarians.
Recently, vegetarian restaurants have emerged in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, while in Lhasa and Xining, vegetarian food such as dried bean curds and hams made of soybeans are also very convenient to order online.
Quinoa, a grain from the plans of South America, has been widely planted in Qinghai for its high economic value after it was introduced to the province in 2013. It is now a popular staple in many households in Qinghai.
The grain rich in antioxidants, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and fiber, has been promoted worldwide by dietitians to prevent cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer.
Wu Sheng, living in Shanghai, combines her daily diet with yoga exercises. Besides vegetables and typical beans and grains, she eats avocados every day.
"Avocados contains enough dietary fiber and fat to sustain the daily energy supply for vegetarians," said Wu.
The growing consumption of these health foods praised by foodies, vegetarians, and dietitians has led producers to try to align their annual yields with demand.
In 2017, China imported over 30,000 tonnes of avocados, over 1,000 times the amount in 2011. Along with the soaring volume, the price dropped from about 50 yuan (7.2 U.S. dollars) to 10 yuan per avocado on the domestic retail market. The avocados are mainly imported from Chile, Mexico, and Peru.
Vladimir Kocerha, the economic and commercial counselor of Peru in Shanghai, said at the first China International Import Expo earlier this November that Peru is pushing forward the process to export quinoa and avocado to China, as vegan diets are more and more popular among Chinese.
According to Mintel, a global research company, the Chinese market of dry fruits and nuts, important sources for protein intake for vegetarians, will reach 841 billion yuan by the year 2023, with an average growth rate of 15.7 percent year on year. Meanwhile, Chinese continue to consume more beverages with vegetable proteins, such as soy milk.
China has about 50 million vegetarians. Thirty Chinese universities have jointly formed a vegetarian union, led by Tsinghua University, for promoting and practicing the awareness of a vegetarian diet.