My Chaotic Quest to Find a Vegetarian Meal

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 7. Travel 2.0, Shanghai by Brooke3 Comments

On a recent Saturday evening, I was lounging on my couch when 6 o’clock rolled around and my stomach started to concave in on itself. I knew there were uncut, uncooked vegetables in the fridge that probably should be eaten soon but my motivation was abysmal. I had also just realized that I had not really eaten at an exclusively vegetarian restaurant in Shanghai since coming. The pieces started to come together of what my next move was going to be; however, the challenge was then finding a place to eat.

The tough thing about living in the land of “The Great Firewall,” is sometimes you have to go through many, many apps and services in order to get a decent review. I started my quest on Google looking up best vegetarian restaurants. I was led through a series of Trip Advisor reviews which were not very helpful.

My next stop was a Chinese app called Bon App, which you did not need to evade the firewall in order to access. However, there were still very few reviews for every single restaurant I looked at. I was frustrated as our dorm is far away from everything, so if I was going to travel far to get food, I wanted it to be amazing. I even then tried to browse through Yelp, which isn’t very prominent here so that did not make my situation any better. While there were a few restaurants listed on Google itself, I started to have flashbacks to the time when Google had led me on a thirty-minute walk to a place that did not exist and I started crying alone on a set of steps because I was so hungry.

As my roommate was planning on accompanying me for dinner, I started listing off the few restaurants I could find a little bit of information on to her. She replied that she would do a bit of research and get back to me so we could find the perfect one. Alright, great, everything was fine we were going to find a restaurant worth going to; that’s what I told myself, at least. However, my roommate also came up short when attempting to find what could be the best option for us. I had become so concentrated on the mission of finding food that I forgot how hungry I was. I looked at the clock, it was 8:30. I had gotten trapped in the labyrinth of review sites.

That night, I ended up making myself veggies after feeling defeated. However, I was able to find one of the best vegetarian restaurants I’ve ever been to later that week by simply asking a friend who has lived here longer than I have. (It was called Vegetarian Lifestyle, for future reference). While I will admit that travel 2.0 tools and apps have been extremely helpful, especially during my last semester in Prague, I cannot see them as the end all be all. People did still eat good food and find interesting things to do before apps and sites were invented.

I think being in a place like Shanghai is very interesting in terms of living in the travel 2.0 world. For everything that people normally associate with the travel 2.0 world, China has an alternative. There’s not yelp, there’s bon app; there’s not Uber, there’s Didi. I find myself less reliant on these services here than I was in Europe because I do not know exactly how to use them yet.


  1. Hi Brooke,

    I totally understand the difficulty of transitioning from the U.S. (or pretty much anywhere else) to China (or vice versa). It’s definitely a learning process, especially because most of the apps that are used there don’t really provide the option of changing languages to anything other than Chinese. The equivalent there to Yelp would be an app called Dazhong Dianping in Chinese, but I doubt it’s accessible for people who can’t read Mandarin. China is definitely an interesting case where the usual travel 2.0 tools we use elsewhere aren’t really that helpful. But it’s also a good reminder that sometimes the easiest way to find good places to go while traveling is still to make use of the human resources available right next to us.
    I also found it funny that you spent so long searching for a restaurant on these app with no result, because that has happened to me and my friends so often as well. We’ve often spent hours on the internet trying to search for a good place to eat while we’re traveling. Sometimes it frustrates me and I miss the days when we would just walk around and pop into whatever restaurant looked good to us at the time. There’s definitely both pros and cons to all these tools, and sometimes the over-abundance of choices, or of information that just doesn’t fit are needs can waste time rather than save it.

  2. Hello Brooke!
    I initially chose to read your story because I’m vegetarian too, so I identify with this struggle to find non-meat menus while abroad. It’s tough! You talk about all of the applications and sites you went through to find somewhere to eat, which is an unfortunately standard process most of the time. I think another good point you bring up about Travel 2.0 is that sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up researching and finding the “perfect place” with perfect reviews, that you lose sight of actually completing the task. I agree that there are pros and cons to using the internet and not, and I appreciate your acknowledgement of frustration in missing simpler times.

  3. Hi Brooke!

    Your post was so humorous! I loved the jokes you included throughout. One thing that you mentioned that I find really interesting is how China essentially has a replacement app for every Western app that exists. While I was in China, I noticed this as well and being a Chinese-American that can’t read Chinese very well (sadly, I wish I could do so better), I can completely understand your struggle with using these apps. On a brighter note though, in terms of vegetarian meals in China, it’s actually very very easy to find a decent meal without meat! Chinese meals usually consist of three elements: meat, veggie, and rice, which usually are served separately. So it’s very easy to omit meat from your meal! On every Chinese menu, you will always find a list of veggie-only dishes. For some help finding this list, vegetables are called “菜” (pronounced as tsai) in Chinese!

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