If you had told Hannah Che, when she was studying piano in college, that she would be publishing a vegan Chinese cookbook, she would have been shocked. Yet Che is the author of recently published Vegan Chinese cuisine, which pulls recipes from her vegan cooking blog The Plant Based Wok. Despite the drastic change in career choice, she is able to draw parallels between her time spent earning her master’s degree at Rice University and her experiences with Chinese cuisine.
“I see a lot of similarities between cooking and music, as they’re both very technical yet very creative,” says Che. “You also have to perform in a certain way, whether it’s a music concert or if you’re cooking in a restaurant; every night shift is like a performance in a way. Even when you go to work in other restaurants, it’s literally called a scene.
Che first became interested in vegan cooking during her freshman year of college, after reading eating animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. “It was very difficult to read, but I think I finished it in one sitting,” Che explains. “It showed me these issues that I hadn’t been aware of before regarding animal agriculture and the environmental impacts of the food that I had been consuming without knowing.”
With the knowledge from the book, Che decided to commit to a vegan diet. She didn’t see how she could ignore what she had learned and how it affected her. The problem, however, was involving her family and finding a way to still enjoy the classic Chinese dishes she loved growing up.
To Che’s surprise, his mother immediately supported him and shared her own desire to eat sustainably. “She was always very knowledgeable about the food industry and animal husbandry, but I never told her about it or realized it,” Che says. That’s not to say that her mother is entirely plant-based, but “she’s very aware of these issues” and, more importantly, encouraged Che to live her life as she saw fit.
Che immediately began looking for plant-based resources and cookbooks, and while there was a wealth of information, all the recipes looked alike: cereal bowls, smoothies and salads, all developed by a white leader. “Don’t get me wrong, I eat a lot of it, but I felt like vegan food is a specific food that has to look a certain way,” she explains. Nothing encompassed the rich culinary traditions that Che grew up with in Chinese cuisine, so she decided to pursue it herself.
When Che graduated in the summer of 2019, instead of pursuing her piano career, she headed to a culinary school in China. It was there that she saw just how abundant Chinese herbal cuisine could be. “I realized that tradition isn’t something that stays the same,” she says.
There’s this misconception that going vegan will separate a person from their identity and culture, but Che had the opposite reaction. “To say that there is only one way to eat cuisine is to say that the Chinese cannot also be innovative and think about food through the prism of environmental issues,” she explains. , which she claims to be patently untrue.
For naysayers who believe Chinese food must include animal products to live up to a rigid sense of authenticity, Che points to his experiences in China. “I was in Chengdu province and went to three or four different restaurants and ordered mapo tofu and was so surprised how different they all tasted,” he explains. -she. “I had a mentor who was a Buddhist chef and had been eating vegan for 40 years. His mapo tofu used chopped mushrooms – who’s to say his isn’t authentic?”
Che returned from China with new recipes under her belt and a new perspective on what it means to cook vegan Chinese dishes. “I don’t like the word veganized because it assumes you’re putting a spin on something from an outside perspective,” Che says. “Chinese culture has its own plant-based histories that are much older than the plant-based movement in the West, so it’s entirely possible to do something that’s both traditional and vegan.