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roddy

Can vegetarians eat onions?

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roddy

Someone sent me this asking if I could comment on the seemingly odd comment at the end: "don't add onion & garlic for vegetarians". There's a mistranslation, as the Chinese is 'vegetarians don't have to...' and the seeming oddness comes from, I assume, Buddhism. From Wiki

In addition to the ban on garlic practically all Mahayana monastics in China, Japan and Vietnam specifically avoid eating strong-smelling plants, traditionally asafoetida, shallot, and mountain leek, and refer to these as wǔ hūn (五荤, or 'Five Acrid and Strong-smelling Vegetables') or wǔ xīn (五辛 or 'Five Spices') as they tend to excite senses. This is based on teachings found in the Brahamajala Sutra, the Surangama Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra (chapter eight). In modern times this rule is often interpreted to include other vegetables of the onion genus, as well as coriander. 

 

 

荤 has the ABC definitions of 'meat and fish' and also 'pungent foods'. It's also just occurred to me that the Chinese character for 'meat and fish' includes the grass radical, but not the meat or fish ones. 

 

It's quite common to hear vegetarians complaining that food they were told was suitable featured 'only little bits of meat, it's fine' or 'just pork'. But has anyone ever said they 吃素 and then been disappointed by dishes with all the pungent tastiness removed?

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889

Sounds as well like Jain vegetarianism. In India, vegetarian restaurants often offer both regular vegetarian dishes and the same basic dishes prepared Jain style, which usually involves an extra charge.

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simc

My wife is vegetarian and allergic to onion and garlic so it is quite convenient that you can go out to a Chinese vegetarian restaurant and not have to worry. Hare Krishna food also does not contain onion or garlic.

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Mouseneb

I'm not vegetarian but can't eat any peppers at all. I'm often bemused and disappointed to find that onion and garlic (which I love) are also removed from a dish when I order it without peppers. I wonder if there's a relationship?

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oceancalligraphy

葷食 usually refers to meat/fish as food. 素食 does mean vegetarianism, which I associate with Buddhism, but I don't know if I would notice if it adhered to avoiding 五葷 or not. 齋食 is the term for Buddhist vegetarianism, which can be closer to veganism: avoiding meat/fish, 五葷, eggs, and milk.

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Angelina

It's quite common to hear vegetarians complaining that food they were told was suitable featured 'only little bits of meat, it's fine' or 'just pork'. But has anyone ever said they 吃素 and then been disappointed by dishes with all the pungent tastiness removed?

  

I haven't been disappointed because although I am not too strict about not eating strong-smelling plants, I prefer not too eat food that smells bad to me. Yes, I mostly get food that has no onion when I say 我吃素. I am not sure what everyone in China considers 荤, I guess the majority would also include strong-smelling plants. 

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Michaelyus

Growing up (华侨 family overseas) I often heard the word 素斋 as one unit in connection with Chinese Buddhist practice. Some websites state that 素 refers to the content of the restriction and 斋 the timing of the regime [过午不食]. It seems to refer to 肉类, 鱼类, 荤菜 including egg/onion being excluded.

 

I personally only heard of 吃素 without reference to 斋 with the rise of [Western-style] lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, although the phrase dates back to a lot earlier. Hence a lot of the confusion - there's a shift in meaning occurring.

 

 

 

A note about the "only pork" thing - 猪瘦肉 is considered not to contribute all that much to 湿热, and as "clearing" of 热 is one of the most common dietary restrictions imposed temporarily among many Chinese speaking people, it is fairly well-recognised as being acceptable even if other more 湿热 meats are being avoided. Even though it lacks a name (I'd probably call it a specific 忌口湿热, although most people will say that they're 去火, much as one would say one is "detoxing").

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Angelina

Thanks Michaelyus, useful info. 

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prateeksha

I am Hindu Brahman by birth and a life-long vegetarian. With India also catching up fast on development and becoming more liberal (well, one step at a time), increasing number of meat-eating Brahmans can be found everywhere. Traditionally, ginger-garlic-onions are not supposed to be consumed, since they are tamasic by nature. Jain people, as 889 has already mentioned, still abide by these rules. 

 

I also recall that my Malaysian 华侨 roommate in 北语 was a life-long vegetarian too. We loved being roomies, of course. I would cook for her often, but she did not consume onions-garlic-ginger in her diet. 

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Angelina

You also cooked for me  :) 谢谢!

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prateeksha

Angelina, those were the times! Hope to meet you soon again :)

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Angelina

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rezaf

So that's why my qigong didn't work! I was a vegetarian for two years but consumed 五辛. Eventually I gave up. Maybe it is worth giving it another shot.

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anonymoose

So will you go back to all those post that you were defending the mystical powers of qigong and admit it doesn't work now?

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rezaf

I'm just joking. Of course I know about the mystical powers of Neigong though I didn't feel being a vegetarian could affect it much however too much meat can certainly slow me down. I'm gonna try it without onion this time maybe I can finally fly.

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Johnny20270

A great thing about China (and India worth mentioning) is that it has opened my mind a lot more to vegetarian dishes. Actually I like them a lot more than I thought I would. Still i pity you vegetarians who never tried 烤鸭  :P

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Angelina

We moved to greener pastures hahahahaha

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AndersenLea

Well, since onion is a known vegetables, it is advisable for vegans to eat it as well. But there is a certain vegan people called Jain vegetarian that do not eat root veggies such as onions, garlic, potatoes, brinjals and garlic.

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imron

Obviously you haven't read the topic very clearly, because there are circumstances where it might be less than obvious.

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