Dairy-Free Chinese Cuisine – All You Need To Know

by Ella

Chinese cuisine is renowned for its rich flavors, diverse ingredients, and complex cooking techniques. For those adhering to a dairy-free diet, Chinese food can be an excellent choice due to its minimal use of dairy products. This article delves into the vast world of Chinese cuisine, highlighting dairy-free options, providing tips for dining out and cooking at home, and exploring the culinary traditions that make this cuisine accessible to those avoiding dairy.

The Fundamentals of Dairy-Free Chinese Cuisine

Historically, traditional Chinese cooking rarely includes dairy products. Unlike Western cuisines, which frequently use milk, butter, cheese, and cream, Chinese cuisine relies more on ingredients like soy products, rice, noodles, vegetables, meats, and seafood. This intrinsic characteristic makes Chinese food particularly friendly for those with dairy restrictions.


Key Dairy-Free Ingredients

Soy Products: Tofu, soy milk, and soy sauce are staples in Chinese cooking. Tofu, in particular, is a versatile ingredient used in soups, stir-fries, and as a meat substitute.


Rice and Noodles: Both rice and noodles are fundamental to Chinese meals. These can be found in many forms, such as steamed rice, fried rice, rice noodles, wheat noodles, and glass noodles.


Vegetables: A wide variety of vegetables are used, including bok choy, Chinese broccoli (gai lan), napa cabbage, mushrooms, snow peas, and bamboo shoots.


Meats and Seafood: Chicken, pork, beef, duck, fish, and shellfish are commonly used, often marinated and stir-fried.

Spices and Aromatics: Garlic, ginger, scallions, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and chili peppers are essential for flavoring dishes.

Popular Dairy-Free Chinese Dishes

Here is a selection of classic Chinese dishes that are naturally dairy-free or can be easily modified to exclude dairy:

Appetizers and Dim Sum

Spring Rolls (Chun Juan): Typically filled with a mixture of vegetables and sometimes meat, wrapped in a thin pastry, and deep-fried.

Steamed Dumplings (Jiaozi): Dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables, steamed until tender.

Hot and Sour Soup (Suan La Tang): A tangy and spicy soup made with tofu, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and often pork.

Egg Drop Soup (Dan Hua Tang): A light broth with beaten eggs added to create silky strands.

Main Courses

Kung Pao Chicken (Gong Bao Ji Ding): A spicy stir-fry made with chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers, all cooked in a savory sauce.

Mapo Tofu (Mapo Doufu): A Sichuan dish featuring tofu set in a spicy, flavorful sauce with ground pork and fermented black beans.

Beef and Broccoli: Tender beef slices stir-fried with broccoli in a savory brown sauce.

Sweet and Sour Pork (Tang Cu Li Ji): Crispy pork pieces stir-fried with bell peppers, pineapple, and onions in a sweet and tangy sauce.

Stir-Fried Vegetables (Chao Cai): A variety of vegetables quickly cooked in a wok with garlic and soy sauce.

Noodles and Rice Dishes

Chow Mein: Stir-fried noodles with a mix of vegetables and a choice of protein (chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu).

Fried Rice (Chao Fan): Rice stir-fried with eggs, vegetables, and a protein of choice, flavored with soy sauce.

Dan Dan Noodles: Wheat noodles served with a spicy sauce containing minced pork and preserved vegetables.

Congee (Zhou): A savory rice porridge often served with various toppings like preserved eggs, pickled vegetables, and scallions.

Dining Out: Tips for a Dairy-Free Experience

When dining out at a Chinese restaurant, it’s helpful to follow these tips to ensure a dairy-free meal:

Communicate Clearly: Inform the waiter or chef about your dairy allergy or intolerance. Use the phrase “wo bu chi nai zhi” (我不吃奶制) which means “I do not eat dairy products.”

Ask About Ingredients: Some dishes may contain unexpected dairy ingredients, such as certain sauces or pre-marinated meats.

Choose Sauces Wisely: Stick to clear or soy-based sauces rather than creamy ones. Hoisin, oyster, and black bean sauces are typically safe, but always confirm.

Opt for Simple Dishes: Steamed, stir-fried, or boiled dishes are less likely to contain dairy than complex or fusion dishes.
Beware of Pre-made Items: Items like wontons, dumplings, and some pastries might contain dairy, so it’s best to ask if they are made fresh or pre-packaged.

Cooking Dairy-Free Chinese Food at Home

Cooking at home allows complete control over ingredients and preparation methods, making it easier to avoid dairy. Here are some essential tips and recipes for creating delicious dairy-free Chinese meals:

Essential Pantry Staples

Soy Sauce: A fundamental seasoning in Chinese cuisine.

Rice Vinegar: Adds a tangy flavor to dishes and dressings.

Sesame Oil: Provides a nutty flavor; used sparingly due to its strong taste.

Cornstarch: Used for thickening sauces and creating crispy coatings.

Shaoxing Wine: A Chinese cooking wine that adds depth to dishes.

Five-Spice Powder: A blend of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds.

Dairy-Free Recipes

1. Kung Pao Chicken


  • 1 lb chicken breast, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch ginger, minced
  • 3 dried chili peppers
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil


Heat vegetable oil in a wok. Add dried chili peppers, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry until fragrant.

Add chicken and cook until no longer pink.

Add bell pepper and zucchini, stir-fry for a few minutes.

Mix soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, and sesame oil in a bowl. Pour into the wok and stir to combine.

Add peanuts and cornstarch mixture, stir until sauce thickens.

Serve hot with steamed rice.

2. Mapo Tofu


  • 1 block firm tofu, cubed
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch ginger, minced
  • 2 tbsp doubanjiang (spicy bean paste)
  • 1 tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, ground
  • 2 scallions, chopped


Heat vegetable oil in a wok. Add garlic, ginger, and doubanjiang. Stir-fry until aromatic.

Add ground pork and cook until browned.

Add tofu, fermented black beans, soy sauce, and chicken broth. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add cornstarch mixture and stir until sauce thickens.

Sprinkle with ground Sichuan peppercorns and chopped scallions.

Serve with steamed rice.

3. Vegetable Stir-Fry


  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup snow peas
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch ginger, minced
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil


Heat vegetable oil in a wok. Add garlic and ginger, stir-fry until fragrant.

Add broccoli, snow peas, carrot, and bell pepper. Stir-fry until vegetables are tender-crisp.

Mix soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sesame oil in a bowl. Pour into the wok and stir to combine.

Serve hot with steamed rice or noodles.

Exploring Regional Variations

Chinese cuisine encompasses a vast range of regional styles, each with unique characteristics and dairy-free options. Here are some notable regional cuisines and their typical dishes:

Sichuan Cuisine

Known for its bold flavors and liberal use of chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, Sichuan cuisine offers many dairy-free dishes. Classic examples include:

Twice-Cooked Pork (Hui Guo Rou): Pork belly is first boiled, then stir-fried with vegetables and a spicy bean paste.

Fish-Fragrant Eggplant (Yu Xiang Qie Zi): Eggplant cooked with garlic, ginger, and a flavorful sauce.

Cantonese Cuisine

Cantonese cuisine emphasizes fresh ingredients and delicate flavors. While it sometimes incorporates dairy in dim sum dishes, many items remain dairy-free:

Steamed Fish (Qing Zheng Yu): Whole fish steamed with ginger, scallions, and soy sauce.

Beef with Oyster Sauce: Tender beef stir-fried with vegetables in a savory oyster sauce.

Shanghainese Cuisine

Featuring sweet and savory flavors, Shanghainese cuisine often uses soy-based sauces and fresh produce:

Red-Braised Pork (Hong Shao Rou): Pork belly braised in soy sauce, sugar, and spices.

Lion’s Head Meatballs (Shi Zi Tou): Large, tender meatballs stewed with napa cabbage.

Dairy-Free Dining: Street Food and Snacks

Chinese street food offers a plethora of dairy-free snacks and small bites that are perfect for those on the go:

Jianbing: A savory Chinese crepe filled with egg, scallions, cilantro, and various sauces.

Baozi: Steamed buns filled with meat or vegetables.

Tanghulu: Skewered fruits, such as hawthorn berries, coated in a hard candy shell.

Zongzi: Glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, often filled with meats, beans, or nuts.


Chinese cuisine, with its minimal use of dairy, offers a wealth of options for those adhering to a dairy-free diet. From classic dishes like Kung Pao Chicken and Mapo Tofu to regional specialties and street food delights, the diversity and richness of Chinese cooking are vast and accommodating. By understanding the ingredients, making informed choices when dining out, and experimenting with home cooking, anyone can enjoy the flavorful world of Chinese cuisine while maintaining a dairy-free lifestyle.



Wellfoodrecipes is a professional gourmet portal, the main columns include gourmet recipes, healthy diet, desserts, festival recipes, meat and seafood recipes, etc.

【Contact us: [email protected]

Copyright © 2023