Vegetarians are practically behind enemy lines in Shanghai, so any vegetarian cafe is a godsend for our herbivorous friends. Fortunately, Veggie Pot isn’t your stereotypical twig and raisin skin depot run by talentless ideologues, but for the most part, a solid Chinese restaurant that happens to be vegetarian.
The Chinese owners, who also own the upstairs Kitchen M, wanted to create healthier, but equally tasty versions of dishes you find at most Chinese restaurants. Sounds like the pitch for most grazing spots, right? Except Veggie Pot isn’t simply about scrapping meat, but about ensuring fresh, pesticide-free greens, which it does by procuring them from established organic vendor, Tony’s Farm. Good on them, in a nation where animal products take most of the food safety heat, the issue of vegetable quality often gets brushed to the side.
Decor and service
You’d think being located in the meat minefield of the Hongqiao Road-Gubei Road intersection would make Veggie Pot stand out, but unfortunately it does not. It was practically deserted when we walked in. They might’ve been better off taking root in an expat hive like Jing’an or Xujiahui, provided they could afford it.
The layout is very “Element Fresh” with bright white walls, a counter sporting bowls of picturesque produce, and a row of peppy staff lining the bar area. In fact, Veggie Pot has some of the friendliest service we’ve seen in a while. The amiable managers personally guided us through the menu without being asked, and even offered to take anything I didn’t like off the bill – an anomaly in Shanghai. Must be all that chlorophyll in their diet. They literally eat rays of sunshine.
Veggies and “veggiefied” Chinese meat classics like vegetarian duck aka vegetables wrapped in tofu skin (20RMB), whole wheat steamed buns filled with greenery (28RMB), and mock mapo tofu (30RMB) with mushrooms pinch-hitting for pork. Sesame seed-speckled flatbreads are on hand to stuff the savory mapo filling into.
We didn’t especially like their whole grain bun stuffed with mulched bok choy and mushroom. The bun was overly chewy and crumbly like a dried out sponge and the filling tasted cloyingly sweet and muddled. Too bad, it had the most potential seeing how the veggie bao sold on the street blows the pork one away.
Their crown jewel is vegetable hotpot with chrysanthemum greens, broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, and more subbing for the usual meat mosh pit (58RMB). We’ll admit, at first the plate of assorted raw vegetables reminded us of the platters zoo keepers set out in tortoise enclosures. But after wilting them in the bubbling vegetable stock, adding salt, and then dunking them in a trio of soy-vinegar, miso-sesame, and mushroom-based (as opposed to seafood-based) XO sauce, we were won over.
Be sure to add the carrots, pumpkin, and broccoli first, they take around 5 min to cook compared to the other greens’ two. After you’ve stripped the greens, drink the surprisingly robust vegetable stock.
If that’s not enough, head up the home-made tofu with tea salt (8RMB). Yeah, we were surprised at the affordability of a lot of these scratch-made, organic items too.
One disclaimer: The menu’s all in Chinese so non-Chinese vegetarians and vegans will want to ask the manager, Vicky, for assistance. If our experience was any indication, she’ll be more than happy to oblige.
Okay, elephant in the room. As a Cretaceous-level carnivore, I’m not going to pretend that meat wouldn’t have improved the meal. But I can say, (and my lettuce-loving friends will attest to this) that Veggie Pot is one of the best vegetarian spots in Shanghai.
Veggie Pot – First Floor, Building 5, 1488 Hongqiao Lu, near Gubei Lu, Changning district (长宁区虹桥路1488号5号楼1楼, 近古北路). Tel: (0)21-5235-8217. Hours: (0)21-5235-8217.
See a complete list of our reviews here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].