Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew)

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An epic vegetable stew featuring colorful vegetables, tender noodles and fried tofu braised to perfection in a tasty earthy sauce. Whether you’re doing this as the centerpiece of your dinner or Chinese New Year celebration, or just want something hearty and healthy for dinner, this is the dish for you! {Vegan, adaptable gluten-free}

<img src="" alt="Buddha's delight in

a frying pan” />

What is Buddha’s delight

? Buddha’s delight

(罗汉斋) is also called lo han jai in Cantonese and luo han zhai in Mandarin. Jai or Zhai literally means Buddhist cuisine, which is basically a vegetarian diet that uses very simple seasonings and a minimum of oil. Among all the Jai dishes served in temples, Buddha’s Delight is the most famous, and is well known even outside of China. It has been said that the full version of Buddha’s Delight contains 18 vegetables or even more. However, for family cooking, people generally use fewer ingredients.

In southern China, there is a tradition of serving this dish on the first day of Chinese New Year. One theory says that it is derived from Buddhist practice and represents self-purification. Some people believe it brings good luck. And some say it’s great for digestion after eating tons of meat and other protein on New Year’s Eve.

In northern China, we don’t call this dish Buddha’s Delight, but we enjoy cooking a vegetarian stew that uses very similar ingredients and seasonings.

Here is my northern style Buddha treat, a delicious, comforting and healthy way to enjoy various vegetables.

Chinese vegetarian stew

Why this version?

The combinations of ingredients that can be used to make Buddha’s delight are countless. If you look at the list given on Wikipedia, there are 34 commonly used ingredients and 11 condiments. Among them, some of the items are not even vegetarian.

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The version I cooked today is vegetarian. I chose the vegetables next, because I wanted to create a dish that was excellent in taste, pleasant in appearance, and relatively easy to cook.

Why is it “relatively” easy? If you check out some classic Buddha’s delight recipes, you’ll find that cooking the dish is usually quite time-consuming. Because you need to prepare so many different types of vegetables and cook each one separately. It’s the kind of dish you’d only cook once a year.

After some modifications and adjustments to the ingredient list, I created this version. This recipe is very flexible and quite practical to cook at home on a daily basis.

Buddha's Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew)

Ingredient options for Buddha’s Delight

In this dish, the ingredients can usually be separated into three groups:

  • A – Dry ingredients that are crucial for
  • taste and texture

  • B – Vegetables and others that add texture, mouthfeel and absorb well
  • Flavor C – Vegetables and others that add texture, mouthfeel and absorb flavor wellIngredients that add color and/or nutrition but won’t absorb much flavor

When you understand the difference between the three groups, you can create the combination of this dish depending on what you have on hand


The rules are as follows:

Group A is a must


You can use any of them, but I recommend you choose at least two


By rehydrating dried lily flowers and dried shiitake mushrooms, the rehydrating liquid will turn into a perfect vegetable broth. It is very tasty and aromatic. Use at least one of them (although I highly recommend dried lily flower, because it has a very distinctive aroma), and doing so will eliminate the need to use vegetable/mushroom broth.

Fried tofu and

Chinese seitan (the fried type) are quite “meaty” and make the dish more substantial. They also absorb the flavor very well, and almost taste like meat once cooked (we call them vegan meat in Chinese cuisine). I suggest using at least one of them.

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Choose at least two items from group B

Add these because they are delicious and have great texture. In this recipe, I used six elements from group B. But you can use only two or three, to make the dish simple and tasty.

I suggest you choose at least one of: cabbage bok choy and napa. They add liquid to the dish and make the dish juicy and comforting.

The rest of the elements are all optional. Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts add crunchiness. Mushrooms add fleshy texture and umami. Bean curd sticks add a firm, fleshy texture.

Group C

is optional

You can use carrots or snow peas to add color, but you can also skip group C altogether. These elements are added to give nutrition to the dish, but they do not absorb the flavor very well. If you decide to add them, keep the amount small (much less than the items in group B).

By the way, I used a lot of ingredients in this recipe and filled a 12-inch skillet. You should be careful not to exceed the total volume of vegetables given in this recipe.

Mise en place

It is important to have everything prepared before you start cooking. I like to group my ingredients into large plates according to the order of cooking, so I am organized during cooking.

Cooking process for your own version of Buddha’s Delight

The first thing you need to do is soak the dry ingredients (marked with an * in the table above).

While soaking the dry ingredients, cut the vegetables and prepare the sauce.

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Once the preparation is done:

  1. Sauté the aromatics in oil
  2. Cook the carrot, lily flower and shiitake mushrooms to release fragrance
  3. Cook the rest of the harder ingredients: bamboo shoots, lily flowers and wood ear mushrooms
  4. Add the

  5. puffs of tofu and pour the sauce
  6. Add the green vegetables, cover and steam. You need to uncover the pot and stir the ingredients several times, so that the vegetables are stewed in the sauce. Add
  7. the

  8. noodles noodles, then thicken the sauce with the cornstarch suspension
How to cook Buddha's delight step by stepHow to serve Buddha’s Delight Buddha’s Delight

is such a versatile dish that it can serve as your festive centerpiece or a hearty main course for your family dinner. You can serve the dish only as a main course, but I prefer to combine it with steamed rice for a balanced meal.

To add an

extra touch to the dish, try adding some homemade chili oil on top and the stew will become even more irresistible.

Chinese vegetarian stew with chili oil


The ingredients for Buddha’s Delight may seem long, but you can modify them according to what you have in stock. The beauty of the dish is that, with some dry staples from the pantry, you can make a rich and tasty vegetable stew with just a few sauces. There are so many ingredients you can use to add texture to the dish and make it very satisfying. My vegetarian friends have commented that this is the best Buddha delight they have ever had, and it is much tastier than those in Chinese restaurants.


hope you enjoy this one as much as I do!

The post was published on February 24, 2015 and updated on July 19, 2022 with new images, videos, and minor edits to the recipe.

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