Vegetarian cuisine is known as zhāicài ("(Buddhist) vegetarian food") in China, shōjin ryōri ("devotion cuisine") in Japan, sachal eumsik ("temple food") in Korea and by many other names in other countries.
Both Mahayana and Theravada thinking is that meat eating in and of itself does not constitute a violation of the Five Precepts which prohibit one from directly harming life. Pali/Sanskrit term for monks and nuns means one who seek alms. However, when monks and nuns who follow the Theravada feed themselves by alms, they must eat whatever leftover foods which are given to them including meat. Exception to this alms rule is when monks and nuns have seen, heard or known that animal(s) have been specifically killed to feed the alm seeker or guest, in which case, consumption of such meat would be karmically negative. This is also followed by lay Buddhists; and is known as the consumption of the 'triply-clean meat' (sanjingrou). On the other hand, when lay communities specifically purchase meat for consumption of monks and nuns, permissibility of meat eating differ among different Buddhist sects. Theravada Pali Canon records instances of Buddha eating meat which were specifically purchased for Buddha. This act was deliberately performed by the Buddha to demonstrate that if need be, a Buddhist can bend the rules in times of emergency or inconvenience. Obstinately observing vegetarianism or Buddhist rules in times when you cannot, conflicts with Mahayana philosophy because obstinacy or attachment for anything, is considered to be 'stubbornness' (zhizhuo) which will become an obstacle to nirvana or enlightenment. However even then, if one undertakes a vow to be a Buddhist vegetarian, one is expected to follow this vow until it is humanly impossible to continue one's vegetarian diet.
Acceptance of authenticity of the Pali Sutras differ within Mahayana sects and Mahayana sutras do not record Buddha eating meat. While no Mahayana sects consider Pali sutras to be inauthentic, Chinese Buddhist sects tend to consider this particular part of writing in Pali suttas to be false. Japanese Buddhist sects generally accept that Buddha ate meat.
Still, both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhists consider that one may practice vegetarianism as part of cultivating Bodhisattvas's paramita. Since Mahayana Buddhists recognise the consumption of meat to be cruel and devoid of compassion, some Mahayana Buddhists are vegetarians. Numbers of Mahayana sutra record Buddha praising the virtue of avoiding meat. However, Tibetan Buddhism believes that tantric practice makes vegetarianism unnecessary. All Japanese Kamakura sects of Buddhism (Zen, Nichiren, Jodo) have relaxed Mahayana vinaya, and as a consequence, do not practice vegetarianism but rather pescetarianism. Chinese Buddhism and part of Korean Buddhism strictly adhere to vegetarianism.
The food that a strict Buddhist takes, even if he/she is not a vegetarian is also specific. For many Chinese Buddhists, beef and the consumption of large animals and exotic species is avoided. Then there would be the aforementioned sanjingrou rule. One restriction on food that is not known to many is the abstinence from eating animal innards and organs. This is known as (xiashui), and is a Chinese term and is not to be confused with the Japanese term gesui (sewage).
Alcohol and/or other drugs are also avoided by many Buddhists because of their effects on the mind and "mindfulness". It is part of the Five Precepts which dictate that one is not to consume "addictive materials". The definition of "addictive" depends on each individual but most Buddhists consider alcohol and contraband drugs to be addictive. Stricter Buddhists consider tobacco to be addictive as well.
Buddhist vegetarian chefs have become extremely creative in imitating meat using prepared wheat gluten, also known as "seitan" or "wheat meat", soy (such as tofu or tempeh), agar, and other plant products. Some of their recipes are the oldest and most-refined meat analogues in the world. Soy and wheat gluten are very versatile materials, because they can be manufactured into various shapes and textures, and they absorb flavourings (including, but not limited to, meat-like flavourings), whilst having very little flavour of their own. With the proper seasonings, they can mimic various kinds of meat quite closely.
Some of these Buddhist vegetarian chefs are in the many monasteries which serve wu hun and mock-meat (also known as 'meat analogues') dishes to the monks and visitors (including non-Buddhists who often stay for a few hours or days, to Buddhists who are not monks, but staying overnight for anywhere up to weeks or months). Many Buddhist restaurants also serve vegetarian, vegan, non-alcoholic, and/or wu hun dishes. Some Buddhists eat vegetarian only once per week or month, or on special occasions such as annual visits to an ancestor's grave. To cater to this type of customer, as well as full-time vegetarians, the menu of a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant usually shows no difference from a typical Chinese or far-Eastern restaurant, except that in recipes originally made to contain meat, a chicken flavoured soy or wheat gluten might be served instead (e.g. "General Tso's chicken" made with flavoured wheat gluten).