Culture / Dumplings / Food / Good Eats / Luodong / Noodles / Pizza / Rice / Taiwan / Vegan / Vegetarian

Vegetarianism in Taiwan: Eating Out

As vegetarians, we often get asked the same question by incredulous meat-eaters: Is that not really difficult in Taiwan? Irrevocably followed by: What do you eat?

In Taiwan, vegetarianism isn’t a strange concept at all. Buddhism is deeply rooted in Taiwanese culture and all Mahayana Buddhists refrain from meat-eating. Sometimes, they also omit foods including onions, garlic and chilli (as these are seen a hindrance to full meditation). There are countless more sometimes-vegetarians who choose to go vegetarian from time to time (maybe a day or a week) for health and/or spiritual reasons – in the past there has also been a government drive on promoting “one day, every week” vegetarianism.

So vegetarian eating in Taiwan isn’t that difficult – when you know where to go that is! Vegetarian eating here in LuoDong is actually really rather good. There are about 6 vegan/vegetarian eating places that we frequent, a couple more that we go to infrequently, and various others that sell meaty foods but have vegetarian options. However, when we leave the comfort of our home and the streets that we know for day-trips and weekends away elsewhere in Taiwan, finding vegetarian food can be challenging. Oftentimes this means we end up eating plain boiled noodles (gān mièn) and Chinese cabbage (qīng cài), or boiled white rice (bái fàn).

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Steel-Cooked Rice

When you’re in the know, vegetarian food here is delicious. My absolute favourite is steel-cooked rice with carrots, peas and sweetcorn in a pepper sauce (tiey ban fàn) which you can eat at any Loving Hut. On a more common eating out, noodles in daylily soup is a healthy option which is super warming on cold winter days; Luke prefers dry noodles with Chinese mahogany, a green sauce made from the leaves of the plant (can eat at Vegetable Foods). We are also lovers of curry (gā lǐ) which is quite common here with Japanese curry places dotted around, but you can also order this at most veggie eating places. Though traditionally meaty, you can usually get hold of vegetarian dumplings filled with garden vegetables or leeks. Other than that, our regular eating out includes chilli tofu (mapo dòufu) and various other chunks of tofu/soy protein that comes in rice and noodles – although these kinds are so like meat in taste and texture that for me they are a little too close for comfort.

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Garden Vegetable Dumplings

Unlike many other Westerners, we rarely eat Western food – although you can get veggie pasta and there is a fantastic stone-oven pizza man out here – and we do also cook at home too!

Need to tell people your vegetarian?

Wǒ shì sùshí – I am vegetarian

Wǒ bù yào ròu – I don’t want meat

Read: Vegan Taiwan is a pretty banging blog with news, eats and reviews.

Think: I’m no convert, but Loving Hut (a vegan chain) is founded by Supreme Master Ching-Hai, a spiritual leader who believes leading her followers to an enlightened and vegan lifestyle. Whilst a little cultish in its methods, her philosophy is interesting.

~ We are endeavouring to write reviews of local places with good veggie foods – so hopefully you can explore some different options in your eating, and if anyone has any veggie food/eats tips then we would love to broaden our munching horizons too!

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6 thoughts on “Vegetarianism in Taiwan: Eating Out

  1. Very interesting indeed. Just like you said, many people here have responded to my non-meat eating ways with “what can you eat?!” They assume incorrectly, that all of my food must be flavorless, bland and repetitive (limited selection?!) because it doesn’t contain onions and garlic (wrong, I always tell them when I order so called veggie options at a non-veggie store “garlic and onions are okay!”) Furthermore, it’s a wonder how yummy the selections on offer at the full-on veggie stores in Taiwan can be.

    Like you, I frequent the buffet style shops where you pay by weight and the size of your bowl of rice. I am sure, and I hope you appreciate, the lower prices you pay for such fare in a place outside of Taipei, such as Ludong. Back when I was a newcomer and living in Shi-Hu, Changhua County, the local eatery catering to veggies of the pay by weight buffet genre, was about half of what I pay down the street here in Taipei City.

    There is a chain throughout the city called “Minder Vegetarian” which I encourage you to check out if you ever find your way back to this overcrowded metropolis I call home. They have outlets everywhere: the basement of Zhongxiao Dunhua Eslite Bookstore (which has a great selection of English books), Xinyi Area’s Shingkong Mitsukoshi food court, Taipei City Hall MRT Station and even the NTU Hospital food court.

    IMHO Taiwan is a vegetarian paradise. Have you ever seen so many kinds of tofu? Check out my blog (http://ashkaufen.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/454/) for more info. I think these tofus may be just the tip of the iceberg. I am no longer fully veg, having embraced seafood and fish about two years ago, but I still do not eat any meat, ie; from land mammals.

    One of the reasons I came to Taiwan is that I knew beforehand that it was a vegetarian friendly place. It’s true that your lifestyle choice may be misconstrued by locals, as it is often intertwined with Buddhism when practiced here. And some of them will associate it with some kind of abstinence from pleasure (because many people give up meat as you mentioned on certain days each month to express religious devotion). My husbands sister, for example, is among people whom I have known to do this. She will also sigh forlornly when she sees a plate of chicken on the table during these moments, because she is a meat-eater who usually consumes it with gusto.

    Since I was vegan for 7 years, and then vegetarian for 5 before getting back into seafood and fish, not eating meat for me is a whole other ballgame. I don’t feel like anything is “missing” from my diet and besides Taiwan, I have also lived abroad in Costa Rica previously. These days, it’s possible to be vegetarian/vegan anywhere you go, but it’s especially well catered to here in Taiwan. As for my reasoning in choosing to eat fish again? It seems “natural” since Taiwan is an island, but it still took me a while to get up the courage after abstaining from flesh for so long to “bite the bullet” haha. But I’m glad I did. That’s not to say I wouldn’t or couldn’t be happy as a full vegetarian, as I am sure you both are.

    Cheers! ^.^

    • Yes, we’ve been to alot of buffets but we aren’t able to frequent them so much because they are always closed before we finish work, so we can only occasionally go some lunchtimes when we are free. They are really good though, and very cheap!

      We’ve not heard of “Minder Vegetarian” but we’ll definitely go next time we’re hungry in Taipei. Our knowledge of Taipei is really terrible and we never know anywhere good for a vegetarian to eat, so that’s super helpful! :)

      I was a pescetarian to (for 4 years) until recently, about 6 months ago, when I decided I could maintain a healthy diet without fish (as I’ve never been keen on eating fish and seafood). Before then I was a full vegetarian for 5 years and only reverted to fish for health reasons. That said, I ate the most amazing seafood/fish whilst I was in New Zealand where it’s always fresh and delicious, and nothing has been comparable since then, which has put me off eating it a great deal.

      I’d be interested to know if you go out for breakfast much here? And what kind of things you eat? Many of the options seem to be meaty or burgers and fried food. We’ve eaten cheese dong-bin, but haven’t found much else around…

      ^.^

  2. I just want to say, very nice site with pictures. 素食 is vegetarian, as in a food that is vegetarian. To tell someone you eat a vegetarian diet, stick with “我吃素“

    thanks!

  3. And to expand if I may: to say you are vegetarian you could also say 我是素食主義者, su4 shi2 zhu3 yi4 zhe3;

    Also of course 不要肉 bu2 yao4 rou4 as you noted, or, 我不能吃肉 is effective.

    Also, it can be beneficial to say you want “pure vegetarian”: 我要純素 (chun2 su4)
    純素 (chun2 su4)– this is a term commonly understood in Taiwan as completely without meat– which may not be the case 100% at non-vegetarian restaurants if you try to order something “without meat” (ie chicken broth, chicken powder, ect…”

    and a note, this is also the word used to say vegan in Chinese.

  4. Pingback: Where to get the best veggie curry in LuoDong | Strangers~in Taiwan

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