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).
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.
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!