Taiwan: Vegetarian Paradise

On my first visit to Taiwan in 1995, a friend took me to an elegant buffet restaurant that had just opened in Taichung. The huge dining room was lined with tables displaying more than two hundred different dishes, including casseroles, soups, appetizers, as well as a dazzling selection of salads and desserts. There was also a dedicated sushi bar and a noodle bar. Many of the main dishes appeared to be made with beef, pork, chicken and fish. Knowing that I didn’t eat meat of any kind, my friend asked the manager if he could show us which of the dishes were vegetarian. To our astonishment, his reply was, “All of them!”

During subsequent visits, I have since eaten at dozens of vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan, from simple food stalls at night markets, small neighborhood eateries with folding tables and chairs, to gourmet restaurants at five-star hotels. I have never been to a country where it has been easier (and more fun) to be a vegetarian than in Taiwan. Vegetarian food in Taiwan is anything but boring. In addition to offering a selection from hundreds of varieties of island-grown vegetables and fruits, many restaurants have converted traditional foods like three-cup chicken, beef noodle soup and mapo tofu into vegan dishes; they also draw from the ancient Chinese tradition of transforming soybeans and wheat into “meat” of various kinds.

Buddhists make up approximately 35 percent of the island’s total population, so Taiwan has long accommodated vegetarian and vegan diets, which are free of all animal products. And as in many other parts of the world, Taiwanese are eating less meat due to health, ethical and environmental concerns. As plant-based diets have become popular in Taiwan, vegetarian / vegan restaurants (especially buffets) are not only easily found in large cities like Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung, but in many smaller cities and towns as well. Many Buddhist temples offer vegetarian meals to visitors, especially at lunchtime. Some buffet restaurants are “all you can eat,” while others are “pay by weight.”

It’s easy for vegetarians to eat in Taiwan even if vegetarian restaurants are not an option. Taiwan Rail offers a vegan bento meal on the daily menu, and employers, businesses and even restaurants that serve meat are happy to accommodate a request for a vegetarian meal.

The online journal Taiwan Scene estimates that there are more than 6,000 vegetarian eating establishments in Taiwan. Because around two million Taiwanese regularly eat vegetarian and vegan food, Taiwan has some of the world’s strictest labelling laws for selling meat-free products.


A neighborhood vegetarian buffet restaurant with over 100 offerings, Taipei.

Photo by Nathaniel Altman.


I have never been disappointed at a vegetarian restaurant in Taiwan. However, it’s always good to seek out a restaurant recommendation from a Taiwanese friend or one can ask a local resident for advice. The website Happy Cow (www.happycow.net) lists over 700 vegetarian and vegan establishments in Taiwan, with information on cuisine, ratings, hours and prices. It also offers a list of Chinese expressions to use when requesting vegetarian food at a restaurant.

But if you’re in Taiwan on your own and are seeking a vegetarian meal while on the street, look for a sign. Many signs at vegetarian restaurants feature the Buddhist swastika (unlike the Nazi swastika, it is a sacred symbol meaning “it is good” or “all is well”) and words in Chinese that roughly translate as (from left to right) as “Vegetarian,” “Buddhist” and “Food or “Nutrient.” The sign may contain all three characters, or just one or two.

Text Box: 素   食  Chinese vegetarian characters.   



Vegan Restaurants in Taiwan (happycow.net)
Taipei's Vegetarian and Vegan Food Culture - Taiwan Scene | Taiwan Digital Travel Magazine (taiwan-scene.com)




© 2022 by Nathaniel Altman

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