A few weeks ago, I finally got a chance to use up my remaining vacation days by heading to Taiwan for a full 10 days. Every time I told my Japanese coworkers where I was going, their immediate response was something along the lines of: “Oh, you have to eat a lot of food!” Of course, not wanting to disappoint them, I accepted the challenge (it was just courtesy, not gluttony, I swear).
Taiwan is a country known as being a haven for vegetarians. Because of it’s strong Buddhist traditions, Taiwan is home to literally thousands of vegetarian restaurants. Most of these are Buddhist vegetarian restaurants, meaning that they also often don’t use eggs or any of the 5 “stinking” vegetables (garlic especially), as they are generally considered impure. So at many vegetarian restaurants, the one thing you need to look out for is milk. Of course it’s always good to check about egg as well, as every restaurant has it’s own guidelines.
What to Look For:
Nearly all vegetarian restaurants will have sùshí (素食), or just “su” (素) somewhere in their name. This makes it really easy to identity where you can eat. Vegetarian restaurants will also often be marked with a symbol that looks like a backwards swastika, a symbol of Buddhism. If you’re vegan, look for chúnsù (純素). I also saw one place use 全素 to refer to “vegan”, but that seemed much less common, and apparently it can also sometimes just refer to Buddhist vegetarian (so it might contain milk). I would stick to the former since most vegan places I went to marked themselves with that.
Make sure to watch out for these characters: 奶 (milk) and 蛋 (egg). If you can’t speak Mandarin I’d recommend either saving them on your phone (in large print) or printing them out on paper and carrying them with you, along with the symbols for vegan (純素) and vegetarian (素). If you’re ever not quite sure, it will be good to have these to clarify!
1. Vegan Taiwan Blog – An incredible catalogue of information on vegan restaurants and being vegan in Taiwan.
2. Vegan Taiwan Guide to Food Labeling – lots of helpful Chinese character labeling explanations
3. Wikipedia Article on Buddhist Cuisine – includes standards in different countries and helpful Chinese characters