It might sound strange, but one of the main factors that initially made me want to go to Taiwan was the abundance of delicious local vegan food. I know, Taiwan has WAY more to offer: culture, landscapes, and amazing people, amongst many other things to enjoy. But still – opening HappyCow and seeing all the green dots (you know what I mean) looked very promising. And guess what? It exceeded my expectations!
So how come there’s so much vegan food in Taiwan?
The main reason that there are so many vegan options in Taiwan is religious. Some Taoists and Buddhists stick to a vegetarian diet so they don’t kill or harm any living creature (I wish all religions were like that…). Anyway, that’s why vegetarian places are very common. It is also very typical to have a vegetarian option in a non-vegetarian place. That being said, although vegetarian food is very common, vegan is a less known nuance. To prevent any case of misunderstanding, you should mention that you’re vegan wherever you eat.
But how can I be sure the locals understand veganism?
We often asked ourselves this question during the first days of our trip. The answer came from a random visit to a local candy shop in Tainan: we entered and used Google translate to try and see if anything was vegan. When the owner understood what we were asking for, she shared it with her friend sitting near the cashier. This lady immediately took a pen and paper and wrote the following note in Chinese:
When we asked for a translation, she said that it means: “I am a vegan. I do not eat meat, eggs, and dairy. Thank you.” When we asked about fish, she kindly explained that in Taiwan fish are considered as a sub-group of meat. Saying thank you to these two helpful ladies was definitely not enough – they literally changed the culinary destiny of our trip! We used this note EVERYWHERE. It was beyond convenient.
Since that note was extremely useful during our trip (as you can see), I made you a sexier version that you can print out and use during your travels to Taiwan 😊. Scroll down to the end of the post to download it!
How can I find vegan food in Taiwan?
HappyCow works well in Taipei and some of the bigger cities, however, it still doesn’t comprehensively cover other areas of Taiwan. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing vegan to eat there, but it might be that the places that offer vegan food will be local shops, sometimes very small, and nobody has registered them yet. Therefore, don’t be afraid to just step into any random place and ask for a plant-based dish. Some of the places will surprise you, while other places that do not have such meals on the menu might be willing to make something especially for you. That’s actually how we found some of the most delicious places on our trip (in Taipei too).
Is there anything vegan to eat in the famous Taiwanese night markets?
Before I even begin to tell you about stinky tofu and cat’s food (they have some interesting names for their dishes lol), Taiwan is very well-known for its amazing tropical fruits. Mango, papaya, pineapple, starfruit, dragon-fruit, various kinds of bananas, and so many other kinds of fruits can be found everywhere! One of the most memorable culinary adventures of this trip was my first durian (and on the morning of my birthday! I should have treated myself better…). Some places sell fresh coconut juice in the shell, and once you have finished your juice, they’ll cut it in half and shave the meat out of it so you can eat it too – it’s so tasty! We also found fruit-shakes stands in every corner which was always sweet and fresh.
There are also stalls of local Taiwanese food, such as bans and dumplings. You can ask if there’s a vegan option by showing the ‘I’m-a-vegan’ note. In some markets, like in Shiling Market, we found quite a few vegan options. In other markets, like in Kenting night market, we didn’t find as much, but hopefully that will change so it’s always best to ask.
And yeah – regarding stinky tofu – I intended to try it but in the end I didn’t. The smell was… hmm… let’s just say I wasn’t feeling so adventurous.
Where are the recommended vegan restaurants and shops?
I organized my recommendations on vegan and vegan-friendly places according to our trip’s route. I didn’t include Taipei in this post since it has an abundance of places; the capital city will have a post of its own.So let’s begin!
Tainan is a city where you can find a few HappyCow recommendations. However, we also found one place (probably out of many) that was not on the app. This was a ban (steamed bread) shop, just in the center of the city. When we showed our ‘I’m-a-vegan’ note, they said they do have some sweet bans and an option of a mushroom ban. Was it good? Well, let’s just say we ordered 3 more (to share between the both of us though! Haha). The fluffy bread was addictive, and we enjoyed every bite. It was quite close to Confucius Temple, so you can grab one on your way.
I know that drip coffee is not something you’d necessarily consider a vegan treat, but it’s a culinary experience I cannot skip. I highly recommend GOOD THING COFFEE shop to all you coffee lovers. It’s a tiny shop in the city center with incredibly good coffee. It was pretty hot on the day we arrived, so I had a cold coffee, but if you ask for it hot, you’ll be watching the process of making the coffee in a special glass instrument. It felt like watching a laboratory experiment. As a souvenir, we bought Hawaiian coffee beans. The shop has about 20 other kinds of coffee beans, so you can bring some home if you like.
Our first day in Kenting was our anniversary, so we wanted to raise a glass. That’s how we found ourselves in Smokey Joe’s. It’s an American-Mexican style restaurant that has a few vegan options, and a very rich drink menu. We had two kinds of vegan pasta and enjoyed a beautiful ocean view. With the delicious food, fine cocktails, good music, and the window to the ocean – this was the perfect place for cheers.
Besides Smokey Joe’s, we also ate at a local restaurant near Kenting night market (where we found mainly fruits). It was so local that I cannot find it on Google maps. We just stepped in around 21:00 and showed them our ‘I’m-a-vegan’ note. The waiter consulted a lady that also worked there, and together they showed us the dishes on the menu that could easily be made vegan. They were very willing to help us. I believe that many other places would do the same if you ask them to.
When we arrived at Taitung it was around lunchtime, and we had both been craving dumplings for some time. What are the chances that we’ll find some random place that sells vegan dumplings in the industrial entrance of the city? Apparently pretty high! We found this little local dumpling shop, where a nice lady offered two different kinds of vegan dumplings we could eat. She didn’t speak a word of English, and actually, that was part of the charm. We had both kinds and ate them with ginger strips and soy sauce, which was very fulfilling.
Apart from the dumpling shop that we’ve stumbled upon, there was also a 100% vegan combine-your-own-noodles shop in the city, called Vegine. It is located right next to the night market. This concept of selecting the vegetables, tofu, and noodle type (among other ingredients) is common in Taiwan. We saw it in at least three different places around the country. In Vegine you’ll get a tasty large size noodle soup with your favorite ingredients for a very decent price. The owner is very friendly too 😃.
In Dulan, we experienced a little frustration when trying to find vegan places to eat. It was off-season, so not all the places were open all the time, and some places that should have had vegan food were closed or full. We were driving back and forth trying to find a place for lunch that would satisfy our hunger. It was a little after 16:00 when we finally found a place to eat. We had nothing to lose, so we asked at Dulan Dinner if they had something for us – and surprisingly they did! We had delicious rice & veggies, and a pizza with tons of vegetables. It was really good and it kept us full for many hours later.
Dulan also has a great coffee house that belongs to the Backpacker Dog, just near the Sugar Factory. The coffee was really good, and you can also buy their coffee beans. The design is super cute since it’s all dedicated to the owner’s dog – how adorable!
Hualien has some delicious vegan options. The first one we discovered being a local vegetarian Taiwanese restaurant in downtown called Guó Xiāng Yuán SùShí. They had a display of various items you could choose from, and wait for them to cook it for you. Among other things, they offered dumplings, soups, and various kinds of tofu. Here too, the ‘I’m-a-vegan’ note helped us to avoid eggs, which were included in some of the dishes. If you like various unrecognized kinds of tofu – this is the place for you!
The second place was a vegetarian buffet we accidentally found near our hotel. When we saw the sign outside saying ’vegetarian food’, we knew it was our destiny (~dramatic music~). They had an abundance of vegetarian (mostly vegan) food. It was mind-blowing! Since we were on our way to downtown, we took some dumplings with us and ate them later. They were really delicious. The buffet also has a grocery section, where we bought some pumpkin seeds. There were various kinds of nuts and seeds, as well as granola, and many other vegan ingredients and snacks. Sorry for not taking any pictures. Here is the location:
The third place in Hualien was – of course – the night market. We really loved the night market there, not only for the food, but for the enjoyable lively atmosphere; live shows, fair games, and lively local young people really set the energy bar high.We managed to find some vegan dishes there as well. It was again thanks to our ‘I’m-a-vegan’ magic note. Besides that, if you’re a fruit person – you’re going to love this place (and actually Taiwan in general). There are fruits and fruit-shake stalls everywhere, so it will be hard to decide which one to choose from.
I know – it’s a national park, and still, we managed to find a vegan option here too! Just after Swallow’s Grove, we found a place that sells some food and drinks (one of the only places in the area). When we asked the guy (in super broken Chinese) if the vegetarian set meal has any eggs or dairy products, he shook his head with the gesture “no no no”, and clapped his hands together as if showing someone praying. We realized that he might have meant “it’s a meal for religious people”, implying it’s vegetarian. We ate rice, soup, and a few kinds of vegetables, and it was very fulfilling. It kept us hiking until the evening 😉.
As you might have already guessed – Taiwan is heaven for vegans indeed. If vegan food is a crucial part of your trip – you’re going to love this country. As I mentioned, I haven’t covered Taipei in this post, as there’s so much to say about this city alone. Well, that will be the next post – so stick around!