Earlier I mentioned that China Air has a great vegan meal option for in-flight dining. When I called to request the special meal, the representative asked me if I would like the western or eastern vegetarian option. I tried explaining “vegan,” but there was a bit of a language barrier and I didn’t seem to be making much headway. Finally I said “no dairy!” and the woman (probably irritated by now) replied with “ahh, eastern vegetarian!”
To be a vegetarian in Taiwan means following a stricter dietary path than the typical western vegetarian. Not only do eastern vegetarians, also known as Su vegetarians, not eat any animal products (dairy included) they also avoid onions, garlic, shallots, leeks or other fetid vegetables. This is because this type of vegetarianism began with the buddhist monks, and ingesting fetid vegetables is thought to keep the stomach from settling, therefore disrupting meditation.
Since vegetarianism is extremely popular in Taiwan, and being vegetarian here basically means being vegan, it has been delightfully easy for me to find delicious things to eat here. This is actually the first time I have ever traveled and found that locating my next meal doesn’t cause a headache for both me and my travel companions. In Italy and France it was nearly impossible to find veggies that weren’t stewed with meat or smothered in cheese, and the language barrier made it even harder. On my cruise to Bermuda, I never even ate off the boat because it was so difficult to find things to snack on.
Here in Taiwan, I can eat at nearly any restaurant, many of which are vegetarian only. I can eat unique street food (still hoping to try something called ‘stinky tofu‘), enjoy delicious desserts (my favorite so far is called Mochi, made of rice or millet and stuffed with different fillings) and of course, have as much rice and noodles as I could possibly stand.