Yet another great thing about eating in Taiwan is it’s cheap! As one who firmly believes in living frugally, I couldn’t be more jazzed about the food prices in Taiwan–even though Greg barely lets us pay for anything! Recently Greg, my mother and I went to dinner at a small Su veg place near the MRT station. We got three huge bowls of yummy fried rice, a side of sautéed tofu and a side of greens. I had to waddle out of the place. However, the entire meal only set us back the equivalent of $9!! In the US, you couldn’t feed one person for 9 dollars at a restaurant, let alone three. I could get used to this…
Greg’s little mountain village of Wulai is the home to many Tayal Aborigines. While the majority of the local natives now wear modern clothing and only the elderly still sport the traditional face tattoos, many Tayal traditions are still intact, including a selection of popular Taiwanese street food. Some of the street foods aren’t vegan friendly, like pickled eggs, but many I was able to take part in. My favorites were bamboo rice–rice steamed inside bamboo– and purple corn. Yum!
On our second day in Wulai, a small village outside of Taipei, Greg and Chao took my mom and I to a vegetarian slow food restaurant. The literal translation of the restaurant’s name is “vegetarian face,” which I found amusing. This style of restaurant is reservation only, so that the exact amount of food–over 10 courses!–can be prepared. The courses are meant to be eaten slowly, and are served in small portions. All of these mini-meals were extremely delicious and the entire meal took us nearly three hours. Greg tried his best to translate what each dish contained, but some ingredients were difficult to name in English and the chances of me being able to recreate any of them is minimal. My favorite course was a tofu and mushroom dish that the chef recently won an award for.
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.
Sorry about the lapse in posts this past week; I have been traveling, first to Hawaii and then on to Taiwan to meet up with my mom and spend some time visiting my 2nd cousin Greg and his wife Chao.
While traveling is always exciting, a long trip like this means spending a lot of time in the airport. I spent two back-to-back days going from New York to Salt Lake City to Honolulu, spending the night on my uncles couch and then getting up early the next morning to fly from Honolulu to Narita to (finally!) Taipei. I basically gave up on finding vegan eats in the airport years ago, and so I always pack tons of snacks when I travel, stuffing my carry-on with so much fruit and nuts it probably looks like I am smuggling an army of pygmy marmosets up under my skirt. However, I was really impressed with the vegan options in the airports I stopped of at last week. I am not sure when traveling became so vegan friendly (probably since Oprah trendified it..) but I suppose can start to reconsider my fruit hoarding style of jet setting.
I departed from JFK and, aside from the usual smoothie shops, they actually had an entire stand dedicated to vegan options. Selections included fresh fruit and veggies, premade tofu sandwiches, salads with chickpeas, vegan pad thai and a plethora of snacks and bars. Of course, many of the premade food was sky-high with sodium and had enough calories to get me through both lunch and dinner (thank you, New York, for making it illegal not to list calorie content on all edibles) but at least there are options!
When I landed in Utah I had a few hours to walk around the airport and stretch my legs. Out of curiosity, I stopped to read a menu outside a pub-style eatery and was shocked to read nearly a dozen vegan options, all nicely labeled with a little orange V. The selection included tofu scrambles for breakfast, made-from-scratch veggie burgers served on wheat buns of on top of a salad, and a house-made hummus served with fresh-cut veggies. Way to go, Utah! Of course, in my excitement I forgot to take not of what the restaurant is called! Whoops. I promise to check it out on the return trip so I can share the name here.
I had to run to catch my connecting flight in Narita, so no opportunity to check out the food. However, China Air has a nice vegan meal option if you made sure to call ahead. I am still enjoying my travels (hoorah for three weeks off!) but promise to post more soon on vegan eating in Taiwan!