Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vegetarian in Taipei

Taipei must be one of the most vegetarian friendly city I know of.

Vegetarian food is easily available in Taipei and quite cheaply too.

That's one of the many reasons I really like Taipei.

I arrived at Taipei airport at 8:30pm on the 13 Jan 2010. By the time I checked into my guest house next to the Taipei Station, it was 10pm. I had not had my dinner (I flew budget airline and the only thing vegetarian they were selling on board was a vegetarian cup noodles).

Most shops were closed by then. Bread was still easily available in the convenience stores, but I was hoping to have something more substantial then bread. I walked around a bit and found my way to the Taipei Exchange Station (long distance bus station north of the Taipei Station).

Many convenience stores in Taiwan have a small hot food pot called "Guandong zhu" (关东煮, I suspect its something copied from Japan), in which sticks of meat or vegetables were boiled. Many Singaporeans (and obviously the Taiwanese) like that as late night snacks. Although there are some vegetarian options like tofu, mushroom and radish, they were all cooked in the same pot of soup with the meat, and I was afraid it might have the meat taste. So I avoided it.

I browsed around and found a pack of vegetarain TV food in the fridge. It was a vegetarian "meat" patty meal with some vegetables, selling for NT69. I bought that and the counter staff heated it for me in the microwave oven (a standard service at the convenience stores here). It was quite tasty.

So at least I went to bed without feeling hungry that night.


The next day, I made a trip to Shenkeng (深坑), a town reowned for its tofu. The town is just on the outskirts of Taipei, just 10 min bus ride from the Taipei Zoo.

Along the old street, it's row of restaurants and eatery selling all sorts of stinking tofu dishes. Yes, stinking tofu! I do not understand why they made all their tofu into stinking tofu. There are so many other types of tofu...

But the stinking tofu is quite nice. They don't smell that bad, and are quite tasty. There is a vegetarian tofu eatery, and all dishes are pure vegetarian. I ordered a bamboo shoot stew and a stinking tofu in hot soup. They were OK (i.e. nothing worth craving for). There were many push carts selling BBQ stinking tofu as well. These were all vegetarian, though the sauce contain garlic. But those who do not take garlic can tell the stalls they want "pure" vegetarian, and they do have sauces without garlic. I like these, primarily because the sauce is quite taste and the tofu is tender (Tofu cooked too long in soup becomes hard).

That night I was out till late and again. I thought the best bet to get food would be at the night markets, and I was right. The night market nearest to the Taipei Station was the Ningxia (宁夏), about 15 min walk away. And there, I found a vegetarian stall selling the usual vegetarian stuff: rice, noodles and mock meat stew in soy sauce (卤味). I ordered herbal soup noodles, soy sauce tofu and soy sheets and it was a filling meal for less than NT100.

Shilin Night market is one of Taipei's biggest night market and probably the most popular among tourists. I always go there too because there are a few vegetarian stalls in the market building next to the Jiantan MRT station, there are 3 vegetarians stalls. Two are found at the back of the market (you have to walk all the way to the end to find it). There is another one that sells mini hot pots.

I always eat at the "Miao Xiang Yuan" (妙香园) stall, because it has a lot of tasty snack food.
Oyster omelet (蚵仔煎) is a popular Taiwanese street food. This stall has a pretty good vegetarian version, that is made from mushrooms, tofu sheets and seaweed.

I don't like the pinkish sweet sauce on the omelet. Otherwise its pretty good. I've tried the same dish at other stalls. So far, Miao Xiang Yuan did it best. Egg is actually optional, because the main binding ingredient is starch, not egg. So for those who do not eat eggs, tell them not to put egg.

The oyster omelet is NT50 per order (about than SGD 2.30).

I like to eat buns, and Shanghai pan-fried buns(生煎包) are a standard night market item. I always look at those longingly, but the fillings almost always use meat.

At the Shilin night market, along the main road (Wenlin Rd, 文林路), there is a vegetarian pan-fried bun store. Each bun sells for NT10, and the filling is mushroom and cabbage. I always get 2 buns when I am there to satisfy my cravings for the buns. But honestly, these aren't that good. The best ones I have tried is actually from a stall near Longshan Temple.

My favourite snack from Shilin Night Market is deep fried mushrooms.

The stall is also along the main road, just a few steps away from the vegetarian pan-fried bun store.

It is unhealthy: deep fried in oil and seasoned with lots of salt. But really I love it!

There are three type of mushrooms. You can order just one type or a mix of all three. Each order is NT50.

This trip, I found a vegetarian eatery in the Taipei Station underground shopping mall. For most of my trips, Taipei Station is the transport hub. So this eatery is really a great convenience. I don't have to go hunting for a vegetarian stall when I am hungry.

The eatery at the west end of the underground shopping mall, near the exit to Chongqing south street. They have rice and noodles and side dishes. In the picture, I ordered a Japanese style curry rice (NT60, but I won't recommend it. It's just rice and a big piece of deep fried TVP meat pattie). The side dishes (pickled cucumber, green vegetables, tofu, mock meat made gluten or TVP etc) are NT20 for a small plate and NT30 for a bigger plate. It's economical and convenient. I ate there twice this trip.

Finally, I would like to introduce my favourite vegetarian pan-fried bun stall.

I found out about this stall (上顶皇家素食水煎包) from the internet. This is located near Longshan Temple. Directly opposite the temple, there is a open plaza (the Longshan MRT is beneath it). There is a small street beside it where there are a few vegetarian restaurants. From that street, there is a side street that leads to a market place. There stall is located there.

The stall offers three types of fillings: cabbage (NT10 each), bamboo shoots (NT10 each), and  mustard (雪里红). I always order one of each. There stall also offers pot stickers (basically the same thing as the cabbage bun but made into a pot sticker shape with a thinner skin). These buns are way better than the buns at Shilin Night Market. However, this time round, I found the bamboo shoots bun (which is mixed with glass noodles) a bit too salty.

This stalls open early in the morning and is a good stop for breakfast. So if you come to the Longshan temple, grab a few buns from here for breakfast!

Vegetarian food is easily available in Taipei and pretty good too. The only problem is that the street stalls and eateries uses too much mock meat and tofu. Green vegetables are quite lacking. However, if you go to a restaurant, there are many vegetable dishes.

One disadvantage is travelling alone is that it's difficult to go to restaurants (too expensive and too much food). There is a restaurant along Nanking East road offering vegetarian Sichuan style spicy hotpot (小心上瘾素食麻辣火锅). I've been there once and it's really good. Unfortunately, you need to have at least 2 person to start a pot, so I did not get to go there this time.

So, anyone wants to go and try with me next time?

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