Vegan Food in Taiwan || It’s Getting Easier By The Year!
Finding vegan food in Taiwan is easier than you think, and the great thing? It’s only getting easier.
Questions we get asked a lot as a language school in Taipei… Is it easy to be vegan in Taiwan? Is there such a thing as vegan food in Taiwan?
Yes, yes and yes!
The vegan community in Taiwan is changing. For the better. I’m super excited to see what is in store for veganism and vegetarianism in Taiwan this 2023 and today I want to share more with you.
Having moved from mainland China to Taiwan, the first thing that shocked me in Taiwan was how accessible being vegan is.
I will always be an advocate for how Chinese food is some of the best vegan food on the planet – in theory.
But in practice, there’s a lot more to it.
In this blog, I cover vegan food in Taiwan (and Chinese) food culture since, believe it or not, it’s actually a big part of Chinese cuisine, as well as what’s going on in modern-day Taiwan.
What are the things to look out for when you’re vegan in Taiwan? How can you make it easier? And is it even possible to be vegan in Taiwan?
SPOILER || Yes. It’s possible. And easier than you may think. But… Not too easy.
Vegan Food in Taiwan || Introduction
Vegan Food in Taiwan || History
Vegan Food in Taiwan || Convenience Store
Vegan Food in Taiwan || Restaurants
Vegan Food in Taiwan || Things to WATCH OUT for
Vegan Food in Taiwan || Top Tips
Vegan Food in Taiwan || Vocabulary
Vegan Food in Taiwan || (11 Accidental) Vegan Taiwanese Foods
Vegan Food in Taiwan || FAQs
Vegan Food in Taiwan | Introduction
A lot is changing in Taiwan.
Even in the few months I’ve been here, I’ve seen new vegan and vegetarian items added in the 7/11. And then removed again.
When I first got here, I was super excited about the plant-based tuna onigiri and the Oatly yoghurts.
I purchased them without a second thought and it was only when I got home did I realise that the onigiri, although advertised as plant-based, had egg in it. The Oatly yoghurt also had milk powder in it.
Maybe they received some complaints because these both slowly disappeared from the 7/11s… I hope they’re just going for a re-vamp and will be added again soon!
Nevertheless, veganism is creeping into Taiwanese society pretty quickly.
Although vegetarianism/veganism has been around for centuries due to the Buddhist culture (explored below) it is the western influence of vegan culture that is getting younger people and those climate-conscious folk aboard the vegan train.
Oat milk is everywhere and super popular in Taiwan now, seen as a fancy equivalent to soy milk.
DID YOU KNOW || Meatless Mondays are even promoted by the government!
And bizarrely, I went to a festival recently where the main sponsor was… oat milk?!
It’s not just the ‘new’ and innovative foods coming into Taiwanese culture that cause many to name Taiwan east Asia’s vegan paradise.
Taiwan actually has a bunch of traditional food that is ‘accidentally’ vegan (list below).
BUT. There are a few things to note. And I’d certainly be more than cautious to call Taiwan a vegan paradise…
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Vegan Food in Taiwan | History
Veganism/vegetarianism has been around in Taiwan for hundreds if not thousands of years.
This is due to the Buddhist culture that promotes eating cleanly and avoiding the consumption of animals and their produce. And even avoids onions and garlic!
It’s funny how China is considered generally unfriendly for vegans whilst Taiwan is considered one of the best in East Asia.
It’s considered this because of its deep Buddhist history and culture.
But actually, this is Chinese culture. Not just in Taiwan, but Chinese food, in general, has deep Buddhist culture to it and therefore both Taiwan and China are fabulous for vegan food.
Indeed, China is actually better since there is way way more choices. I find Taiwanese vegan food to be very samey but in China, there are a lot of different types.
Nevertheless, it’s true that being vegan in Taiwan is slightly easier and I think that has to do with the more modern and western ideals coming into Taiwan and veganism as a western concept coming into society.
With the introduction of more western culture into Taiwanese culture, unfortunately, this means much more milk and cheese…
Whilst traditionally a society that didn’t use much milk or cheese, just like other east Asian countries, Taiwan now has a lot more of it.
IN FACT || Milk powder will be found in *most* things.
For example, bread… It’s a big one for me. It’s so tough to find vegan bread in Taiwan!
This is something that discourages me from labelling Taiwan super vegan-friendly. Mainly for the hidden items and ingredients that don’t need to be in there, and that you’d never think would be in there… But almost certainly are.
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Chinese cuisines have typically been divided into ‘Eight Great Cuisines’ as a means of simplifying this vast and complex tradition.
Vegan Food in Taiwan | Convenience Store
There are few vegan options in the Taiwanese convenience store.
Unfortunately, most of the pre-packaged bakery items (if not all of them) are going to contain eggs or milk.
For the instant food, there are lots more cropping up and then also disappearing, so it’s hard to say for sure.
So far I have seen an attempt at vegetarian onigiri (veggie tuna, but it had egg in it).
I also saw some Oatly products, and just last night my 7/11 had new vegan dumplings.
There is actually a whole ‘plant-based’ line of food in 7/11 – however, you should be aware! Plant-based does not mean vegan. It means vegetarian and it is likely it will contain eggs and or milk.
Nevertheless, some of these don’t! It’s a case of checking the ingredients since I don’t want to say something here then it change again next week.
Use Google Translate’s camera feature to have a look at the back.
It would be amazing to see more vegan and vegetarian dishes in the 7/11 ready meal section.
Already there are quite a few goods in the freezer – such as veggie dumplings and edamame beans!
And if you’re lucky you may find a vegan sweet potato or vegetable baozi in the steamed dumplings area, or some sweet potato cooking away.
For that stuff soaking in the broth with the sticks? Yeah, there is tofu in there. But the broth is meat.
Best to stay away…
Vegan Food in Taiwan | Restaurants
We’re not going to write a list of our favourite vegan/veggie restaurants here – for a couple of reasons!
Firstly, that would take up an entire post. Secondly, there are just so many in Taiwan! Thirdly… it depends on where you are.
It’s not just Taipei, but all over Taiwan, there is an excellent choice in vegan and vegetarian food.
But there are some things you should know about vegan restaurants in Taiwan, and about where to spot them etc.
So we’ll go over that here and if you want us to give a list of our top best vegan restaurants in Taiwan, let us know in the comments!
There are loads of street foods in Taiwan that are vegan/veggie (see the list below).
BUT it should be noted that cross-contamination / surprise meat and egg may be common…
Nevertheless, if your Chinese is good enough to ask or I you’re ready with some phrases printed out, then there are a lot of street foods you can eat!
Night Market Food
The Taiwanese night market is an absolute must to visit. However, if you’re vegan or vegetarian in Taiwan, it might be a bit much.
Whilst there are plenty of foods you could have (if you don’t mind cross-contamination as mentioned above), you may get a little squeamish.
Often you may see animal carcasses or bits thereof hanging around, or you may see bits of animals you never knew were eaten before…
Also at some night markets, live pets are sold, which isn’t super cool. They may be in small cages etc.
So whilst night markets are great places, bear in mind they can be a bit intense.
Go with an open mind and acceptance of a different culture; or leave it off your itinerary.
Night Markets in Tainan || The Ultimate Guide
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Traditional Vegan/Veggie Restaurants
The best thing about being vegetarian in Taiwan, in my opinion.
These two sections I have separated because in my mind, there are two different kinds of vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan.
These are the traditional no-frills very local kind of cuisines that won’t break your bank, maybe aren’t THE healthiest, but are definitely the BEST tasting.
Traditional local vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan come in all shapes and sizes.
But the most popular ones are those buffet-style ones where you pay for the weight of your food.
Sometimes these places are just vegetarian and not vegan, so make sure to ask which dishes are vegan, too!
They will usually know what you mean.
They can be found in every city and town around the whole of Taiwan, especially close to temples. The more remote you get, the less fancy you get.
They may not be the prettiest-looking places, but they have a lot of choices. The only thing is, usually the same 20 dishes are offered in every single place with not much difference between them…
Nevertheless, it’s a surefire way to fill yourself up and not worry about accidental meat eating.
Western Vegan/Veggie Restaurants
For me these are completely different to traditional Taiwanese vegan/vegetarian restaurants and therefore they get their own section.
With veganism as a new culture in the younger generation (not connected to Buddhism but connected to animal welfare and climate consciousness), there are a lot of western-style restaurants popping up in the big cities.
This is mainly so for Taipei, but as time moves on, you can also find other cities have a lot more cropping up, including Kaohsiung, Tainan and Taichung.
You can expect western and Chinese foods offered here, and the food will usually be ‘cleaner’ (maybe less oil and msg/salt) and maybe healthier, depending on what you’re getting.
TOP TIP || It will also be more expensive. Whereas food without meat from traditional local places is cheaper than that with meat, it might be the opposite here in these fancier western-friendly joints.
The plus side though, it is more likely these places will have clear labels on what the food is, and more likely in English, too!
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Vegan Food in Taiwan | Things To WATCH OUT For
We always have to be aware when going somewhere new about the challenges that face us with food.
Here are some top tips I’ve picked up since living in Taiwan as a vegan.
VEGETARIAN NOT VEGAN
Although there are a lot more things in the ‘plant’ section in convenience stores, this does not mean that the food is entirely plant-based.
Some of the food is just vegetarian, even though it clearly says plant-based.
It’s obvious that plant-based food in Taiwan actually means simply vegetarian.
‘PLANT’ MEAT INGREDIENTS
What’s super interesting I find about the ingredients is, fake or mock meats will be listed as just that; fake and mock meats, using the characters for 雞肉 and 牛肉 (but then let you know its plant-based).
I find this quite interesting as previously, or at least in mainland China, the only time I saw fake and mock meats being sold, they would have ingredients that would just include things like tofu or seitan.
It would never mention ‘fake meat’ or ‘mock meat’ as an ingredient list.
This scared me at first because at first look, seeing something like 肉 on the ingredient list (meat) is quite scary!
Then, once you read closely, you can figure out that it also says ‘plant based’.
If you have allergies (not just dietary preference) then you should watch out.
Just because something may be listed as vegetarian it doesn’t mean that they will be watching out so much for cross-contamination like in some countries in Europe and America.
You may also not be comfortable eating at very local establishments if you’re worried as a vegetarian or vegan about cross-contamination.
Whilst there are tons of vegan foods in Taiwan, they’re not specifically vegan or for vegan… Just accidentally vegan.
Because they’re not marketed as vegan (or unless they are) then the chances are, they could be cooked with or next to something non-vegan, or something non-vegan could be added to them for extra taste.
Therefore, for anything that you buy, it’s best to check if there is something non-vegan in there by using our vocabulary list below.
Food in Taiwan || Top Taiwanese Food You Simply Cannot Miss
Food in Taiwan is full of flavour and variety. Using a base of noodles and rice, with strong flavours and lots of meat (mainly beef and pork) and fish.
Vegan Food in Taiwan | 6 Top Tips
- Vegan in Taiwan Top Tip 1: Always explain yourself. Don’t expect someone to understand the difference between vegetarian and vegan unless you’re in a western style vegan restaurant.
- Vegan in Taiwan Top Tip 2: Unless you’re in a vegetarian/vegan restaurant, in a relatively expensive restaurant, or in a western style restaurant, the realistic chance of your food getting contaminated with meat is real. It’s up to you whether you care or not that your veggies have been chopped on the same chopping board as the beef.
- Vegan in Taiwan Top Tip 3: And in terms of cross-contamination and things to watch out for, again apart from the above situations, if you’re eating at a local place, you can presume that there will be at least a bit of meat in your food (i.e. the broth).
- Vegan in Taiwan Top Tip 4: In a local food place, just because something is labelled as ‘vegetable…X’ doesn’t mean it won’t contain meat. I found this out in my first week in Taiwan (I should know better) when I ordered the vegetable ramen. Which included two massive slabs of pork..!
- Vegan in Taiwan Top Tip 5: There are so many vegetarian/vegan food restaurants around. Stick local for the cheaper and more authentic stuff. Go a bit more expensive for the western stuff. But to be honest, the local stuff is amazing and found frequently. Honestly, everywhere! Take a look on Google Maps or Happy Cow.
- Vegan in Taiwan Top Tip 6: If you’re after eating with friends in a normal, local restaurant, you shouldn’t presume that there will be something vegetarian – especially depending on the restaurant you’re at. It’s best to check beforehand!
Vegan Food in Taiwan | Vocabulary
Your new favourite character in Chinese, 素 (sù) means vegetarian and also vegan. Kind of.
Technically it means completely vegan (i.e. just plant) but there is some confusion and misunderstanding in Taiwan about what this actually means, and the two terms become interchangeable.
Nevertheless, if you see this character in a restaurant it means they’re at least vegetarian and will probably be able to do something vegan, too!
我吃素 (wǒ chī sù)
This phase is used commonly in Taiwan – although, it can have different meanings. There is no real way Taiwanese people differ between vegan and vegetarian in practice; hence the mix-up sometimes.
There is a word for ‘vegan’ that’s 全素 (quán sù) which means ‘completely vegetarian’ but still, there is confusion as to what this actually entails.
It’s best to say that you’re vegetarian, then continue to clarify the things you don’t eat. Or you could say 我吃素 then confirm that this is 全素.
|I don’t eat meat||我不吃肉|
|I don’t eat fish||我不吃魚|
|I don’t eat eggs||我不吃蛋|
|I don’t eat cheese||我不吃起司 (TW)|
|I don’t drink cow’s milk||我不喝牛奶|
|I am allergic to cow’s milk||我對牛奶過敏|
|I am allergic to eggs||我對蛋過敏|
|I am allergic to fish||我對魚過敏|
Vegan Food in Taiwan | (11 Accidental) Taiwanese Vegan Foods
This is a list of very traditional and local foods in Taiwan that ae accidentally vegan! (But make sure to check anyway…)
Douhua is an awesome sweet dish.
It’s basically just tofu and sweet water, with various toppings that you can choose such as red bean and mango.
Make sure it hasn’t been fermented in something non-vegan.
The absolute classic and quintessential Taiwanese food; otherwise known as ‘stinky tofu‘ (clue is in the name), this dish is completely vegan.
Yum, just beware of the smell – you can’t miss it!
Literally just fried sticks of batter, these are a classic Taiwanese breakfast food.
They come in either one or two colours, taro balls are an awesome yummy sweet/savoury snack.
Be careful though, they may be friend in other non-veggie stuff.
Doujiang is just soy milk!
Get it sweet, or get it without sugar. This is a typical breakfast drink!
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Steamed buns with a vegetable filling.
Milk Tea / Bubble Tea 珍珠奶茶
Milk tea… without the milk? Yes, and no!
Some milk tea places will have soy milk (and also oat milk) options.
Otherwise, you could get yourself some traditional bubble tea without the milk completely!
Cold Noodles 涼麵
A savoury / sour snack (depending on how much vinegar you want to throw on).
These are just noodles that are cold with some veggies (usually strips of cucumber) on top.
Green Onion Pancakes 蔥抓餅
Ask for this popular pancake snack without the egg and you’ve got yourself a yummy green onion pancake!
They can be a bit oily, though, and will most likely be made on the same board as meat and also obviously ones made with egg.
That concludes our guide to vegan food in Taiwan. We hope you’ve found it useful.
We’d love to hear about your experiences with vegan and veggie food in Taiwan too. Drop us a comment below and let us know your thoughts.
If you want to find out more about the vegetarian and vegan scene in China check out our post.
Vegan Food in Taiwan | FAQs
Is it possible to be vegan in Taiwan?
Yes! But there are things you should watch out for.
Check this article to find out what exactly.
How do you say vegan in Taiwan?
Generally, it’s wo chi su 我吃素 but look above at the phrases for some things to note.
Are there vegan restaurants in Taiwan?
So many! You’ll be spoilt for choice.
Is it easier to be vegan in Taiwan or China?
It’s certainly more understood and accepted in Taiwan.
Although, there may be more choices and variations in China.
How do you say I don’t eat meat in Mandarin?
How do you say I don’t eat fish in Mandarin?
How do you say I am allergic to fish in Mandarin?
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