Hello friends! I'm back home now after a lovely 6 day trip to Taiwan. We had a great time and found that our money really went a long way, it was possible to really live it up and still have money left over at the end of the trip. Other than the flight, I think we only spent about 70, 000¥ for the two of us.
One of my favourite things about travelling in Taiwan was the food. Compared to veggie life in Japan, Taiwan was quite easy, as everyone understands the meaning of vegetarian. According to Wikipedia, about 10% of the Taiwanese population is vegetarian at least some of the time. Coupled with the Taiwanese culture of dining out, that means that you can find a vegetarian restaurant pretty much anywhere! The trick, of course, is finding one of these places, particularly if you can't speak or read Mandarin. While there is quite a lot of English spoken in Taiwan, particularly by younger people and those who work in tourism, most vegetarian restaurants don't get a lot of foreign customers, and are unlikely to have English signage. To help you identify vegetarian places, I recommend you remember these characters: 素食 (sùshí) can be found as part of the restaurant name or otherwise prominently displayed out front, or as a heading for a veggie section of an omnivorous menu. My guide book said that looking for a savastika (卍 Buddhist symbol that looks like a backwards swastika) is a good way to identify vegetarian restaurants, but I didn't notice any of these symbols in sight at many of the places we visited.
Did you spot the characters for sùshí?
This sign was on the inside of the same restaurant. So no savastika outside, but here it is on the menu of the vegetarian options.
It would be, of course also very helpful to learn how to say "I'm vegetarian" in Mandarin. At the first hotel we stayed at, I asked the clerk to teach me how to say this, and also to write it down on a piece of paper (我是素食者). Unfortunately, upon trying this phrase out in restaurants, the staff either had no idea of what I was trying to say, or thought I was asking for sushi- apparently my tones need a little work! So in the end, I found that a flashing my piece of paper, and using sign language was the most effective. Ordering in Taiwanese restaurants often involves marking off your desired order on a (pictureless) menu/ orderform. If you can't read Mandarin at all it's a bit hilarious, as you'll have no idea what you are getting, but in a vegetarian place (if you aren't a picky eater) that can be kind of fun. Checking out what other diners are eating and gesturing wildly towards a meal that looks yummy is also a good bet. Veggie places in Taiwan feature lots of dishes with often scarily convincing but delicious mock meat. From what I understand, the food should be mostly vegan, but one blog I read on the topic said some dishes might contain (non vegan) mayonaise, some restaurants will use eggs and sweets might contain dairy. So vegans (who don't speak any Mandarin) would probably be safer bringing some written down phrases to double check. Another note about Taiwanese vegetarian food is that it also doesn't contain onions or garlic. I can't imagine cooking without, but in a way this just adds to my awe of how delicious Taiwanese veggie cuisine is!
You will find a lot of vegetarian buffets in Taiwan. I found that even after stuffing myself silly, I generally felt pretty good and that "too full" feeling didn't stick around to haunt me.
One thing vegetarian travelers, especially those living in Japan, will appreciate is the abundance of cheap and delicious fruit in Taiwan! Living in Canada, fruit always made up a good chunk of my diet, but given the cost of fruit in Japan, my choices are usually limited. Fresh fruit juices, smoothies, and tea/juice blends are also popular in Taiwan and can be found as easily as the ubiquitous convenience stores. Be warned, though- Taiwanese people have a sweet tooth, and sugar is often added to juice and smoothies. I'm not sure if this is standard, but when I ordered a fresh watermelon juice, the vendor poured in something that looked like vegetable oil, so it might be wise to keep an eye on what's being added and be prepared to intervene if this is something you'd rather leave out.
Yummy fresh juice will only set you back around NT$25- around 100¥ or a bit more than $1 Canadian or US.
So if you're considering countries in Asia for a vacation, Taiwan is a great choice. You'll find a good amount of English signage (at least in Taipei and near Taroko National Park), clean and convenient public transport options, warm and friendly people, and great shopping (the night markets are fun and cheap if you can handle the crowds). I hear there are also beautiful beaches and great hiking if you venture out of the cities. The delicious, cheap, veggie friendly food is sure to please vegetarian and vegan travelers, and if you are a tea lover, you are in for a treat! I heart Taiwan. Seriously.