Being a vegetarian or a vegan in Taiwan is very blissful.
There are many vegetarian restaurants here and vegetarian foods in Taiwan are very common; it’s also easy to find (or kindly ask if they can customize) vegan meals.
In Taiwan, more than 3 million people are vegetarian or vegan in 2020 which takes up about 13% of the population. Taipei is even ranked among Top 10 cities as ‘The best cities for vegans around the world’ by CNN.
However, the vegetarian or vegan diets in Taiwan are mainly rooted in Buddhism, meaning that some vegetables are not allowed. For instance, I was forbidden to buy a scallion pancake by the vendor(!) or told that I shouldn’t eat garlic and onion!!!
They are plants, aren’t they?
I am a Taiwanese but I got the concept of veganism from my Danish friend. I was not aware of the religion factor in Taiwan at all! Therefore, I would like to share some tips for vegans when you are in Taiwan (maybe they also apply to other Asian countries).
The label of 純素 (chún sù) or 全素 (quán sù)
These two labels have an identical meaning, and are often used interchangeably.I translate 純素 (chún sù) or 全素 (quán sù) into ‘Strict vegetarian’ diet; however, lots of people translate them into ‘vegan’, so there is some disagreement about the meaning.
The chart below shows the vegetarian categories in Taiwan.
As you can see, strict vegetarians don’t eat eggs and dairy products, neither pungent plants (like scallion, garlic, chive, onion etc.) and alcohol (even plant-based), but they might eat honey. Also, the categories of vegetarians are only based on food and drink.
So before you buy something labeled 純素 (chún sù) or 全素 (quán sù), it is better to check if it contains any honey related ingredients.
The label of 素食 (sù shí)
素食 (sù shí) generally means vegetarian foods.
When you visit a restaurant which shows 素食 (sù shí) on the menu or in the front door, remember to double check with the staff if the processed foods (素料 (sù liào)) contain milk and egg. Sometimes they don’t even know whether the ingredients include milk or egg.
If they are not sure about the ingredients, the best way to avoid it is telling them NOT to add processed foods in your meal.
Scallion pancake (蔥油餅), steamed or fried veg bun (水煎包、生煎包), steamed rice cake (粿)…there are many delicious traditional Taiwanese foods that I personally like so much!
But, remember to ask the vendors first about the oil they use, because it’s very common to use a bit of lard (豬油) when they make it.
This one in the photo is without lard
Kitchenware in non-vegan/ non-vegetarian restaurants
Vendors and restaurants may not change their gloves and kitchenware to prepare vegan or vegetarian meals.
If you care, it is better to ask them first before you order foods.
When you say 我吃素 (wǒ chī sù)…
It’s the easiest way to express you are a vegetarian in those five categories in Taiwan.
However, when you say 我吃素 (wǒ chī sù), they might think it is related to religion.
So they might still add honey in your food or tell you that you can NOT buy scallion pancake from them.
Again, let’s check the chart.
So far I only think about these four tips (traps?), if I come up with other ideas, I’ll update here.
A translation card for vegans
Here is a card for vegans.
I’m not a professional translator but I guess people in Taiwan can already understand the diet requirement a vegan needs.
I put pin yin below the Mandarin so you can also practice speaking it 😉
If you want to download this card, you can click- here.
I hope you enjoy your time in Taiwan!
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me 😉