When it comes to dining out, Taipei is an amazingly diverse hot pot of both local foods and international cuisines, but until quite recently, vegans were very poorly catered to. Thankfully in the last five years or so, an explosion of health-conscious places to eat combined with a clearer understanding of the vegan diet means that vegans can now enjoy a satisfying meal in almost every neighborhood; yet there are still some pitfalls to watch out for.
Anyone that has spent some time in Taipei and Taiwan, in general, will understand that English translations on menus are sometimes quite inaccurate. From ordering juice that is actually vinegar to asking for a soy milk that turns out to be soy-flavored cow’s milk, placing your trust in translations on a menu is an exercise fraught with danger.
The common misconception here in a ‘lost in translation’ type of way is that vegetarian and vegan are one and the same thing. There have even been cases where restaurant owners have used either word simply to indicate that there are vegetables on your meat patty.
However, before you judge, just remember that English is not their first or even second language. So when using Google translate to type up their English menu they genuinely do not realize when such errors occur.
This is why it’s best when dining out to opt for a well-known vegan restaurant rather than one that may have vegan options. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
If there’s one thing that Taiwanese chefs love to use more than anything else, it’s the humble egg. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even late night snacks are all given the egg treatment so when ordering anything, be absolutely certain that there are no eggs used even if you have to resort to chicken impressions to get your point across (yes, that has actually happened!).
Gelatin, a vegan’s kryptonite. That sneaky meat product that manages to stealth its way into practically everything and anything, and it’s everywhere in Taiwan. Thankfully a lot of processed food manufacturers are now clued-in to the fact that there’s no real need for gelatin in food products, but there are, of course, more than a few that persist.
Avoid candy of any kind unless it’s clearly a vegan product (of which there are very few). And if you’re partial to a nice cup of tea, make sure that your pearl tea (no milk of course) uses tapioca balls that are made following a traditional recipe that is free of dairy products. It might be tough going finding the right place, but it’ll be worth it in the end. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as an ice-cold mango pearl green tea on a hot and humid day in Taipei.
Both cow’s and goat’s milk are quite popular in Taiwan, so they are pretty much everywhere. Milk is used a lot in the baking of bread, so you will have to point to each item in the bakery and ask about the dairy content. Usually, bread in Taiwan that is made using milk will have a sweet smell but best to ask rather than guess.
Every vegan knows that chocolate does not need milk at all but this is a fact lost on the international confectionery industry, and in Taiwan, it’s no different. You’ll find dairy in almost every chocolate product on the market here.
There are several Taipei vegan groups on Facebook that offer incredibly useful advice for those that have just arrived or that are here for a short stay. Joining one or more and asking for advice is the best way to truly get the most out of your stay in the city. With the language barrier and the translation issues mentioned earlier, it’s easy to see how a trip to this bustling city can seem quite daunting for a vegan. But with over 30 places offering both vegetarian and vegan options scattered throughout the city, there’s no need to spend your time eating cold noodles in your apartment or hotel room. Join a group, make some friends, and see what culinary delights Taipei has to offer.