There is a whole lot of vegetarian food (素食) and vegan food (全素食) to be enjoyed in Taiwan. For example, here are my recommended vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Taipei and 90+ vegetarian food stalls at night markets across Taiwan!
However, just finding vegetarian restaurants is only half the battle. The biggest obstacle you’re going to face as a vegetarian or vegan in Taiwan is language issues.
Many local vegetarian restaurants don’t have English menus. And once you travel outside of big cities, you may not find any vegetarian restaurants. You’ll need to communicate what you can or cannot eat to people who can’t speak a word of English.
I prepared this article to help you through these situations. I’m going to cover the different types of vegetarian in Taiwan and how they are different than Western countries, how to say them in Mandarin, how to ask for vegetarian/vegan food, vegetarian options in convenience stores, common vegetarian dishes in Taiwan, and more.
I write this as someone who speaks Mandarin and has lived in Taiwan for over 10 years as a mostly vegetarian.
Taiwanese Vegetarian and Vegan Food
Taiwan’s vegetarian culture may be different than in your country. Traditionally, the Taiwanese vegetarian diet is associated with Buddhism. Besides meat, Buddhist vegetarians also avoid the five “pungent” roots (五辛): onions, garlic, chives, green onions, and leeks.
Most traditional vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan adopt this definition of vegetarianism. One common style of restaurant, especially at lunchtime, is the vegetarian buffet (素食自助餐). At these spots, you choose any items you want and pay by weight.
Most traditional Taiwanese vegetarian food is actually vegan. Eggs are classified as meat, while dairy was just not ever part of the diet until recently.
However, most Buddhist vegetarians don’t actively avoid dairy like Western vegans do. So in modern times, it’s rare but not impossible to find some eggs or dairy in these restaurants – often labeled or easily visible and thus easy to avoid.
The concept of “vegan” is a Western one. There isn’t even a perfect Mandarin word for it. There are a few close ones (I’ll cover that below), but the average local doesn’t know what they mean. Even vegan/vegetarian expats living in Taiwan can’t agree on the best way to express their veganism or ask for vegan items.
You can find some American-style all-vegan restaurants in Taipei and other big cities nowadays, but outside of those restaurants, vegans have to be very specific and clear when explaining what they can or cannot eat when dining in Taiwan.
Restaurant staff may also “forget” about certain ingredients, not realize they are animal-based, or not be aware that (for example) some Western vegans don’t eat honey.
Just one example of how specific you need to be in Taiwan: I once order a noodle dish from a restaurant in my neighborhood. I asked for no meat, but they still put some internal organs like kidneys and intestines. They interpreted “no meat” as “no pork pieces”, but assumed internal organs were somehow OK for me…
How to Find Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants
The easiest solution to following your diet in Taiwan will be to find restaurants which are exclusively vegan or vegetarian.
Happy Cow lists hundreds of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Taipei alone, plus many more throughout Taiwan. They’ve even got a handy map, with different colored pins for vegan, vegetarian, vegetarian options, and dessert.
I’m honestly quite impressed with Happy Cow’s coverage of Taiwan. They ever cover smaller towns around the country. Each entry has a clear English explanation, pictures, opening hours, and reviews.
While not as reliable as Happy Cow, I use GoogleMaps all the time for general travel in Taiwan, so I also sometimes use it to search for vegetarian restaurants.
One plus here is that more locals use GoogleMaps in Taiwan, so you will get more local reviews rather than foreign ones like on Happy Cow. You may also find some smaller spots that aren’t listed on Happy Cow.
Typing English “vegetarian” will get you limited results. Input “素食” to get more results.
Blogs and Facebook Groups
Websites like Happy Cow give SO MANY options that it can be tough to narrow it down, especially when you have a short trip and only want to try the best.
In that case, take the advice of experts who have done the time to compile their personal favorites.
You can Google that yourself, but here are my own personal favorite vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Taipei.
You can also find loads of recommendations in Facebook groups such as Vegan and Vegetarian Eating (Taipei), Vegans in Taiwan, and Taichung Vegan and Vegetarian Eating. Make sure to search these groups first instead of just joining and then asking a general question right away.
Watch for the Signs
Although it’s less likely that you’re just going to roam the streets or night markets in Taiwan looking for vegetarian restaurants, it’s still useful to know the signs.
Many local Taiwanese vegetarian restaurants will prominently display the character for vegetarian (素) on their sign. Often it’s only that character and it’s very large.
Buddhist vegetarian restaurants will often also have the Buddhist swastika (卍) visible on their sign. Note that this has absolutely nothing to do with Nazism, and the symbol faces the opposite (left) direction.
How to Read Menus in Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian Restaurants
Whether you’re in a vegetarian or non-vegetarian restaurant, and whether the menu is in Mandarin or English, here are some tips for ordering vegetarian food in Taiwan.
Keep in mind that in vegetarian restaurants, dishes might have names that sound like meat, but these will be mock meats / vegetarian versions of traditional meat dish. For example, vegetarian chicken, pork, goose, duck, fish, and so on are very common.
In traditional Taiwanese restaurants, there is often no English menu. Menus may be painted or displayed on the wall. Often there is a paper menu and you need to check the items you want to order.
These apps have two very useful functions. With the camera function, you simply aim your camera at the words and it will translated them on the screen for you, as in the above photo. This will be your savior many times. However, you’ll find that some items will come out as gibberish because they just don’t have any good English translation.
Another is the conversation function. You can either type or speak English into the app and it will translate it into Mandarin for you. You can use this to converse with food vendors or restaurant staff and ask questions or let them know what you want.
Always make sure to use traditional Chinese (not simplified) characters in Taiwan. Read more about languages in Taiwan here.
Ordering on Paper Menus
Many local restaurants have menus on paper pads. These are usually at the front and you take one before sitting, or they may be on the table.
After figuring out what you want, using a translation app if necessary, write a Chinese number 一 (one) beside the dish you want. For more than one of the same item, write 二 (two) or 三 (three).
Sometimes there are different columns for type of noodle (see the top left section of the above menu – each dish has 4 possible noodle types). There could also be a spicy and non-spicy column.
At the top, there is usually a space to write your table number. This space might say 桌號 (table number) or 內用桌號 (to-stay table number). There might also be a space that says “外帶” (take-away), which you can check if you want that. On the above menu, the table number 8 has already been added.
After you fill in your order, hand it to the staff. Sometimes you pay at that time. Other times you pay when leaving.
How to Eat in Vegetarian Buffets
In traditional vegetarian buffet restaurants there are no menus. You help yourself to whatever you want and then pay.
Start by taking a plate (to stay) or paper lunchbox (to go) and a pair of tongs. Then take any items you want from the buffet table.
When you’re ready, go to the counter and place your plate on the scale. You can also bring your own reusable take-away container if you want – they’ll deduct a bit to account for its weight.
The clerk will ask if you want rice before you pay. Most have the option of white rice (白飯 baifan) or a healthier rice like five grain rice (五穀飯 wugufan) or purple rice (紫米飯 zimifan).
There’s a small surcharge for rice, like TWD 10. They will usually hand the bowl of the rice to you, but in some cases they’ll give you the empty bowl and you help yourself from a large rice cooker.
These restaurants also often have a large metal vat of complimentary soup. Locals often finish their meal with soup, using their rice bowl. The soup is usually watery and may be sweet (like red bean or green bean soup) or savoury (like white radish or miso soup).
When leaving, make sure to clear your plate/bowl/utensils from the table. Often there’s a counter or bin at the front for them. Scrape any food remains into the compost bin before stacking your items.
Vegetarian Food Labels
Many non-vegetarian restaurants at the medium or higher end will label vegetarian items on menus. They may label vegetarian items with a green leaf symbol and spicy ones with a red chili pepper.
They may also label items with the word 素 (vegetarian) or 蛋奶素 (lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning vegetarian but has milk and/or eggs). However, it’s very rare/unlikely that you’ll see “vegan” labeling in regular restaurants. Items labeled as vegetarian may be vegan, but they may not – you’ll need to ask.
Non-vegetarian restaurants at the budget end are unlikely to have such labels. The only way to know is to ask.
In vegetarian restaurants, especially more modern ones, you’ll have a higher chance of seeing more specific labels like the above photo. However, only Western-style vegetarian and vegan restaurants are likely to have labels saying “vegan”.
How to Say You Are Vegetarian/Vegan
If you’re traveling around Taiwan, you are definitely going to face situations where you need to explain your diet.
If you simply don’t eat meat, this is going to be pretty easy. Instead of saying “I am a vegetarian”, in Mandarin you say “I eat vegetarian”.
But if your diet is more specific or if you are vegan, this is going to be a little tougher, because there’s no perfect translation for “vegan” that locals will universally understand.
In Mandarin, if you don’t pronounce things correctly or use the right tones, locals will not understand you.
Try copy-pasting the below Mandarin phrases to GoogleTranslate and click the play button to hear how they should sound.
|I am vegetarian.
|wo chi su
|I eat vegetarian.
|I don’t eat meat.
|wo bu chi rou
|Essentially the same as saying you are vegetarian.
|I am vegan.
|wo chi quan su
|I eat all vegetarian.*
|I don’t eat meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, honey.
|wo bu chi rou, haixian, dan, nai, fengmi
|Sometimes listing them all is best.
|I’m pescatarian / I don’t eat meat but fish and seafood are OK
|我吃海鮮素 / 我不吃肉，但是魚、海鮮可以
|wo chi haixian su / wo bu chi rou, danshi yu, haixian keyi
|People may not understand the first one, so explaining is better
|I’m a flexitarian.
|我吃方便素 / 我吃鍋邊素
|wo chi fang bian su / wo chi guo bian su
|I eat convenient vegetarian / I eat side of the pot vegetarian
*There is no perfect word for “vegan” in Mandarin. Veganism is a Western concept. The closest Chinese terms are 全素 (all vegetarian) and 純素 (pure vegetarian).
However, there are many debates about what exactly these terms include/don’t include. The average Taiwanese person, including local cooks/vendors, won’t know exactly what they mean. Therefore, it’s always safer to explain what you do/don’t eat.
How to Ask for Vegetarian or Vegan Food
It can be a little awkward to enter a restaurant and simply proclaim “I am vegetarian!” In many cases, it will make more sense to ask questions about the food.
Here are some useful phrases for doing so. I’ve kept them as simple as possible.
|Is this vegetarian?
|zhe shi su de ma?
|Ask this while pointing at an item.
|Do you have any vegetarian items?
|you su de ma?
|Do you have any vegan items?
|you quan su de ma?
|Follow this by explaining what you don’t eat (see last table).
|Don’t add egg.
|bu yao jia dan
|Eggs are added on top of many dishes in Taiwan.
|If you say you’re vegetarian, they often ask:
|Are eggs and milk OK for you?
|dan, nai ke yi ma?
|eggs, milk can?
|Are green onions OK for you?
|cong ke yi ma?
|Very common garnish, but Buddhist vegetarians don’t eat them.
|Is garlic OK for you?
|suan ke yi ma?
|You can reply:
|bu ke yi
Common Vegan/Vegetarian Foods in Taiwan
While I can’t possibly list every vegetarian and vegan dish in Taiwan, here are some of the most common ones.
|green onion crepes (蛋餅), egg sandwich (蛋三明治), fried egg/omelet, steamed bun with egg (饅頭加蛋), flaky pastry with egg (燒餅加蛋)
|radish cake (蘿蔔糕 ask to confirm), plain steamed bun (饅頭), vegetable steamed bun (菜包), taro steamed bun (芋頭饅頭), flaky pastries with fried dough sticks (燒餅加油條), soy milk (豆漿), brown rice milk (米漿), sticky rice rolls (飯糰 ask for a vegetarian one), hash browns (薯餅), peanut butter toast (花生厚片)
|egg drop soup (蛋花湯, ask to confirm), fried rice (炒飯, ask for no meat), Western dishes like pasta
|steamed greens (燙青菜), Taiwanese kimchi (泡菜), cold noodles with sesame sauce (麻醬麵), red braised tofu (紅燒豆腐), three cups tofu (三杯豆腐), steamed eggplant (茄子, ask to confirm)
|Street Food / Night Markets
|tea eggs (茶葉蛋), papaya milk (木瓜牛奶), deep fried cheese sticks (炸起司條), deep fried milk (炸牛奶), dried tofu (豆乾)
|deep fried king trumpet mushrooms (炸杏鮑菇), non dairy iced teas, tofu burger (豆腐包), roasted corn (烤玉米, ask to confirm)
|pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶), ice cream, pudding, shaved ice with creamy toppings, wheel cakes (車輪餅)
|mochi (麻糬), tofu pudding (豆花), aiyu jelly (愛玉), tangyuan (湯圓), shaved ice (without pudding, ice cream, or sweetened condensed milk), traditional Taiwanese ice cream (ask to confirm), peanut brittle cilantro ice cream wraps (also confirm)
Vegetarian/Vegan Food in Convenience Stores
Taiwan has one of the highest concentrations of convenience stores in the world (only South Korea has more per capita!) For travelers, vegetarian or not, these are often a blessing.
Vegetarian foods in convenience stores include egg/cheese sandwiches, tea eggs, salads (dressing may or may not be vegan), various buns, cold noodles with sesame sauce, (vegan but some have egg strips on the side), yogurt, and many other snacks and desserts.
Vegan options included roasted sweet potatoes, packs of nuts, steamed buns with black sesame filling, tofu pudding, soy/brown rice milk, sweetened dried tofu, and fresh fruits. Salads and cold noodles with sesame sauce may or may not be vegan.
Some larger 7-11s now have a dedicated “plant-based” corner. However, local vegetarian/vegan expats have noticed that their usage of the term “plant-based” here doesn’t match the Western one, which is essentially vegan. Some of the items in that section even have meat!
You can also order hot or iced Americanos or lattes in convenience stores. They won’t put cream in Americanos unless you ask for it. Here’s how to order one:
|一個 (yi ge)
|中/大杯 (zhong/da bei)
|美式咖啡 (mei shi ka fei)
|熱的/冰的 (re de / bing de)
Foods that are Sometimes Vegetarian and Sometimes Not
There are some foods in Taiwan that you have to be careful with. They might seem vegetarian but actually are not.
|Anything with tofu
|Tofu dishes are not always vegetarian in Taiwan. They could have meat chunks, fish or meat soup base, fried in the same oil used for meat, etc.
|Meat is often used to kickstart fermentation for stinky tofu. Look for ones labeled vegetarian like this one.
|Noodles and soups
|Most have a meat/fish base or little meat chunks, unless labeled vegetarian. Cold noodles with sesame sauce are usually vegan.
|Sticky rice rolls (飯糰)
|Common breakfast item, usually has pork floss (肉鬆) and sometimes egg, but you can ask them not to put these.
|Green onion cakes (蔥油餅)
|Although they appear vegetarian (vegans: ask for no egg), some vendors make them with lard.
|Deep fried foods
|Ofter fried in same oil as meats. Look for a vegetarian fried food stalls like this one.
|Dumplings/pan fried buns
|Even if they are called “cabbage” or “leek”, they almost always have pork in them.
|Many have egg, lard, and/or pork floss.
|Usually have butter.
Vegetarian Night Markets in Taiwan
While there is no permanent vegetarian night market in Taiwan, a local organization called Little Vegetarian Night Market (素食小夜市) does regular pop-ups all over Taiwan, usually for one weekend.
Follow their Facebook page (Mandarin only) for info about these events.
To find vegetarian and vegan foods in regular night markets, see my vegetarian guide to night markets in Taiwan.