My experience differs from that of lime*monkey. I didn’t have a great deal of experience of vegetarian food in Taiwan until my Mum came to visit and we went on a motorbike tour round north Taiwan. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to find enough for her to eat, so I packed some tubs of vegetarian instant noodles just in case. We managed to eat well everywhere, and the instant noodles travelled all around north Taiwan with us and back to my house, where I ate them myself about two weeks later.
[quote=“lime*monkey”]When traveling outside of Kaohsiung (Gaoxiong) I often have problems to find something to eat, because you either have to find a vegetarian restaurant or go through several restaurants and check if they have a veg. dish. Most of regular restaurants are also not willing to prepare one for you (even if it simply means to leave the meat out from a dish)…Overall people seem to look down vegetarians in Taiwan and have no problems with showing it, so better get used to that.[/quote]I was surprised at these comments. Restaurant staff everywhere we went were very happy to point out vegetarian menu items for us, and if none existed, to cook them specially. One of several examples of this was the Hakka restaurant we went to in Nanzhuang. Now, Hakka food generally is pretty meaty: pigs’ trotters, intestines etc. But the owner promised that she would do what she could for us, and a little while later laid out some very reasonable food for us: a soup and a couple of vegetable dishes. She apologised to us that they had no experience of cooking vegetarian food and that probably what they had cooked for us wasn’t very good. I told her that, on the contrary, it was excellent and I thanked her for her trouble.
And as for this idea that Taiwanese do not respect vegetarians, I would say that the opposite is true in my experience and that a vegetarian westerner is not only seen as something of a novelty but is also given a certain amount of respect. I think this comes from the general respect which is accorded to Buddhism (note that I am not stating that the general population has a great knowledge of Buddhism, but that many people have a feeling of respect for it).
[quote=“lime*monkey”]If you like western or Japanese food, you can forget most of the restaurants. Mostly you will get some watery noodle with no taste, say good bye to veg. sushi. There are however several good restaurants that do have veg. food (Smokey Joe’s in Kaohsiung (Gaoxiong) for example).
Costco has vegetarian burgers that do not taste like meat and also other vegetarian products… so if you are fed up eating bean-curd-meat-fakes, it is the place to go.[/quote]7-11 has a number of things that are OK for vegetarians.
It is a fair point about the relative lack of western style vegetarian food (although my mother was amazed at the 100-plus Chinese-style dishes at a big vegetarian buffet restaurant we went to- certainly much, much more than ‘bean-curd-meat-fakes’). In Taichung there’s only one vegetarian western-style restaurant, although most, perhaps all of the other western restaurants have vegetarian items on their menus. Don’t know about Hsinchu but imagine it’s similar.
[quote=“lime*monkey”]Many “vegetable dishes” or snacks, which would be meat-free in the west, have chicken powder or other meat ingredients in Taiwan, because “it tastes better”. The first thing you want to learn here are the Chinese characters for all kinds of meat because most products have Chinese only ingredient listings. Look for the sauvastika (reverse swastika) symbol on restaurants and food products (=buddhist vegetarian)[/quote]Yes, if something has this symbol then it will be completely free of animal products. But in general, if you say you are vegetarian then I think people will check and make sure that a dish has no animal products for you. Where confusion can arise is concerning ‘degrees’ of vegetarianism, for example if you eat eggs, cheese and even fish but no meat, or just no red meat. I think that the differing grades of vegetarianism prevalent in the west are not so common here- basically it’s all animal products or none, with the possible exception of eggs.
One last small point- Xpet was correct that Chinese Buddhists don’t eat onions (this includes all members of the onion family such as scallions and garlic), but I think he was incorrect concerning chili. I think chili is OK.