dietary restrictions

All Mahayana Buddhists, which account for the majority of adherents in Taiwan, aspire to be pure vegetarian in deference to the Buddha's teaching of non-violence and compassion. So, vegetarian restaurants called su-shi 素食 tsan-ting 餐廳 in Mandarin, and often identified with the 卍 symbol can be found in abundance all over the island, and they run from cheap buffet style to gourmet and organic. Buffet styled restaurants called 自助餐, which means "Serve Yourself Restaurant" are common in almost every neighborhood in large cities, and unlike the 'all-you-can-eat' buffets which charge a set price, usually ranging from $250-350 including dessert and coffee/tea, the cost is estimated by the weight of the food on your plate. Rice there is usually a choice of brown or white is charged separately, but soup or cold tea is free and you can refill as many times as you like. $90-$120 will buy you a good sized, nutritious meal.

However, if you cannot find a veggie restaurant, don't fret. Taiwanese people are very flexible and most restaurants will be happy to cook you up something to suit your requirements. The following sentences in Mandarin might be helpful: 我吃素 Wo chi su lit. I eat vegetarian - I'm vegetarian, 我不吃肉 Wo bu chi rou lit. I don't eat meat - I don't eat meat. However, as Mandarin is a tonal language, you might need to say both, plus practice your acting skills to get yourself understood. Good luck! NB: If a restaurant refuses your order, don't push the issue. The reason will not be an unwillingness to accommodate your request, but because the basic ingredients of their dishes may include chicken broth or pork fat.

Taiwanese vegetarianism 素食 isn't simply vegetariansism, for there is a notion of "plainness" to it. In most cases it excludes items such onion, ginger, and garlic. Buddhists and Taoists consider these items "un-plain" because they potentially cause physical excitement, which could hinder the meditative process. Thus, when offering food to a strict vegetarian, be aware that they may not eat food containing onion, ginger, and garlic.

Although vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan do not aspire to vegan principles, due to the fact that Taiwanese do not have a tradition of eating dairy products, almost all non-dessert dishes at Chinese style veggie restaurants will actually be vegan. Ensure that your dish does not contain eggs, however.

places to eat

If you're on a budget, the cheapest food can be found in back-alley noodle shops and night market stalls, where you can get a filling bowl of noodles for around NT$35-70.

The Taiwanese love to snack and even many restaurants advertise xiaochi 小吃, literally "small eats", the Taiwanese equivalent of Cantonese dim sum. There are also the standard fast food places such as McDonalds a standard Big Mac Meal costs NT$115, KFC and MOS Burger. In addition there are large numbers of convenience stores such as 7-11 that sell things like tea eggs, sandwiches, bento boxes 便當盒 and drinks.

Night markets are also a good place to try some delicious local Taiwanese fare at attractive prices. Examples would be the Shilin Night Market 士林夜市 in Taipei and the Liouho Night Market 六合夜市 in Kaohsiung, each of which has its own special dishes not to be missed.