Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Formosa (Taiwan) - A Travel Guide for Vegans

This is a travel guide to Taiwan for vegans and ethically-minded travellers. It contains all information necessary to get the most out of a trip to Taiwan, including sights, activities and the best vegan food available, all listed together as possible travel itineraries for Taiwan's most popular tourist destinations. All vegan restaurants and the best vegetarian restaurants in Taipei are reviewed, with photographs, cuisine styles, price ranges, hours etc, along with sights and activities they are best visited with. Of course this guidebook doesn't recommend any cruel forms of entertainment.

So far (September 12th) I have sold around twenty five copies (not counting people I know) and have no reviews. I guess this means that it's about what people expect, as people would surely write negative reviews if they weren't happy with it and felt ripped off? Still, if you have bought this book I would greatly appreciate a review (, or,, Even if you haven't yet travelled to Taiwan a few sentences of your first impressions would offer an independent analysis of the value of this book to travellers to Taiwan who find this blog, and you can always update your review after visiting Taiwan. I am also very interested in feedback myself, of course.

Length: 400 pages / Price: $7.99 USD (~NT125) 
One-week Half Price Sale: September 12th - 19th $3.99 

For a photo tour of what this guidebook offers, please visit the Vegan Travel Guides Facebook Page.

This is the world's first complete travel guide for vegans, as opposed to directories and reviews of vegan restaurants and other businesses, which are usually designed to be a supplement to conventional travel guides. If this will be your first visit to Taiwan, you'll be here for less than two weeks and you wish to visit the most common attractions then this should be the only guide you'll need. If you plan to spend longer than two weeks in Taiwan then I suggest purchasing a complete travel guide (such as the Lonely Planet of Rough Guide) and travelling around the whole island, and perhaps to Taiwan's outlying islands, especially Penghu.

Taipei is divided up into three main 'outings' (based on the subway lines) with preparation, weather and other considerations discussed for each. Also included are the quaint former Japanese mining towns tourist towns of Jiufen, Jinguashi and Houtong, the Pingxi Raiilway, Jiaoxi, Hualien and Taroko Gorge (see below). Together these make up by far the most common itinerary for first-time travellers to Taiwan, and it includes Taiwan's main tourist attractions and vegan hotspots easily reachable from Taipei.

Like most travel guides, Formosa (Taiwan) includes all necessary travel information, including Taipei and intercity transport, hotels, addresses, postal services, wifi, mobile phones, electricity and safety. It also discusses the history, culture and religions of Taiwan, and their promotion of vegetarianism or veganism. It should be possible to check the weather forecast for Taipei and Hualien before you leave and then plan your trip, including sights and food, on the plane, or just turn up and wing it if that's how you like to travel. It should save hours of time matching up vegan restaurants with sights from Tripadvisor, wikitravel etc.

What's Covered in the First Edition?

For a "photo tour" please see this Facebook Post.

Central Taipei
Due to their proximity to Taipei Main Station, these sights can be visited together or visited before any of the other three Taipei outings.

2-28 Massacre Memorial

Rice Revolution meal

Oh Cha Cha rice meal
 2-28 Peace Park, 2-28 Peace Memorial Museum, National Taiwan Museum, Daan Forest Park, Ximen Ding, Longshan Temple, Presidential Palace, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall / Liberty Square, Botanical Gardens.
Rice Revolution, Minder Vegetarian, Oh Cha Cha, Joy Bar, Mianto, Nakedfood

Eastern Taipei


View from Elephant Mountain

Fruiful Food
Tian Zhuan Zhai Loving Hut
Taipei 101, Elephant Mountain, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, Maokong Gondola, Raohe Street Night Market
Loving Hut (hotpots, Taiwanese, Korean, buffet, stinky tofu), Vege Creek, Minder Vegetarian, Fruitful Food, SoulR, Fresh Bakery

 Northern Taipei


Tamsui Waterfront

Lotus Vegetarian
Yummy Vegan House
National Palace Museum, Baoan Temple, Confucius Temple, Taipei Expo Park, Taipei Story House, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Guandu Temple, Guandu Nature Park, Neitou, Tamsui, Bali
Yummy Vegan House, Tamsui Waterfront Mushroom vendor, Easyhouse Vegetarian, Kooks, Joufan Taro Balls

Southern Taipei 


Bitan (Xindian River)

About Animals
 @Peace Cafe
National Taiwan University, iVegan (supermarket), Bitan (lake), Cycle path, Wulai

About Animals, Green Pool Loving Hut, @Peace Cafe

Northeast Taiwan


Gold Ecological Park, Jinguashi

Vegan Heaven, Jiaoxi

Jiufen, Jinguashi, Houtong, Pingxi Railway (Shifen, Pingxi, Jingtong), Jiaoxi
Jingtong, Houtong Mine restaurant, Vegan Heaven

Hualien and Taroko Gorge
This includes the only vegan B&B on the Taiwanese mainland (there's also another B&B on Penghu, not covered in this edition) and all necessary information to safely explore and stay in Taroko Gorge. 


Swallow Grotto

Chang Chun Buffet
Take-out for Taroko Gorge
Hualien: Ching Hsou (Japanese) Temple, Gang Tian Temple
Taroko Gorge: Eternal Springs Shrine & Trail, Shakadang Trail, Swallow Grotto, Lushui Trail, Tianxiang (sights and accommodation), Baiyang Waterfall trail
Hualien Loving Hut,  Zhu Pai Vegetarian (buffet), Chang Chun Vegetarian (buffet)

Lion Head Mountain 
Changhua Tang Temple, Lion Head Mountain

This centuries-old Buddhist retreat is a little off the path of these itineraries, but is easily reached with public transport and makes a good final destination before flying out. It covers transport, accommodation at the temple hotel and food options en route from Taipei.

What's NOT Covered in this Edition?
Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung or the (very beautiful) central mountain range.

Who is this book Suitable For?
It's a Travel Guide!
This book is recommended for first-time, English-speaking travellers to Taiwan who will be here for up to two weeks. If you will have more than this I recommend purchasing another guidebook or using online travel resources, buying a rail pass and travelling around Taiwan.

Living Here?
New residents will probably find the book useful, however Taiwanese and long-term residents who speak some Chinese will not learn much new from this book.

Most of Taipei's vegan restaurants are among the most popular for vegetarians and vegans alike, especially foreigners, since they serve a more international cuisine than most traditional vegetarian restaurants and noodle stalls.  Also, a government survey in 2009 found that over half of several samples of fake meat contained real meat. This is (as far as I am aware) the only guide to deal with this problem, which of course affects vegetarians and vegans equally.

Vegetarians may find this book preferable to a conventional guidebook, most of whose recommend restaurants serve little if anything vegetarian; even the Lonely Planet doesn't recommend any of Taipei's top vegetarian restaurants and it doesn't appear that they've even consulted Happycow listings in selecting their recommendations.

This book is, however, written from a vegan perspective, so while it includes all vegan restaurants and most of the best vegetarain restaurants in Taipei, it doesn't include restaurants which aren't vegan-friendly. My suggestion to vegetarians would be to use this guidebook for your basic travel and planning and consult Happycow (Taipei, Xindian, Jiaoxi, Hualien) if you would like to find additional vegetarian restaurants which are not included in this guide.

Jains, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims?
Most non-vegetarian restaurants here use lard oil, probably from cows, and even "vegetarian" restaurants usually use a lot of cheese, which virtually always contains rennet from cows (I've never heard of vegetarian cheese being used here, as most vegetarians don't worry about small amounts of non-veg ingredients. Vegans here, however, take veganism very seriously, and I would therefore recommend that all Jains and Hindus (vegetarian or those who just avoid eating cows) eat at vegan restaurants. Also, while there are a few sources of Halal meat it's very rare, and by far the easiest and safest option for Muslims and orthodox Jews.

I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and support from many Taiwanese in my writing this guide. However, as a travel guide, it's unlikely to be a lot of use to local people who are familiar with the country's culture and infrastructure and who read and speak Chinese. Of course anyone is welcome to purchase a copy, but it is intended for foreign visitors unfamiliar with the country and language. I would be very grateful if everyone could share this with vegan, vegetarian or health-conscious friends and family overseas who may be interested in visiting Taiwan.

Why Not Just Use Online Travel Resources?
A growing number of travellers don't use travel guidebooks at all. The information about vegan food labelling is on this blog, as are reviews of some of the restaurants, which are of course all on Happycow (see below). And the travel information is available from sites like Tripadvisor, the Lonely Planet online and my own commercial travel site for Taiwan, with which I share a significant amount of photographs and travel information.
This is standard in the travel industry, for example the the Lonely Planet website features top sites and attractions in Taiwan, while selling hotels and tours and (of course) displaying targeted advertisements.

Online travel resources are designed to keep the reader on the site for as long as possible to view as many advertisements as possible, and the content has a strong bias towards their advertises (that's why they exist). Books for purchase (electronic and in print) are the opposite: they offer truly independent information (or at least they should, and mine does), in the quickest, easiest layout possible, offline and advertisement-free. I see value in that, which is why I still use - and write - travel guides. What I believe a traditional guidebook offers over travel websites is time saved planning, thanks to the convenience of having everything in one place, especially for vegans. With my book you can plan your trip on the plane, and then set out each day with places to go, sights to see and vegan restaurants to dine at all in one place, per-prepared for you on the same maps, offline on your phone or tablet. There's no need to switch between multiple websites to carefully plan out your itineraries in advance. And instead of trying to connect to the free wifi when a taxi asks you for an address in Chinese just open the right page in the guidebook and show them.

How About Happycow?

This book is designed to complement Happycow and replace your conventional guidebook (such as Lonely Planet). Use my guidebook to choose where to go, when, what to bring, and for all other aspects of planning your trip. All vegan restaurants and the best vegetarian restaurants in Taipei are worked into the travel itineraries and shown on the same maps. For each restaurant I have included a brief review, pricing, cuisine types, phone number and address (in English and in Chinese - for taxi drivers or passers by) and a photograph or two, but I also include a hyperlink to the restaurant's Happycow listing so that readers can view other members' reviews and decide where to eat.

I'm the Happycow "Ambassador" (volunteer contact person) for Taipei, and have added and updated all restaurants I found in the process of writing this book, and as much as possible I used the same spellings and formats for addresses to make identifying and finding them easier. No guidebook could or will ever be a substitute for such  a large database of restaurants and reviews contributed and updated by thousands of vegetarians and vegans in real time. But it takes more than a restaurant database to plan a holiday, and that's where this guidebook comes in.

Example: Taipei 101
 Like the Lonely Planet, my guidebook outlines how to visit Taipei 101: it's opening hours, the best time to go up to the observatory and how it ties in well with a visit to the nearby Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. But the Lonely Planet recommends the "internationally acclaimed" foodcourt in the basement, which serves nothing vegan and barely anything vegetarian. Instead I show a map of SYS Memorial Hall and Taipei 101, and all the surrounding vegan-friendly restaurants, and suggest itineraries based on their opening hours, the weather and other nearby attractions. And their Happycow reviews are just a click away.

What the Lonely Planet Gets Wrong
The Lonely Planet, by far the most popular (and probably the best) of the conventional guidebooks on Taiwan, for example, makes no effort to support vegetarians and vegans. It claims that fake meat is vegan - a claim which results in thousands of trusting visitors eating dairy, egg and probably real meat. It also advises vegetarians to look for the "reverse swastika", which is only used by a small portion of restaurants and results in many vegetarians and vegans missing the majority of restaurants because they don't know to look for the vegetarian symbols. In my guidebook I discuss these myths promulgated by the Lonely Planet, since they are so widely believed among foreigners here, especially short-term travellers.

 When I visit a new country I like to know a little about its religions, especially if they endorse or promote vegetarianism. I devote several pages to this in my guidebook. In the Lonely Planet I-Kuan-Tao, the third largest religion in Taiwan, whose followers own over half the vegetarian restaurants and make up most of the vegetarian population, is dismissed as a cult in one sentence, along with Falun Dafa (which isn't even a religion at all). Supreme Master Ching Hai and her followers, who are strictly vegan and own virtually all the vegan restaurants in Taiwan, do not even get a mention. I have made this chapter available as a sample here.

It's on Kindle
As an experimental project, it's just too risky to try printing paper guides, especially when the information here will date quickly, and it's so much easier to update an electronic version. Also, it's best to purchase a travel guide before you reach a country, and printing and shipping internationally would probably be prohibitively expensive. Kindle is by far the simplest platform for distributing the book, as it's the most widely used, and anyone can install a Kindle App on any smartphone or tablet (Android, iOS).

Best Devices
This book will work on almost any modern device, but works best on medium-sized tablets or phablets (around seven inches) such as the Asus Memopad 7 or the iPad Mini. The maps will be difficult to read on smaller smartphones, but the text will be reformatted by the Kindle app for any sized screen, and maps can be clicked through to Google Maps.

Addresses & Chinese Characters
Romanised Chinese is not understood well in Taiwan, for reasons discussed in the book (it's political). So this book includes all addresses in Chinese, which can be shown to passers by or taxi drivers so that restaurants and attractions can be easily found. Any Taiwanese person will be able to find a location from its Chinese address very easily, and most taxis will program them into their GPS navigation systems.

Most modern devices can display Chinese text, and if your device can't you may be able to install Traditional Chinese (used in Taiwan and Hong Kong) as an additional language. If you would like to check whether or not your device can display the Chinese please download the free sample and see whether or not the translations on the first page show up correctly.


This Map: Eastern Taipei

Maps are made using Google's Mymaps, and reproduced in accordance with their Terms and Conditions. They show sights, restaurants and facilities. Maps in the guide are screenshots of these maps, but their captions are all click-able, and link straight to the maps themselves, which can be opened using MyMaps (free on Android, or several paid options available for iOS). A complete list of maps, a map which can be downloaded and used offline (for Android devices) and full instructions can be found here. I have also saved every location recommended in this guide in a KML file, which (with a little work beforehand) can be saved on your device which will then work offline.

Map: Central & Southern Taipei

I have personally visited all destinations and eaten at all restaurants recommended in this guide (except one, as stated in the guide). I never identify myself as a guidebook writer, and only occasionally introduce myself as a blogger when I need to ask for more information than a regular customer would. This guidebook contains no advertisements in any form. I always pay for my meals in full and have never and would never take any form of incentives for listings or recommendations, here or on any of my blogs. All photographs are my own.

I would be very grateful if visitors could answer this two-minute (five question) survey to help me work out my next step (if any).
While I greatly appreciate people taking the time to offer feedback, please not that it is anonymous. Please feel free to include your email address in a comment if you would like me to follow up with you, or feel free to email me directly (

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Vegan Bake Sale

This Sunday (May 20th) Taiwan will participate in the Worldwide Vegan Bake with Its a Vegan Affair, kindly hosted by Grandma Nitti's Kitchen (中西美食餐廳) conveniently located in Shida. It's supported by various local vegan businesses, and proceeds will be donated to Animals Taiwan, who do TNR work for local stray animals, and Bright Side Projects, who do excellent community work (and all food they cook and donate is vegan).

Number 8, Lane 93, Shida Road (Taipower  Building Station, Exit 3

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Publication: A Vegan TRAVEL Guide to Taiwan

Chasing the Tamsui sunset is one of Taipei's most popular outings, but is not easy to catch.

The guide is now finished, and can be purchased (8 USD) on Amazon. Please see this new post about the guide, or this page for updates, map links etc.

For year's I've been using this blog to promote vegan businesses in Taiwan which should be of interest to English-speaking vegetarians and vegans, but now I'd like to promote my own. For the last few year's I've been slowly working on a vegan travel guide to Taiwan, but particularly since I returned to Taiwan as a student in August. I hope the have the book out in the next few months, and will probably sell it as an ebook on Amazon Kindle, available for kindle reading devices or as an app for most smartphones and tablets (including iPads). With the amount of work I've put in (instead of doing 'real' work) I do need to sell it, but it will be significantly cheaper than regular travel guides.

What it Is and What it's Not
As far as I am aware, this will be the world's first travel guide for vegans. It's intended to be used by short-term visitors to Taiwan who don't speak Chinese (as there's plenty available in Chinese already), but may also be of use to anyone moving here. This is not a 'vegan guide' in the traditional sense, in that it's focus is not on reviewing restaurants and other vegan businesses. Instead it features outings, connecting all Taipei's vegan restaurants, and a few good vegetarian ones, with top tourist attractions, making planning food and sightseeing easy.

Guandu Temple, north of Taipei, is an impressive sight, but the nearest vegan-friendly restaurants are in Beitou (a short MRT ride away).

This Information is Already Here
Much of this information is available from this blog and my commercial site, including many photographs (often shared between all three). And any that isn't probably will be eventually, as I like to offer all information to anyone who wants it and have no interest in a 'premium' section of this blog. What this book offers is a convenient guidebook format which works offline, can be read on the plane and has symbols and addresses all ready to use (eg show taxis), and suggested itineraries to make planning your trip easier. Again this is just like how most guidebooks also post much of their information online (try searching for "National Palace Museum" "Lonely Planet" for example) but many people still choose to buy a concise, offline guidebook for the convenience.

So What's in a Vegan Travel Guide?
Just like any other guidebook, this covers sights and activities to do in Taiwan. And, like other guidebooks, they're listed alongside nearby restaurants, with a quick description of the type of food they offer, an approximate price range, opening hours and their address in English and in Chinese. I always include one photo of a meal and the storefront if it's necessary to find it. The only difference: all the restaurants in this guide are vegan-friendly. About two thirds are fully vegan, one third vegetarian and one also serves meat but is the most vegan-friendly restaurant in Tamsui.

Maps are screenshots of maps created using Google's MyMaps (used in accordance with their terms and conditions) and clicking on them will bring up the same map in a web browser or other suitable application (Google's new MyMaps is best); I'm working on a way for users to be able to use them offline, which will probably be Osmand (for Android). For example, just like any other guidebook I'll tell you how to reach Taipei 101, how to get to the observatory at the top, how much it costs and the best times to go (and not to). But I also describe the several vegetarian restaurants around, explaining possible itineraries.
What's Covered in the First Edition?
 The book is divided into 'Outings' for northern, southern and eastern Taipei with suggestions for one, two or three days for each, depending on how long you have and your priorities (nature, history, culture etc). The first edition will also cover Jiufen (and Jinguashi and Houtong), Jiaoxi and Yilan and of course Taroko Gorge. If it's successful the next edition will cover Southern Taiwan, and I dream of a final edition covering all of Taiwan and its outlying islands.


City Home, Hualien's fully vegan B&B, is excellent value at 2000NT per night (weeknights only)

Since hotel prices, deals and owners change so rapidly and everyone has their own tastes and expectations, I recommend booking most hotels online, and for the rest (midweek) just turning up and finding a hotel near the train station. I discuss types of accommodation, including budget hotels, love hotels and the blurry line in between, luxury hotels, hostels and Air B&B. I do, however, recommend this vegan B&B in Hualien and discuss options in Taroko Gorge.

How Long?

If you did absolutely everything in this guide it would probably take three weeks, but I expect that this book would be sufficient for a first-time visitor to Taiwan for up to about a week. If you have any longer than that and I'd recommend (for now) either using Wikitravel or purchasing another guidebook as well, and then travelling to Southern Taiwan and the stunning East Coast, and if possible going into the central mountain range. If you have a special interest (eg hiking, bird watching, or aboriginal villages) then there are many excellent blogs and some specialist travel guides available which would supplement this one very well. With my explanations of the food labelling system, chain restaurants, convenience store food and general travel tips it should be very easy to travel outside of the area covered by this book independently, and eat well as you do. 

Vegetarian Survival


Just as most guidebooks describe the cuisine of a country, I explain the different types of vegetarian and vegan foods and restaurants available in Taiwan, list common chains and notable branches. I explain how world's best labelling system works, so that the traveller can easily find their own food in convenience stores or elsewhere, and use the provided translations to easily ask staff for help. I also explain the situation with fake meats, most of which contain dairy and egg products, despite common misconceptions that they are vegan. Like any other guidebook, I include the history, culture, religions and languages of Taiwan, and include practical information on transport, safety and other  necessities for a holiday, including what to prepare and bring and how to find and book hotels. A small section at the start covers what to bring and what to do to prepare, but the rest can be read on the plane, so you should be able to turn up in Taipei with an itinerary all worked out.
Enjoy the stewed tofu at the beautiful (Xiangde Temple) deep in Taroko Gorge, but don't trust their other menu items.

Why not just use a conventional guidebook and Happycow?
It's certainly possible, and I've been doing it for years, in many different countries, for years. However, that often leaves the traveller trying to weave together their favourite restaurants with their chosen travel itinerary, in an unfamiliar city in limited time, which often requires hours of preparation and from my experience doesn't always work as planned. Also, most guidebooks recommend so many restaurants with nothing for vegetarians to eat, as well as zoos, dolphinariums, fish spas and other such "entertainment". I believe that vegans and vegetarians need and deserve our own guidebooks, and I'm surprised it hasn't (as far as I know) already been done. I have aspirations to cover plenty more destinations if this guidebook is a success.

Of course there are hundreds of restaurants and possible sites of interest in Taiwan, and everyone has different travel and dining priorities, so I still recommend using Happycow and other sites, however this guidebook should at least offer some skeleton plans for exploring Taiwan, and can always be used offline to find food, sights and other essential information normally found in guidebooks, but without having to skip past the best oyster omelet recommendations or the best times to go and photograph the new pandas from China.

Note that the vegetarian restaurant on the right uses the savastika, but the one on the left doesn't. The black box outlines the characters most commonly used to advertise a vegetarian restaurant.

Finally,  most conventional guidebook writers make little effort to provide useful, up-to-date information for vegetarians, and certainly don't go out of their way to find the best restaurants (or, it seems, even consult Happycow). As an example, here is the chapter of my Lonely Planet, with my comments in red. This is from the 2007 edition, but the newer one is almost identical but has omitted the reference to vegan food altogether, perhaps after the scare that a lot of fake meat contains real meat.

Vegetarian Cuisine (from Lonely Planet Taiwan)
Vegetarian visitors to Taiwan may well consider applying for citizenship once they've experienced the joys of Taiwanese vegetarian cuisine. Almost the only true statement, but unfortunately it's very difficult. ... Buddhist vegetarian restaurants are easy to find. Just look for the giant savastika (an ancient Buddhist symbol that looks like a reverse swastika) hung in front of the restaurant. This myth is perpetuated largely as a result of this book. Only a small fraction of vegetarian restaurants display the savastika (only ones run by Buddhists, and not even all of those), however there are enough vegetarian restaurants that this myth survives, with many tourists simply never realising that they're walking right past many vegetarian restaurants everywhere they go. All they need to say is to look for two almost universal vegetarian symbols; see my post on finding restaurants here. If the restaurant has a cassette or CD of playing a soothing loop of ami tofo (Buddhist chant) and a few robed monks and nuns among the lay patrons, you're in business. Some Buddhist restaurants do play Buddhist chants, but few are likely to have monks and nuns dining at any point in time. It's certainly not a reliable indicator of a vegetarian restaurant.  Food at these places tends to not merely be 100% vegan-friendly (no animal products of any kind) but also garlic and hot-pepper free (fiery belching being disruptive to meditation)... This is absolutely wrong. Many dishes at these restaurants contain diary products (often hidden, usually in sauces and fake meats) and many also contain egg (also hidden). I explain this, and the lack of garlic and onion, in my guide.

I have visited every location recommended in this guide, usually at least twice on separate occasions. All photos are my own except historical photographs appropriately credited to Wikimedia Commons. I have personally eaten at all the restaurants, always pay my bill and have not taken (and will not take) any form of incentive whatsoever for recommendation in this guide. While, after maintaining this blog for many years I have come to know the owners and staff at several of these restaurants, I do not know personally any of the current owners of any restaurants or businesses I recommend. This guidebook does not contain any advertisements.

National Taiwan Museum is often overlook in favour of the National Palace Museum (of Chinese treasures) but I highly recommend visiting both.

Please Help! 

I would greatly appreciate comments in the comments section, or please feel free to email me at

If you are living in Taiwan:
1. Do you know of any especially good small, little-known, vegan-friendly restaurants that might appeal to foreign visitors? In particular, do you know of any good outings, which combine a great restaurant with an interesting sight or activity? I'm particularly interested in less famous spots in or around Taipei.

All Travellers:
For everyone who travels internationally, especially anyone considering a trip to Taiwan, please offer suggestions on what (if anything) you look for in a guidebook. It doesn't have to be about vegetarianism or veganism. I want this to be a guidebook that works as the main travel in for ethically-minded visitors to Taiwan (Northern Taiwan for now) and will take and greatly appreciate any advice at all. I'm particularly interested in how to integrate the traditional guidebook with the digital era, such as maps.

Xie xie!

Zhongshan Park, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, is within walking distance of Taipei 101 and many of Taipei's best vegan restaurants. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Guangfu Loving Hut (Hotpots)

Five years ago I posted on the Loving Huts and Supreme Master Ching Hai, the inspiration behind the world's largest vegan restaurant chain. However, since the Guangfu Loving Hut is one of only two restaurants I consider "must-visits" in Taipei (the other is Sophie's Garden), I think it's worth its own post, as it was often lost in the length and details in my other post.

Vegetables ready to cook in my favourite Ma La (spicy) broth.

Hotpots are an important feature of Taiwanese cuisine, and are often enjoyed by families and other large groups, especially during winter. The slow, relaxing process of simmering ones own food allows just seems to invite good conversation and makes a pleasant way to enjoy a slow afternoon or evening. Hotpots are also very popular in Japan, China and Korea. It's custom in Asian countries to share hotpots, but there are enough elements for each person to have their own.

A hotpot in action.

Unfortunately, however, at most restaurants the broth usually contains animal products, and while there are a few vegetarian hotpot restaurants around Taiwan, this is, as far as I know, the only vegan one, and it's certainly one of the best. It also offers a range of different vegan broths, including pots with two separate partitions for different broths.

Help yourself to the condiments.
It also serves some of Taipei's best fusion food (menu), including Korean Bibimbap (rice in a hot stone bowl) and some great desserts. The international menu is generally larger in summer, when hotpots are less popular and poeple feel like lighter meals. Prices are a little more expensive than other Loving Huts (mains are around 200-300NT) but excellent value for such good, labour-intensive food.

My favourite 'non-hotpot' dish is the Tomyam (Thai) Tahini Rice.

The Guangfu Loving Hut, like many others, also serves a range of vegan grocery items, including mayonaise and a few frozen products.

Packaged vegan groceries from the GuangFu Loving Hut

Nearby Sights & Restaurant
The Guangfu Loving Hut is conveniently located near Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, and a pleasant twenty minute / 1.5km walk (through the memorial hall) from Taipei 101. Also in the area is the simpler but still excellent Veggie Creek. I recommend visiting each one either side of a visit to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, and possibly Taipei 101.

 Smoothie and Ice Cream (summer menu)

The cookers work by induction. This is a safe, responsive heating system (similar to gas) in which the pot itself becomes the element, leaving the cooker itself cool. However, any metal object placed beside it will heat up, so it's important to not place any metal or especially electronic devices on or near the cookers, even when they are switched off (in case they are accidentally turned on).

11:30 - 9:30 (LO 9:00) (everyday)
(02) 2777-2711
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Station (Blue line) Exit 2
No.30, Lane 280, Guangfu S. Rd., Da-an District

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Night Markets & Shaved Ice

Night markets are an important part of Taiwanese culture, entrenched in the national psyche. Some markets focus on food, usually small snacks, called xiao chi (,literally "small eats"), some on shopping, some on entertainment and most a mix of all. For many Taiwanese a visit to a nightmarket is a regular social outing, enjoyed with friends, family and all, especially in smaller towns and cities. Tell a Taiwanese person that you haven't yet visited a night market and they'll probably bind you hand and foot and drag you to one, unfortunately most likely the infamous Shilin Night Market.

Nanya Night Market

However, while a part of me appreciates the more food and community-based focus of Taiwanese night markets (as opposed, say, to the rampant consumerism in the posh shopping malls in Japan, not that Tiawan doesn't have its share of them as well), let me confess that I do not enjoy night markets, especially the ones which focus on food. While many have a single vegetarian stall, night market food is generally meat heavy, and even the vegetarian food is generally fairly bland, which is hardly surprising for food served up in a hurry from such a cramped, outdoor environment. Add to that a lack of running water, and I simply don't get the appeal of eating there as opposed to a clean, functional restaurant. And as for entertainment I personally can't find much of value in many of the activities. Fishing is unfortunately a common night market activity for children (the fish are returned to their tiny pool after the fun is over, but probably don't enjoy the whole experience much, or their life between markets). Nonetheless I'd still recommend a visit to at least one while visiting Taiwan, so here are a few notes and suggestions for if and when you do.

Shilin Night Market?

Shilin Night Market

The Shilin night market is Taiwan's most famous, however like Taipei 101 and the National Palace Museum, I think it's grossly overrated, literally so in many ways. (I do recommend most people visit the other two, but get them over with as early in the day as possible and move on to something more meaningful). Name any body part of any exotic animal and you'll probably find it at Shilin Night Market, boiled, deep fried or mixed into an omelet. There used to be a vegetarian stall at Shilin's old location, but it doesn't seem to have survived the market's most recent move to its current basement. Add to that the fact that it's underground, so the stench of unrefrigerated and deep-fried animal parts has nowhere to diffuse to, and it's far from my favourite spot to enjoy some fried noodles (though the old lady's dumplings at the old location were surprisingly good, all considering). If you do get dragged to the Shilin Night Market I recommend going on a stomach which isn't too full (lest you lose your last meal) or too empty (as it'll be a while before you next find food, or want to). And it's hard to even fight your way through the crowds shopping for junk just to reach the food section, for which the market is most famous.

Vegetarian Food Stall near Shilin Night Market

If you do still feel like eating afterwards then the nearest vegetarian stall open that late that I am aware of is outside 312 Danan Road, a short walk from the night market.Choose your own foods and they'll fry them for you - typical night market style. I haven't tried it myself (as I try not to eat deep fried food at that time of night).

Late Meal?
An interesting spinoff of the night market culture here is that most restaurants close early, so if you're hungry after about eight oclock you're either headed to a night market or a convenience store. Of my trips to night markets, most are simply because they are the only thing open (besides the nearest convenience store).

Shaved Ice

These servings should all be vegan except the small containers of 'pudding' along the back row. Nanya Night Market (see below).

One common type of food sold at night markets in shaved ice (bao bing, 刨冰) which originated from Japan (known there as kakigori) and was made popular during the Japanese administration of Taiwan last century. Ice is shaved from a large chunk using a kind of converted drill press, and to which customers choose to add a number of toppings. Most are either boiled beans and grains, or sweetened fruits, either as jelly or jam. As far as I am aware the jellied fruits are all vegan, which I understand is usually set with pectin or agar from seaweed.

The shaved ice is placed on top of this, before it's drowned in syrup.

The mixture is then usually drowned in a very rich syrup (perhaps not one for someone watching their calorie intake) but sometimes a mixture of fruit and condensed milk is used. Also some serve pudding, which of course contains milk. While ice is generally a suspect for making people sick the world over, but I've never heard of this being a problem in Taiwan, but if you've come straight from a country with pristine tap water it might not be your ideal first dessert.

Shaved ice as it looks after the ice has been crushed.

My favourite?

My favourite night market is actually in Banciao, a short but not very pleasant walk from Camp David Hotel (a good budget hotel). It's known as both the Nanya Street Night Market (though it's actually on Nanya East Road) and also as the Nanya Tourist Night Market, but don't expect to see many other tourists there. The vegetarian stall does a few vegetarian dishes, but you'll need to specify that you don't want fake meat, and the curry is also likely to contain dairy products. A better bet is that they do a good range of shaved ice. The owner / chef is very happy to serve foreigners, and demonstrate how he makes all the ingredients by hand.

The owner of the vegetarian stall at the Nanya night market after demonstrating how shaved ice is made.
Your favourite?
However, I believe that the best night market you can visit in Taiwan is the one you stumble on in that small town you just decided to stop over at, perhaps in Southern Taiwan or the East Coast, where you're the only foreigner there. You might just find that there's a vegetarian stall, and that the bewildered owner is  happy to cook you up some dumplings. And you may even prove your fine shooting skills (at balloons) or become a master at pinball, which will be sure to win a fine piece of junk fresh out of a sweatshop in Guangzhou to carry around for the rest of your trip. Then you can truly say that you've experienced the best of night markets in Taiwan.

Monday, 17 November 2014


Hualien Station area

Hualien is a popular getaway city from Taipei, with most tourists (domestic and foreign) using it as a gateway to Taroko Gorge. For information on transport, accommodation, sights, hiking trails, please see my Formosa Guide pages on Hualien and Taroko Gorge.

Don't arrive in Hualien late and hungry. I arrived after 8pm and wandered around in the dark and rain looking for restaurants on Google Maps which were closed or shut down. I found a few choose-your-own-food-for-the-deep-frier-type places, but opted for a 7-11 meal. If coming from Taipei in the evening get a take-out meal from Minder Vegetarian (in the train station) and eat it on the train.

City Home
Due to the ever-growing influx of tourists visiting to see the gorge, the hotel situation in Hualien is pretty dire, with a bed and your own tiny bathroom difficult to find for under 1000NT (or double that during the weekends). There are a few hostels, of varying quality, which can be found online, and several hotels scattered around the train station, but you may be lucky to find clean sheets on many of them.

City Home, Hualien

I highly recommend staying at the all-vegan City Home. At 2000NT per night (weeknights) it's moderately expensive for Taiwan, however its spotless, spacious, tastefully decorated rooms, combined with a simple but delicious breakfast the next morning - guaranteed all vegan - make it well worth considering the price. It sells itself as a 'hostel' but it's more like a boutique hotel. If you will have just one night of luxury in Taiwan then consider making it at City Home. They also have larger rooms with more beds for families or travelling groups.

Double room, City Home (Hualien)

City Home use to be attached to a Loving Hut, where breakfast was served the next morning. Unfortunately the Loving Hut has since been closed, but breakfast is delivered from the other nearby Loving Hut in the morning. It's a simple Taiwanese-style breakfast, but a perfectly satisfying start to a day hiking in Taroko Gorge. A menu is provided at check-in, and guests choose what they want the next morning.

City Home breakfast delivery.

Prices at City Home double in the weekend, as is standard for Hualien. So it's important to book ahead for a weekday, which brings the added benefit of seats on trains and fewer visitors to Taroko Gorge (or almost anywhere else you're going).

Unfortunately City Home is about 2km from the train station, so it requires a taxi if carrying luggage. Unfortunately the Loving Hut is about 2km away from both. All routes are walkable, or cheap taxi fares.
Loving Hut

Hualien Loving Hut curry and smoothie

As always the Loving Hut offers probably the healthiest, quite possibly the least expensive and certainly the most trustworthy vegan meal in Hualien. This is the place to stock up on sandwiches or snack food for a trip into Taroko Gorge - you'll be glad you did later, even if they're a bit past their best. If you are staying at Tianxiang (or elsewhere in the Gorge) I would take a day's worth, and keep them in the fridge at your hostel or hotel. While not the healthiest meal, the carbohydrates will be burned on the road, and the plastic packaging can be easily folded up and stored until you find a rubbish bin (few and far between in Taroko Gorge).

These simple takeaway lunch items are a godsend when hiking in Taroko Gorge.

Food is typical Loving Hut fare, also at typical prices of about about 100NT per dish. They also serve a range of smoothies and hot drinks, great for fuelling up before a day or three's hiking. There is an attached shop with an excellent range of groceries, but most visitors are likely to be going hiking in the gorge and moving on, so it's not the place to stock up unless you live there.

Loving Hut groceries.

Phone 038 566 353
Monday - Thursday: 6:30am - 2:30pm
Friday - Sunday: 6:30am - 8:30pm

Chang Chun Teng

The second-best option is the all-you-can-eat Chang Chun Vegetarian restaurant. This is like Hualien's humbler version of Taipei's Evergreen Vegetarian restaurant in Taipei (which I no longer recommend), or any other all-you-can-eat buffet, but it's simpler and cheaper (at 200NT per person). It serves a generous range of traditional Taiwanese food, including soups and desserts, but does not offer the western style desserts or drinks (including coffee) that the larger buffets in Taipei or Kaohsiung do.

Chang Chun Buffet spread, Hualien

As always at non-vegan restaurants in Taiwan, the staff tried to help when I told them I didn't eat dairy products, and took me round telling me not to eat items with cheese, but passing over fake meat, mayonnaise salad dressing and even buttered bread! So like at most non-vegan restaurants in Taiwan you're on your own to figure out what's vegan, so all bread, fake meat and milky/creamy dressings should be assumed to contain dairy products. There's still plenty to eat though, and if you need a good meal (besides the Loving Hut) before a day or two of trekking then this will fit the bill.

No. 22, Fu'an Rd, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan 970
Lunch: 11am - 2pm
Dinner:  5pm - 8pm
Closed: second and fourth Monday of each month.
Phone: 03 856 9069
No website, Happycow page

Zhai Pu Vegetarian Restaurant

Zhu Pai Vegetarian Restaurant

Zhuai Pai (齋舖素食館) is the place to come for a quick, cheap meal near the train station. It's a typical Taiwanese buffet, not the best, but not half bad for a small buffet in a small city, a short walk from Chang Chun. If you are on a budget and just need a filling meal this is the place to come. It would also be possible to take a bin dang (lunchbox) with you as an alternative to the Loving Hut sandwiches, but I find these meals don't keep so well as sandwiches (especially once dried and sauced-based foods mix), must be carried upright, and will leave you with a dirty container to carry around until you find a rubbish bin, which are few and far between in Taroko Gorge.

Zhu Pai Vegetarian, 130NT

857 Zhongshan Road
03 846 5858
No website, Happycow page