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 (not a bad 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


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.

Website
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
花蓮市富安路22路
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
花蓮市中山路857號
03 846 5858
No website, Happycow page



Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Shuiwen Kaiten Sushi Restaurant


Shuiwen (水問蔬食園) is a vegetarian kaiten-sushi restaurant in Taipei.  Kaiten sushi are the famous sushi restaurants in Japan (and now the world over) in which customers select their dishes from a conveyor belt. In rural Japan (or rather most of Japan outside the main centres) these are often the only places to find (hopefully) vegan food, but there's always the risk of fish flakes and various other additives. So this restaurant beats any in Japan for vegan sushi.

This is only about half of the restaurant. It was a rather long conveyor belt, and a tiny kitchen producing it all, so it must run to Japanese efficiency.
In Japan plates are colour coded according to cost. Since vegan options are generally considered snacks, a vegan meal is often absurdly cheap, and I've sometimes wondered if staff just think I'm being a cheap foreigner. Shuiwen takes an interesting twist on this: plates are colour coded according to vegetarian status: green for vegan (of course), white for lacto, yellow for ovo and red for lacto-ovo. All plates cost 30NT.

This poster explains the colour coding (green for vegan).

Dishes are preceded by a plate with a label, but it's not really necessary to understand what they are. The green plates are vegan, and from there it's just a case of choosing what you like the look of.




As in Japan, ginger, soy sauce and wasabi are free (help yourself as the ginger comes around).

Some dishes were disturbingly like 'real' sushi.



Most common (vegetarian) Japanese favourites were there.



And some more Taiwanese dishes were also on offer.

Not so Japanese: these radish cakes are a traditional Taiwanese favourite.

Some dishes which must be eaten straight after they are made, or must be eaten hot (including the radish cake above) need to be ordered. Take a peg from a bowl in front, and attach the peg to a piece of cardboard as it comes around, or just add it to the saucer.



A little while later, your dish will be delivered to your plate. I assume they are batch-made, so they may take some time. So be sure to keep track of how much you have ordered.

A little while later your meal will be delivered.

They also serve some (more Taiwanese-style) desserts.

This passion-fruit jelly was a delicious conclusion to my meal.

Be sure to always take the dishes with their plate (even if it seems unnecessary) and keep your plates beside you, as they are used to count how much you eat to determine your bill. Plastic lids, however, can be placed on these stacks to clear your table as you go.




At about a dollar a dish, prices are very reasonable. On my visit I'd hardly eaten all day, so I had an absolute feast for 390NT, but for a 'normal' person under normal circumstances about half that would probably be sufficient.

Thirteen plates was a feast for one person.

Hours and Contact Information

Phone: 02 2515 1615
Hours: Tuesday - Sunday 11:30 - 20:00 (closed Monday)
Address: 台北市中山區松江路275號B1
Zhongshan area, Songjiang Road, number 271 (basement)

To get to Shuiwen, take the new orange line to XingTian Temple Station. Take exit 3, turn right and it's a couple of doors down. The restaurant is well sign-posted, and stairs lead down to the basement. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Upcomming Event: Taitung Eco-Working Holiday

Taiwan's East Coast is beautiful, but (fortunately or unfortunately) often inaccessible for tourists on short itineraries without their own transport. It hosts a multitude of flora and fauna, and is home to some of Taiwan's indigenous populations. events

Image from the TEIA website.

While during my travels there I've always found locals very friendly and welcoming (like everywhere in Taiwan), in recent years there have been moves toward unsustainable commercial development on the coast, including a controversial highway extension through a delicate coastal ecosystem and a large hotel complex (Mirimar Resort Village, no relation to the shopping centre in Taipei) for which construction began without permits, and was cancelled only after the suicide of a local campaigner.

The Taiwan Environmental Information Association is a non-profit organisation which supports the large environmental movement in Taiwan by producing and disseminating information. They are organising an 'Eco-Working Holiday' in Taitung (Taidong) from August 2nd (this Saturday) to August 6th (Wednesday). This program offers a unique opportunity to learn about the  East Coast from local indigenous people, assist with hands-on environmental work (beach cleanup), learn traditional indigenous skills and perhaps most importantly, promote environmentally conscious tourism instead of five-star hotels which, along with the traffic they will bring, are likely to have dire effects on the environment and local communities.

I think this photo, which I took from the roadside on a scooter trip several years
ago, is probably a few km south of Fukafudak.

I'm always reluctant to promote non-vegan events, however positive they may be in other respects, however I also consider it important that vegans support other related movements, of which the environment is certainly important. While unfortunately the food provided includes "sustainable seafood", I personally know the organiser, and am assured that vegans will be well catered for. The "Fisheries simulation game" is simply an interactive group simulation of commercial fisheries to show their effects on fish populations. 



Fudafudak is the Amis (aboriginal) name of the coastal town at which the beach
cleanup will take place. It is also known in Chinese as Cihting / 刺桐.
View Fudafudak in a larger map


I highly recommend this program to anyone who would like to visit and contribute positively to the environment and people of Taiwan's beautiful East Coast. Contact information can all be found on the TEIA website

Sunday, 20 April 2014

iVegan: Taiwan's First Vegan Supermarket


iVegan is a few minutes walk from Wanlong Station

 iVegan is Taiwan's first all-vegan supermarket. If you live in Taipei it's your one-stop shop for all your grocery needs, including fresh fruit and veggies, packaged goods, frozen foods, fresh baking, cleaning and body care products and even housewares.





iVegan opened its doors in August 2013, but I only made it for my first visit in April 2014, a fleeting visit before I left for the airport. I was expecting a small grocery store, but found a large, busy supermarket.




I had just enough time to whip around with my camera and stock up on Taiwanese tea (expensive and hard to find in Japan) and enough green curry paste to last me until I next return to Taiwan. Even in my short and rather limited shopping spree, it was most enjoyable, if a little strange (almost unnerving) to not need to check the ingredients of anything. It just didn't feel right to not have to check the curry paste for shrimp.

iVegan is in the basement of a mostly residential area, but it's well-signposted and just a hop, skip and a jump from Wanlong Station, just six stops from Taipei Main Station on the Green MRT line.

In such a fleeting visit I didn't get to ask the staff much about the supermarket, but the photos and title should speak for themselves/

Organic Foods
iVegan has a small organic selection with a wide assortment of products.




I'd never seen some of these products, like liquid amino acids.

Dairy Alternatives
In the past imported dairy alternatives were difficult to find, except for locally-produced soymilk and tofu. I used to buy imported soymilk from Jasons grocery store (under Taipei 101 and in Hsinchu) but these soymilk outings are no longer necessary.

I used to bring mayonnaise back from Japan.
Indian Foods
iVegan sells both frozen and packaged Indian goods.
frozen Indian foods
packaged Indian snacks

Baked Goods
iVegan sells pizza from Veggie Joy and baked products from Fresh Bakery.

various frozen products, including pizza from Veggie Joy

baked goods from Fresh Bakery.

Cleaning and Body Care Products
All products sold at iVegan are strictly vegan, so far as they don't contain any animal ingredients. However the store takes a pragmatic line on animal testing, since many customers off the street will expect to be able to buy conventional cleaners (at conventional prices) and it's difficult to find out about animal testing, especially of third-party ingredients (which most cleaners are made from) and for locally-produced products. IVegan avoids products from the big companies with the worst reputations (Unilever, Proctor & Gamble etc) and of course they support non animal-tested products as much as possible, but they do sell products from local suppliers as long as they don't contain animal ingredients. The store aims to improve its animal testing policy in the future, and welcomes suggestions on how it can achieve this. I didn't specifically check, but I'm sure there are enough products from reputable vegan suppliers that buying everything non-animal tested would not be a problem.

iVegan has a large variety of vegan (and cruelty-free) body care products.

iVegan Opening Hours
07:00 - 22:00 (every day)
Phone: 02 2935 0900

To get to iVegan take the subway to Wanlong Station (six stops from Taipei Main station on the green line). It's a 250m walk from Exit 1. Car parking is available and according to Google it's about a 20 minute drive from Taipei Main Station.


There are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction from Wanlong Station, Exit 1.


About Animals 



Near iVegan is a new(ish) bar / restaurant About Animals. While many vegan business choose not to include vegan or animal-friendly references in the name to attract non-vegan customers, which often makes good sense on many levels, it's also refreshing to see a business which does, and nothing can be more direct than the name of this restaurant.

Wasabi Burger from About Animals

About Animals is run by animal rights activists, and according to its Happycow listing it also serves as a space for activist photography and events. It is the place to go to meet animal rights activists in Taipei.




About Animals feels very much like a typical, western pub / burger bar, making it one of its kind in Taiwan. Meals are simple but delicious, and for many foreigners or Taiwanese who've lived abroad it will very much be a taste of home. At a little over 300NT for a meal and drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) it's certainly on the expensive side for Taipei, but still good value. Note that About Animals is quite small, so it's probably better to stock up at iVegan after your meal, especially on a busy night.




About Animals is also a hop skip and a jump from Wanlong Station, but from Exit 2 (the other side of Roosevelt Rd from iVegan). Unfortunately to get there from the station you'll need to walk past a traditional butcher's shop to get there, and I saw whole pigs heads on sale. Perhaps it's a good reminder for non-vegans to go vegan after they visit About Animals.

About Animals Opening Hours
Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun 14:00 - 23:30
 

View iVegan (vegan supermarket) & About Animals (restaurant) in a larger map

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Fresh Bakery


 Fresh is Taiwan's first all-vegan bakery. It produces a sumptuous and ever-growing range of breads, cakes and other baked items, and also a small but delicious range of meals, including international dishes not easily found elsewhere in Taiwan.


There are plenty of cakes for sale.

The vegan owner, Ravi, was born in India and is a long-time resident of Taiwan. He started the bakery as a side project to his main business (clothing) because he wanted to be able to buy good quality vegan baking for his family but was unable to find any; hence came Fresh in January 2013.





If the number of customers passing through during my couple of hours spent here in October 2013 is anything to go by, word has clearly got around the vegan community that this is the place to come for baked goods, and more.


Did I take enough photos of the cakes?

But it's not just vegans coming from afar. Fresh doesn't openly state its items are all vegan, and most customers don't realise, at least to begin with. This ensures that passers-by aren't put off before they find out that their favourite items from their local bakery are all vegan.


Who would know this was all vegan?

As well as the baked goods for which it's clearly most popular (with vegans and non-vegans), Fresh also serves a delicious range of Indian, Taiwanese and Western meals, including pizza and Indian curries - two meals I tend to crave after a while without them, both of which are hard to find vegan in Taiwan (pizza can be had at @Peace Cafe and Veggie Joy).


It's not just the baking: Soy Chai and an authentic Indian curry - guaranteed free of ghee - are not easy to find anywhere. They also serve pizza.

It's well worth checking out their facebook page for latest products and offers. These photos were taken in October 2013, and many more new products have since been introduced.


This cake was delicious.

Fresh is open Monday - Saturday, from 11:30am - 8:30pm. To get there, take the blue subway line to Kunyang Station. Take Exit 4, then cross the road and walk left. And as the directions on the facebook page say, follow your nose (literally) from there.


View Fresh Bakery (Vegan Taiwan) in a larger map