Getting A Buddha Belly In Taiwan: 5 Dishes Vegetarians Will Love

Today’s post is dedicated to all lovers of vegetarian and vegan food who are planning on visiting Taiwan. Charlie of Charlie on Travel is sharing her food experience on the cheap.

As vegetarian travellers living in Taiwan, many an incredulous meat-eater would ask us: What do you actually eat? Followed by: Don’t you feel you’re missing out on all the Taiwanese specialities?

There are 1.7 million vegetarians in Taiwan and countless more sometimes-vegetarians – many locals will tell you they are vegetarian for a few days a week, or on the 1st and 15th day of the lunar month. Buddhism is one of Taiwan’s major religions (the other two being Taoism and Confucianism) and strict Buddhists don’t consume meat or eggs.

Luke and I eat dumplings at Din Tai Fung(1)
 Luke and I eat dumplings at Din Tai Fung

With vegetarianism being so deeply rooted in the Taiwanese culture, being vegetarian in Taiwan is not only easy, but also delicious. For me, moving to Taiwan improved both my lifestyle and my diet. There are cheap vegetarian (and vegan) eateries are all around and they cook up their very own Taiwanese specialities! In fact, the food is so good, you might end up getting a little Buddha belly.

Dumplings (shuǐ jiǎo)

Shuǐj jiǎo are dumplings which have been boiled in water, though you often come across steamed dumpling too. Dumplings are made from a thin circle of dough which is filled with meat or vegetables. Common vegetarian fillings include spring onions, cabbage, and tofu.

Delicious dumplings from Din Tai Fung
Delicious dumplings from Din Tai Fung

In Taiwan, there is one very famous dumpling restaurant: Din Tai Fung. Growing from humble origins selling steam buns (xiao long bao) on a little stall outside, Din Tai Fung is now a global chain with two Michelin star restaurants in Hong Kong. However, the original restaurant is on Xinyi Road in Taipei, and still serves up the best dumplings in the country for less than the price of a cinema ticket.

Cost: Less than $0.33 each from a local eatery (around 10 dumplings needed to get your Buddha belly going).

Veggies and White Rice (bái fàn)

White rice, which is kept steaming hot in a rice cooker, is a staple in much of Asia and Taiwan is no different. Vegetarian lunchtimes are characterised by buffets where you are served a whole variety of different veggies on a bed of fluffy rice. It’s simple, but healthy and filling.

You will see Chinese cabbage (qīng cài) everywhere, as well as sweet potatoes, taro, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and broccoli amongst other more exotic tofu dishes. You might also see purple rice, known as wǔ gǔ fàn (five-grain rice), which is known for it’s health benefits.

Cost: $2 for an average lunchbox.

Curry (gā lǐ)

Japanese-style curries are really popular in Taiwan and you’ll often see school kids chowing down on them when class is over. Japanese curry is apple-based with a sauce that is mild and sweet, but not creamy. If you want your curry spicier, just say hǎo là, though you might regret it.

Japanese Curry with Five Grain Rice from the Organic Restaurant in LuoDong - the best curry in Taiwan
 Japanese Curry with Five Grain Rice from the Organic Restaurant in LuoDong – the best curry in Taiwan

Vegetarian curries will contain carrots and potatoes, and usually a few additional vegetables depending on what’s in season. Vegetarian curries are available in curry restaurants as well as in most vegetarian places.

Cost: $2-6 depending on where you’re eating.

Steel-Cooked Rice (tiey ban fàn)

This is my absolute favourite dish! You can get it in Loving Hut, one of the vegetarian chain restaurants, by asking for tiey ban fàn. It comes out still frying on a steel hot plate that has a slat of wood underneath. The base of the dish is layer of rice, which is then topped with carrots, peas and sweetcorn in a peppery sauce. The meal originated in Korea, but the Taiwanese have their own version.

Cost: $2.50.

Steel cooked rice
Steel cooked rice

Chilli Tofu (mapo dòufu)

A dish of chilli tofu is not for the faint-hearted! I say dish, but really I mean a blazing-hot cauldron. Chilli tofu is usually large enough to share, and with that amount of chillies in the broth, eating it on your own would be quite a feat anyway.

My boyfriend Luke eating some fiery chilli tofu - he's going to cry any minute
My boyfriend Luke eating some fiery chilli tofu – he’s going to cry any minute

If you’re crazy like us, you can eat it right out of the hot dish, but most Taiwanese pick out the tofu chunks with their chopsticks and tone the flavour down by adding it to a little bowl of white rice – a wise decision.

Cost: $5 for a dish that serves 2 or more.

Getting a Buddha belly in Taiwan can be done for less than $10 a day!

Taiwan has plenty more vegetarian specialities that didn’t make my top five. The most famous dish has to be stinky tofu – you can smell it a mile off, but it tastes better than it smells. Spring onion pancakes are also found at all the night markets, as are thin wraps filled with shaved peanut brittle, ice cream and coriander. If you have a real sweet tooth, mango ice is the best thing for the hot summers, and sweet red bean soup for the colder winter months.

What are your favourite vegetarian foods to eat whilst traveling? Have I missed out any awesome vegetarian Taiwanese dishes?

Author Bio – Charlie from Charlie on Travel

CharlieonTravel bio pic 150 x 150

Charlie is a world traveller, freelance writer and house sitter taking an alternative path across the world. Her travel blog, Charlie on Travel, is about simple, sustainable and socially-responsible travel. Follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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About Agness

Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"


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56 Comments

  • Yum! Look at all of that delicious food :) Makes me want to take a trip back to Taiwan :)

  • All these dishes look amazing. I’m a sucker for dumplings, so I’d have tons of them!

  • This is a great post for vegetarian travellers like us. We were indeed wondering if it would be difficult to survive in South East Asian Countries without eating meat, because most of the street food info we saw contained meat! Thanks Charlie for insiders tips. Those chilli tofu are really mouth watery.

    • Glad it was a good read for you guys! Not in our experience, no. If you keep your eyes open when walking around there’s veggie street food! We had no problems in Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. A lot of the street food is meaty, but there are veggie delights around too :) Unfortunately, though, you never know for sure what oil they’re cooking in, so sometimes you have to watch (or close your eyes!) I really, really miss chilli tofu on cold winter nights!!

    • Are you both vegetarians? Great to hear that. I eat meat from time to time, but I love veggies and fruits a lot!

  • Dumplings!!! I’m a sucker for dumplings – pretty much any way they come. I’m not a vegetarian, but don’t eat much meat (I love veggies!), so I’m always looking for veggie options. All of it looks good, but you had me a dumplings.

  • I miss these delicious dishes so much, don’t get me wrong I like the Western cuisine (at least some of it) but the Taiwanese and Asian one in general is so different. I’d happily have some dumplings right now!

    • Yeah, I’m the same, Franca. I love most cuisines but they’re really different – and also, you can’t get Chinese food like in China, or Taiwanese food likes in Taiwan etc. anywhere else in the world.

  • Thank you for featured Taiwan and these delectable dishes! I’ve really enjoyed some great tofu dishes in Laos and Vietnam, and I love how non-vegetarians in SE Asia enjoy tofu and vegetarian dishes a regular part of their diet. Thanks Charlie and eTRamping!

    • Thanks, Rebekah. I really love tofu! I had it in the UK and it wasn’t good, but when I ate it in Asia, I realised how amazing it was.

  • Great post, Charlie. And thanks for bringing her on here, Agness.

    I’m a vegan who was vegetarian last time I travelled to Asia. After traveling through the States a lot the past two years I am really eager to get back to Asia and enjoy good weather, good food, and good people. Nice, inspiring post to remind me how lovely Asia is. :)

  • Oh Yum! I would return to Taiwan simply for the food, not to mention the friendly people, great hiking, and scenery! Thank you for sharing! I’m going to go eat breakfast now. :-) (It is morning in the USA after all) ;-)

  • yummmmm! I love dumplings (and I probably eat it everyday, and I agree that veggie ones are very good!), and mapo tofu is one of my favorite Chinese dishes! I may be going to Taiwan later this year, and it’s good to hear that I can stuff my face for so cheap (but no Buddha belly, please).

  • Hi Agness and sorry I’m getting over late I just never saw it earlier for some reason. Anyhoo Charlie great guest post! .33 cents for 10 dumplings?!?! I literally shouted that last fragmented sentence outloud LOL! I’m not a vegetarian but I can eat TONS of vegetarian dishes no problem and love them! Argh, now I’m hungry and I want dumplings! May have to get a co-worker to run and get some :)

  • I want to eat it all, now! :) Looks so delicious and it seems like vegetarians have it easier than in other countries to find meat-free options!

  • Chinese/Taiwanese dishes can be a minefield for vegetarians, and as someone who can’t eat pork, I often opt for vegetarian dishes anyway, just to be sure. Great post, very helpful, thank you!

  • The dumplings and steel-cooked rice dishes look delicious! Not a vegetarian, but still love a good vegetarian dish.

  • Such a cool post. Ive never been to Taiwan. But my bestie was there last year for a cooking competition, his really enjoyed the green tea gel balls, he said they sold them as ‘Frog Eggs’. He really didnt enjoy the fermented tofu tho! Im not a vego, so I dont traditionally order the vego meals. I will be sure to try more in the future. :)

  • Be careful with Mapo Tofu. The dish is traditionally made with pork for flavoring and most places that serve it in Taiwan will have the meat dish. You have to be careful to go to a vegetarian place to eat it.

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