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






Sunday, 15 December 2013

Loving Vegan Buffet

13th August 2014
It sounds like this restaurant is permanently closed. I will confirm before I delete this post, but in the meantime I just found a new Loving Hut around the corner from Xindian Station, on the way to the footbridge.


View Loving Hut Xindian in a larger map
And of course there's Peace Cafe up in Garden City.

Loving Vegan  Buffet Restaurant, Hsindian

 Taiwan has many thousands of simple pay-by-weight buffets, most of which serve similar dishes based on tofu, fake meats and fresh vegetables, and while living in Taiwan I used to eat at them almost daily. Most are run by Buddhists and followers of I Kuan Tao, and as such serve dairy products, and /or egg, so fake meats should be treated as suspect. Nonetheless, these buffets offer an extremely convenient, affordable and reasonably healthy option for a simple meal, and it would be hard to be more than a few blocks from one in any Taiwanese city. At such places, expect minimal (but friendly) service, and always take your own plates to the disposal place, often out on the street.

Besides these buffets, Taiwan is also famous for its five-star all-you-can-eat buffets, such as my favourite Evergreen Vegetarian. These are fine-dining establishments, and meal prices can reach up to 1000NT (excellent value for what you get, especially if spending foreign currency).

The Loving Vegan is one of a few buffets which offers an 'all-you-can-eat' deal of the typical dishes found at the more humble buffets, at an excellent price of only 120 TWDs. And the best thing: it's all vegan, so there's no need to worry about what's in the fake meat.


all the old-time buffet favourites, just guaranteed vegan and only 120NT.

 If you live in Taiwan, this place provides an exceptionally good-value meal, if you are in the area (thought it's probably too far from central Taipei to make it worth doing regularly). And if you're visiting Taipei it's an opportunity to try all the traditional Taiwanese dishes found at common buffets, without worrying about egg, dairy or worse in your fake meat.

Loving Vegan is located a few minutes walk from MRT Xindian District Office Station, the second-to-last stop on the green line. It would combine very well with a trip up to @Peace Cafe in the Xindian Mountains, with perhaps one either side of an explore around Bitan Lake. Together these would be well worth an afternoon's outing for anyone spending a few days or longer in Taipei.

Opening Hours: 10:30-2:30; 5:00-8:30 (everyday).
Phone: (02) 2915 9026


View Loving Vegan Restaurant in a larger map

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Vege CREEK

Vege Creek, Guanfu, Taipei

Vege Creek is a new vegan restaurant close to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, not far from the Guangfu Loving Hut. A tiny, slick and stylish establishment, it combines modern minimalism in its simplicity with an enormous array of possible meals, with all ingredients hand-picked by the customer for a unique and delicious meal. It's run by two young men who saved money on working holidays in Australia, and returned to Taiwan to set up Vege Creek. It recently featured in the Taipei Times, Taiwan's leading English-language newspaper.


You know your meal's going to be fresh when it starts with choosing your vegetables from here...

Customers first choose fresh vegetables off a wall, and then select additional ingredients, such as tofu, mushrooms etc, and place them in a basket. They then choose a card for a type of noodle, and take these to counter to pay. The chef then uses a small kitchen behind the counter and a lot of skill and flair to whip these up into a one-pot wonder in a matter of minutes.

and then additional ingredients from here...

In many ways, Vege Creek employs the cook-to-order section from the large all-you-can-eat buffets (such as my favourite Evergreeen) and makes a restaurant out of it. Almost frightening in its simplicity, it's hard to believe that no one I know of has done it before, in Taiwan or elsewhere.

and then finally a card from here to determine the type of noodle . My lucky dip scored me glass noodles cooked to perfection in a broth of Chinese medicinal herbs.

The cards for the type of noodle will affect the meal significantly, and the waitress, who speaks good English, kindly explained what was what each was, but I soon forgot, and just chose one at random. Sometimes it's nice to have that option. My green bean noodles didn't disappoint. All meals are cooked in a simple, healthy broth of in salt, pepper and traditional Chinese medicinal herb. A simple hot sauce is also available, and well worth it if, like me, you like things 'la4' (spicy). April 2014 update: these now have English translations, so no lucky dip is necessary. 

I visited mid evening on a Tuesday, and the restaurant enjoyed a steady turnover, and was full for much of the time I was there. One customer walked in and asked if it was all vegetarian - more out of curiosity it seemed than either relief or disappointment - and then proceeded to order with her partner. This is all not bad for a jaunt less than a year old (established Dec 2012).

Take these to the counter to pay. It then takes the chef only a few minutes to turn these...

In keeping with their simple menu, Vege CREEK does not serve desserts. So if you feel like a little more after your meal (depending on how many ingredients you choose) one option is to go to the Guang Fu Loving Hut for dessert. However, do NOT let this be your only visit there, as the Hotpot experience at the Guang Fu Loving Hut should be high on any visiting vegan's itinerary. Alternatively, go to the Loving Hut for lunch and Vege Creek for dinner (or vice versa) either side of a trip to Taipei 101.

into this! It was cooked to perfection, down to the last piece of vege.


My meal cost 205NT, which is very good value for a specially-prepared meal in such an upmarket neighbourhood.

Hours: open every day 12:00 - 2:00, 17:00 - 21:00
Directions: MRT to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Station (Exit 1) 
 

View Vege Creek (Vegan Taiwan) in a larger map

Friday, 6 September 2013

Minder Vegetarian Restaurants


Minder Vegetarian are a chain of restaurants are run by the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation (more in this post). While they are not strictly vegan they are often a very good option for a lunch or dinner on the go.

Minder Vegetarian span an interesting (and clearly very successful) zone in the vegetarian restaurant market between the cheap and simple pay-by-weight buffets found in every neighbourhood and the large, all-you-can-eat fine dining establishments like Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant. Their pay-by-weight buffets which are slightly more upmarket than most others, and their all-you-can-eat buffets - sometimes located on the second floor - are slightly cheaper and less posh than the likes of Evergreen.  They are always clean, and food always tastes fresh, and I used to eat at them quite regularly. A large pay-by-weight meal generally runs to about 200 Taiwan dollars.

Besides two nightmarket stands, Minder Vegetarian Restaurant in Hsindian was my first vegetarian restaurant in Taiwan, which a colleague kindly took me to after I told her how difficult it was to find vegetarian food in Taipei. I still remember the "Oh yes... this is what I had expected in Taiwan, but haven't been able to find" feeling, and still enjoy going back to that restaurant for that reason (as well as the food).


a typical pay-by-weight Minder Vegetarian meal (Taipei Main Station branch)

While there is still a lot of uncertainty around the fake meat situation in Taiwan, I would be inclined to trust a large Buddhist organisation than an unknown restaurant or vendor. However, being Buddhist they do use dairy products, and being a little upmarket they use more than most, especially mayonnaise. They don't label what contains dairy, and never responded to an email from me asking them which dishes are vegan. So it's generally necessary to avoid all dishes containing fake meat, sushi (which often has mayonnaise, if not fake fish too) and many others with a white sauce (which is generally obvious) but this still leaves plenty of safe vegetable-based dishes to try. They don't use egg, however  they do sometimes make 'fake' eggs which look disturbingly real (but aren't).  

 One problem is that sometimes they serve "milk tofu" (curd). It looks a bit different to 'real' tofu, and is generally served with little if any sauce or dressing. I don't have a photo, and this description isn't really enough, so if in doubt ask the staff so you can avoid it. I will try to get a photo eventually.

I wouldn't suggest going out of your way to eat at a Minder Vegetarian Restaurant, but there will probably be a time that it's very convenient.

Please note the signs which request (according to Buddhist philosophy) not to talk while taking the food. It's a terrible look when foreigners come in chatting away about how great to food is (or which products contain dairy, or whatever), oblivious to the Taiwanese watching on unimpressed but too polite to say anything.

STORE LOCATIONS
This list includes branches likely to be of interest to travellers or expatriates, but is not complete. Further stores, and locations and opening hours can be found on their website (in Chinese only, but the opening hours can be read).

Taipei Main Station

Minder Vegetarian Restaurant, 2nd Floor, Taipei Main Station

This is a small, very busy restaurant. Like some other Minder restaurants, but unlike most other buffets, it is open all day (from 11AM) so there's no scraping the bowls at 1:30 or waiting hungrily through the afternoon until it opens for dinner.

If you need a take-out meal for a train in a hurry this is the place to go. I personally prefer to make a run to the Huaning Loving Hut if time permits, but will sometimes eat here if I've already been to a Loving Hut that day, or if I don't have time. If you do get a take-out meal beware of too many sauces, keep it upright in the plastic bag, and use the compartments in the take-out boxes to separate dry dishes from ones with sauces, otherwise your meal will quickly become a soggy mess. And just in case, don't put it in your backpack, for the same reason.

It's located in the foodcourt on the second floor of Taipei Main Station, which runs around the perimeter of the building, and can be reached by any stairs from the ground floor. I find it very confusing, and just wander around the foodcourt until I find it. If in doubt, ask someone for 明德素食園.

Xin Yi (for Taipei 101)

Minder Vegetarian in Eslite Bookstore (near Taipei 101)

This restaurant is also open throughout the afternoon, and is the closest vegan-friendly restaurant to Taipei 101. As this post says, don't bother with the Taipei 101 foodcourt, unless you want to stock up on (expensive) groceries at Jasons. Note that it's on the way to Taipei 101 from Taipei City Hall MRT Station (the closest station) so consider going on your way to or from Taipei 101.

Hsindian (Xindian)

Minder Vegetarian, Hsindian Branch

This original Minder Vegetarian Restaurant is one of their most upmarket. The food here is especially good, and it has a simple but very pleasant interior. There is also an all-you-can-eat buffet upstairs, with extra dishes, more like the other all-you-can-eat buffets such as Evergreen. The interior upstairs is more posh than downstairs, and of course it's nicer to be able to go back for seconds without worrying about paying again, especially if dining with a group for a special occasion. However, it's considerably more expensive than paying by weight downstairs.


If this will be your only opportunity to try an all-you-can-eat buffet, I would consider it, but otherwise I would just eat downstairs and save that experience for Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant.

More information on this branch and another in the hospital itself can be found in my post on Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital.

Hsinchu
Minder Vegetarian, Hsinchu Branch

While living in Hsinchu, before the new vegan Japanese restaurant, I used to eat here at least every other night, to the point that I got quite sick of it. But it's offers a well-balanced, well-priced meal that then was quite difficult to find in Hsinchu. It's only open for lunch and dinner (10:30-14:00 and 16:00-20:00) but they may start running out of the best dishes before that time, and of course the food isn't as good if it's been sitting around for a long time.


The Hsinchu branch also has an upstairs all-you-can eat buffet. But again it costs a lot more than eating downstairs, for similar food (better presented, again with more variety). For a more upmarket dining experience in Hsinchu I would try the Miracle Green House, but I haven't made it there myself yet. For a map and more on Hsinchu, see this post.