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.

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