Last updated on February 11, 2020
My 15-hour long layover in Taipei may not have been enough time to settle in and truly explore all that Taipei, Taiwan offers travelers, but it was plenty of time to eat my through the city’s best vegetarian street foods and night markets! Having traveled the world for more than a decade, eating vegetarian everywhere from Myanmar to Bosnia to the Middle East, you pick up a few tricks to find safely vegetarian eats—particularly in cultures with vibrant street food scenes and night markets.
Although I experienced moments of strong culture shock when I first landed in Taipei, I knew I would miss a huge part of the culture if I skipped the street food. So, I made it my mission to travel the city in search of tasty eats. Instead of focusing on feeling lost throughout the day, I followed my nose along the streets of Taipei, allowing the locals on their lunch breaks to dodge around me as I poked my nose into all kinds of treats—and I found many.
Here’s a guide to some of the best vegetarian food not only in Taipei, but at the Shilin Night Market as well.
Can You Find Vegetarian Food in Taiwan?
It’s both easier and harder than you would imagine to find vegetarian food during your visit to Taipei. The city has a large population of vegetarians (close to 2 million), mostly because of its strong base of Buddhism. While many of those vegetarians practice year-round, others observe vegetarianism on the first and 15th day of every lunar month. The harder part finding vegetarian food comes down to the language barrier—if you don’t speak or read Mandarin you will be at a loss to easily recognize the vegetarian street food stalls, and even more to easily communicate your diet. Use an app, or screenshot your dietary needs so you can easily communicate at mealtimes. Also, I honestly never try to pronounce the phrases after finding no one ever understood me during my weeks traveling in China. Back then I resorted to having a guesthouse write it out for me and showing that slip of paper every time I needed to eat.
|I am vegetarian||素食者|
|I eat vegetables||我吃素|
|I don’t eat meat||我不吃肉|
|I don’t eat fish||我不吃魚|
|I do not eat dairy products||我不吃乳制品|
If you’re vegan in Taiwan (or all of Asia really), also be warned that fake meats may use milk powder or eggs as a binding ingredient. Since veganism is less common in Asia, locals generally don’t think to mention it.
Fun Vegetarian Street Foods
When I first landed in Taipei, I grabbed a bubble tea and just began to wander. I had many hours to fill in my day and I figured that getting a lay of the land was a good first step, especially if I wanted to avoid the suspiciously meaty street foods and successfully track down vegetarian eats.
One of my first successes was also a lot of fun: A busy street food cart perched right on the corner of a bustling sidewalk caught my eye. The muffin pan-like cart top took about one minute to produce a whole tray of steaming hot treats filled with mysterious fillings. The man poured what looked like pancake dough into the holes. The woman scooped in your chosen filling. More dough. As the lunch snacks briefly cooked, the well honed dance of movements between the duo working the street cart never faltered.
The long queue of locals flowed with swift ease and stood as a testament to these tasty and simple treats. When my turn came I put the first glitch in their process and both of them smiled indulgent—if harried smiles—as I indicated through pantomime my choice of two pancakey-things filled with a thick red bean paste, and a third with sweet creamy custard. These eats got me through my hike to Taipei 101, and before my street eats had fully digested dusk painted itself across the sky and the Shilin Night Market beckoned. Then I knew I needed to up my game and find a lot more interesting vegetarian street foods in Taipei!
To be truthful, the entire point of the Shilin Night Market trip was to spend as long as possible wandering food stalls sampling foreign treats. I found that Taipei was like so much of Asia, even to many of the locals the street eats are incredibly affordable and families converge on the street stalls for their nightly dinner as well.
What I also learned is that Taipei is a place where vegetarians should have a plan and be armed with the best knowledge if they’re going to actually find the vegan and vegetarian eats. The sheer, overwhelming number of food options means that you’re better off using Google Maps to star the locations of the best restaurants and street food carts, or you may never locate them unless you read Mandarin script.
A few tasty options include:
- Stinky Tofu: You will know when you pass a cart selling stinky tofu as it really is a pungent smell. It’s also delicious and so worth trying while you’re in town. There are several stalls selling this in the Shilin Night Market, and that’s your best bet to try it.
- Sweet Potato Balls: You might not easily recognize these since they are small, fried round balls, but they are tasty and vaguely taste of sweet potato. You can easily track these down in the Shilin Night Market.
- Milk Balls: When I spotted a small crowd around the fried milk balls, I was intrigued enough to try a stick of the burn-your-tongue-hot sweet cream coated in batter. So worth it.
- Vegetarian Dumplings: If you need an afternoon pick-me-up or late night treat, a street food cart, Shàng Dǐng HuángJiā , is directly across the street from Taipei Main Station and sells pan-fried vegetable dumplings and buns. Location here. Do yourself a favor and heap on some fresh chili sauce for a revelation.
- BBQ Rice Sticks: I actually first found these as a breakfast option in China, and then was delighted to see Taipei offers this simple vegetarian street food as well. Expect a small patty of rice and you can select a topping, then it’s grilled up hot and fresh.
- Fried Mushrooms: You will have no trouble finding these stalls at any night market in Taipei, just look for the mushrooms depicted on the street food cart!
- Savory Scallion Pancakes: Savory pancakes are completely different than the sweet pancake treats mentioned earlier—these are oily and often have egg and are a tasty (if not particularly healthy) option to fill you up.
- Sugar-Glazed Fruit: You will have no issue spotting the many places selling sugar-glazed fruits. Kids in your group will likely be entirely more adventurous eaters if you promise them the chance to naw on one of these after you eat.
- Jelly Ice: Across all of Asia you will find shaved ice and textured jellies a very popular option. The jellies are flavored with local favorites—everything from tamarind to green tea—and then served mixed with icey bits. I dislike this dessert, but I am in the minority so you should try it!
It makes me chuckle to think that for all that the rest of the world laughs at the US for deep fried ice cream and snickers bars—we’re not the only ones take odd concoctions, coat them in batter and drop ’em a vat of grease! For the record, they were tasty as expected and I munched them rapidly as I ran from the beginning rain and back to the metro terminal.
Best Vegetarian Restaurants in Taipei
There is a small but growing list of great places vegetarians and vegans can eat in the city. Although street markets are a cultural experience you should seek out, sometimes you might just want a great sit-down restaurant. Here are a few to consider:
- Hoshina Udon: You can’t go wrong with single-menu restaurants, and the fact is even meat eaters in your group will love this vegan option.
- Brother Su Vegan Kitchen: Your best bet for vegan Taiwanese dishes if you want to sample the best local flavors.
- Plants Eatery: Western-style vegetarian and plant-based dishes are a treat if you just need a break from local food.
- Shàng Dǐng HuángJiā: This is the street food cart mentioned above, which is conveniently located across from Taipei Main Station, that sells delicious pan-fried vegetable dumplings and buns.
- Yang Su Ting Loop Train Vegetarian Hot Pot: Hot pot is one of those experiences you have to do at least once, and it’s hard for vegetarians to ever experience. Add to that the fact that it’s conveyor-belt style, and this is a fun and “only in Asia” experience.
This post shares a handful of other favorites from a traveler who knows the city well.
No matter how long you have in Taipei, there is no excuse for not eating well. This is a foodie city and even vegetarians can find wonderful new dishes to sample either on the streets or in the restaurants. My whirlwind visit netted just 15 hours of exploring, but that was plenty to find my way to the best vegetarian street food carts, as well as the famous Shilin Night Market.