Great vegetarian food in Asia? Doable, but not always easy to find exceptional tasting vegetarian eats at an affordable price.
Enter: The vegetarian street food scene in Taipei.
In Taipei, it’s common for people to ask you if you’ve eaten before they ask how you’re doing.
That alone should give you a sense of how highly regarded finding great eats in the city is.
Taiwan is a melting pot of cuisines and cultures, blending influence from Japan and China. In fact, one of the best way to experience Taiwan’s culture is through eating. Every region of the island has its own specialities, and locals take great pride in the craft of preparing dishes and delighting visitors who try them.
I didn’t have high food expectations before visiting Taiwan- I knew bubble tea was a big deal, but hadn’t given much thought to the night markets everyone raved about. I assumed (incorrectly) vegetarian eats at the markets would be sparse, and I’d be left eating at cafes and the likes of Din Tai Fung, which is phenomenal and can not be missed.
But, starting from my first few hours on the island, I was stunned by the amount of excellent vegetarian street food.
In most of Asia, vegetarian means starchy or fried food, and Taipei is no different. Reaching Bali with its abundance of fresh fruit and veg was a welcome reprieve.
But on a short trip to Taiwan (eight days), I was just excited to find so much affordable vegetarian food. The fact that it was pretty much all unhealthy mattered less to me, because I knew eating that way would be short lived.
Over the course of my trip, I even returned to some places because they were that good.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, some of these street food finds are iconic (looking at you, stinky tofu), and should be on your ‘to eat’ list.
13 Vegetarian Street Food Finds in Taipei That are Out of This World Delicious
Filled, Hot Cakes: Twice, I had these mini cakes, once at Mister Wheel and another time at Catpaw, where they were adorably, shaped like baby cat paws. Fluffy cake wrapped around gooey fillings? It’s a winning combination. I was particularly fond of the egg, custard and chocolate varieties, but there are usually several different types on offer. Places like Catpaw in Tonghua Market make it easy to try several with tiny buns.
Taro Buns: I’m a big fan of taro flavour, but if you’ve never had it, you should definitely try it in Taiwan. My favourite taro bun was sold at Sunmerry, a pastry and bread shop that has locations all over the city. The taro filling was smooth and creamy, and the bun was slightly sticky, the right amount of flaky and browned to perfection.
Ice Cream: Specifically, Yongfu ice cream. Rounding a corner walking the city, I spotted a line of locals wrapped around the front of this ice cream shop. Always a big believer in following locals whilst traveling, I joined them. While waiting for my ice cream, I Google’d the shop and realised it was famous among locals because it’s been in operation for a long time, and churns out delicious flavours.
When you order a cup here, it comes with three small scoops. I tried the taro, red bean and plum flavours. They also have fruit flavours (passion fruit, strawberry) and more interesting options (chicken egg) on the rotating menu. This ice cream was so good, I wish I’d gone back a second time. The texture is creamy and ice, and flavours are prominent without being overbearing.
Mushrooms: I know what you’re likely thinking- mushrooms, really? I was skeptical as well. Even as a vegetarian, I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms- they’re one of my least favourite vegetables. But, at the Shilin night market, when I saw a 15 minute queue for seasoned and grilled mushrooms, I knew I had to get in line to see what the hype was about.
After one bite, I was ready to take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about mushrooms. These were coated in a special sauce, grilled, coated again, grilled a bit more and then sprinkled with two seasonings of your choice. I went with lemon pepper and rosemary seasonings and could not believe how incredible the mushrooms tasted. You’ll find similar stalls at other night markets, but the one at Shilin is said to be one of the best.
Papaya Milk: You can find this sweet, smooth, creamy beverage at any of Taiwan’s night markets. Papaya milk is to Taiwan what sugarcane juice is to Vietnam- a must try, refreshing treat.
Fried Milk: Not a big dairy consumer, I was skeptical of trying this fried treat when I spotted the stall right outside the front gates at the Rahoe night market. Upon biting into one of the small balls, I realised it was condensed milk. Immediately, I decided it was too sweet for my liking. But, I can see why others rave about the dessert- the fried shell lends a savoury element to the sweetness of the milk. Worth trying, for sure.
Stinky Tofu: You’ll smell this before you even get close to the stall. Found at night markets all over Taiwan, locals can’t get enough of this smelly, savoury treat. I held off on trying it until I found myself at the Michelin starred stall at the Tonghua night market.
Here, the tofu was slightly less stinky than other varieties I’d come across. I found the taste interesting- sour, tart, and oddly smooth. I don’t think it’s something I’d eat regularly, but didn’t necessarily dislike it. Truly, I think the best way I’d describe the taste of stinky tofu is confusing. Something you need need to try for yourself.
Onion Pancake: Tian Jin is legendary in Taipei for having the best onion and scallion pancake. People I spoke to regarded this pancake as a ‘can’t miss’, so I was intrigued, to put it lightly.
Those people were absolutely right. When I walked up to Tian Jin, I liked what I saw instantly- an orderly queue stretching down an alleyway, eggs being cracked over the sidewalk, dough being pressed and then quickly thrown on the griddle- it was the epitome of a well-oiled street food machine. You can add toppings (eggs, cheese, sauces) to your pancake, but I opted for the ‘original’ version with just onions and scallions.
One bite, and I understood the hype. Savoury, crispy, doughy, buttery- easily one of the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten.
Egg Tarts: Another street food eat that came highly recommend to try at the Tonghua market. I was skeptical, mainly because I’ve had egg tarts in Portugal and Hong Kong, so I know what the real deal tastes like. But, I was pleasantly surprised by how good these were- the eggs were fluffy and creamy, and the outer graham shell was toasted to perfection.
‘Dumbass’ Noodles: If you’re not a vegetarian, you need to suss out the best beef noodles. But, for my vegetarian friends, you’ll find incredible noodles at the Tonghua night market. Look for the Sha Gua Mian stand. Here, order your noodles plain. When they’re brought to you, piping hot, you’ll be directed to a variety of sauces and chilis to add flavour.
The name of this stall translates from Chinese to English as ‘dumbass’ noodles. That translation isn’t the official name, but is more so meant to reflect that the noodles you order here are simple- you customise them however you want. They may be served plain, but the noodles are so delicious, you don’t really need anything else. They’re chewy, but firm with a garlicky flavour. Absolutely excellent.
Muah Chee: Think of muah chee as the Taiwanese version of mochi. It’s soft dough wrapped around different flavours (usually black seasme, red bean, taro or peanut butter) and then grilled and rolled in crushed peanuts. Hella delicious, I picked mine up at the Rahoe night market.
Shaved Ice: Look no further than Smoothie House (near Tian Jin pancake) to try this Taiwanese dessert speciality. I first had shaved ice in New York City when a few Japanese places specialising in the dessert opened. But, I hadn’t had a mountain of shaved ice until visiting Japan.
Similar to what I had in Japan, the shaved ice served here is heaping, a literal mountain of refreshment. Order it to share, it’s enough sugar to set anyone over the edge. I tried the classic mango flavour, and would highly recommend. Exactly what I needed to perk me up on a hot, humid day traversing the city.
Soy Milk & Breakfast Sandwiches: Saving the best for last. If you only make it to one place on this list, it needs to be Fuhang Soy Milk. A Michelin star food court eatery, the line for Fuhang often wraps around the court and snakes down the stairs to the first floor.
And, for good reason. The soy milk served here is delicious in its own right- I tried it both hot and iced, and prefered it cold. But, the breakfast sandwich is the real star. Egg and scallion on the fluffiest, crunchiest sesame bread. A top five breakfast of all time, it was unreal. I came here several times, it was that good.
Have you ever been to Taiwan or a country, where you did most of your sightseeing by eating? Where was it, and what was your favourite eat?