Many people view a vegetarian diet as a healthy alternative to eating meat but not all vegetarians want to be healthy. Some, like their carnivorous peers, hunger for greasy fatty foods but satisfying that craving is not always so simple. It is a rare but celebrated occasion when you stumble upon an eatery, which offers veggie substitutes for popular artery hardening snacks.
Tian Wei is such a venture. Mr Tsai started the place two years ago and it has proven itself to be profitable, with a number of regular customers and a frequent queue of people waiting for tables.
Across the street from Taipei Main Station, heading west, Tian Wei is the first restaurant you see on a street lined with small vegetarian shops. Tsai offers something the others don't, a selection of deep fried, pan fried and re-fried items, which use soy oil in place of the commonly used pork oil.
Fried dumplings, steamed buns and radish cake are among the more popular choices, with a selection of vegetarian versions of meat- and seafood-based dishes such as oyster omelets (
The imitation-oyster omelet is prepared with mushrooms in place of oysters and can be made with or without eggs. Around 80 percent of the people in the restaurant were eating this. The base is made with a doughy pancake batter that has a chewy consistency and a slightly sweet flavor. It is served with a large helping of pink sweet-and-sour sauce, which is also used for the rice pudding and Taiwanese meat-less balls. Each of these can be ordered without sauce or on the side.
The pork rice pudding is similar to a sticky rice dumpling and is made with mushrooms, peanuts and tofu. Garnished with coriander and served without the sweet sauce this makes a tasty side dish that is quite filling, despite its small size.
Although there is a selection of rice, noodles and soup dishes, which can be found at most vegetarian restaurants, it is recommended you try something different. There is a choice of steamed, boiled or fried dumplings and -- having tried all three -- the fried is recommended. The hot-and-sour soup loaded with tofu, vegetables and flavor complements this dish nicely.
The most expensive meal on the menu costs NT$70 and includes a full set with rice, an imitation chicken or fish and three kinds of vegetables. An order of 10 dumplings costs NT$50.
The restaurant's interior is simple, with 25 small tables and fill up quickly at dinnertime, especially on weekends. There's no English menu but the staff are helpful and will take time to point out their top dishes.