As famous as it is for its meat dishes such as braised pork rice, Taiwan has also been quietly emerging as a hotspot on the international vegan scene.
Yet it still came as a surprise for the owners of Taipei’s Mianto (米愛多) and New Taipei’s Bio AtPeace Cafe (愛在蔬食) when they saw that not only did their establishments make this year’s Vegans Are Cool’s outstanding restaurants list, they were also Asia’s only representatives.
Based in Australia, Vegans Are Cool is a Web site that features interviews and articles by prominent people ranging from actors to doctors who do not consume or use any animal products.
“It is a pure coincidence that the winners are both from Taiwan this time, although it is no surprise that good quality vegan restaurants can be found in Taiwan as veganism is a growing movement in Taiwan,” says Vegans Are Cool founder Kathy Divine.
VEGANISM IN TAIWAN
South African expat Michel Cason opened Mianto — which is also free of genetically modified organisms (GMO) — in Taipei about a year ago with interior designer Antonio Chen (陳豐秀).
Cason agrees that Taiwan is a convenient and friendly place for vegans, and attributes traditional religious practices such as Buddhism for the popularity of vegan food.
“People [follow] ... this diet due to religion so their attitudes are pro it. It’s not some foreign concept,” she says
The Food Industry Research and Development Institute says at least 10 percent of Taiwanese are either committed or part-time vegetarians. Not only does the country have tons of meatless restaurants, it also boasts a newly-opened vegan supermarket as well as one of the world’s strictest labeling laws for vegetarian food.
“People here are open to veganism ... You can even get vegan food at 7-Eleven,” Cason quips.
Kelly Nicholls grew up in China, but later moved to Singapore, where she met her Australian husband Andrew. The couple came to Taiwan six years ago, settling in the Gardens City (花園新城) community nestled in the mountains of New Taipei City’s Sindian District (新店).
Both longtime vegans, they started using an abandoned steel shack overlooking a valley in the community to experiment with vegan recipes, which eventually turned into Bio atPeace Cafe.
Kelly Nicholls says that while vegan awareness has been increasing, there remains a lack of recipes and vegan chefs. She hopes to eventually use the restaurant to provide a place for training and sharing.
WHAT’S IN A KITCHEN
Cason calls her food “International Vegan Cuisine.” The current menu is mostly Italian, featuring a variety of pastas and build-it-yourself pizzas with homemade dough and soy cheese, but there are also Indonesian and Thai offerings and she plans to create a fiery dish from China’s Hunan province.
Cason says it’s hard work running a vegan restaurant because she needs to carefully purchase her ingredients — even wine can be non-vegan as it often involves animal-based fining agents. She also makes her own bread and cake.
“I check the ingredients, and if I don’t know then I Google it immediately, and if I’m still not clear I’ll e-mail the manufacturer,” she says. “It’s not like I don’t see any animals so it’s okay.”
Even though Cason has to import some GMO-free items, such as flour, she locally sources her vegetables, which she changes according to the season. For example, in the winter, she uses spinach in her tomato mushroom pasta, but bok choy in the summer.