Sat, Jan 14, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Move over beef noodle soup, vegans are taking Taipei by storm

While practically unthinkable a few years ago, vegan eateries are now a staple of Taipei’s foodie scene — a fact confirmed by the recent title of most vegan-friendly city in Asia

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

A “bacon cheese” burger at Ooh Cha Cha.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

It was Christina Kuo’s (郭綵婕) daughter’s first birthday cake and it was a beautiful sight — layer upon layer of mouth-watering chocolate. To Kuo’s horror, the minute her daughter bit into it, her skin broke out in hives, her fingers swelled up and she developed a high fever. Kuo speculates that the bakery forgot about their request and used eggs, which her daughter is allergic to.

Though she recovered quickly, Kuo says the most heart-wrenching moment came when her daughter asked: “Mommy, so does this means I can’t eat cake for the rest of my life?”

‘VEGAN-FRIENDLY’ CITY

That’s when the idea of opening a vegan bakery struck Kuo and her Indian expat husband Ravi Dadlani.

“I just wanted to show people that you can be allergic to dairy... or be a vegan and still enjoy cakes and desserts,” says Kuo who opened Fresh Bakery and Cafe in 2013.

The bakery substitutes soy milk and almond milk for regular milk and uses more flour in their cakes instead of eggs.

The bakery’s four-year anniversary falls at an auspicious time. Last month, animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Asia, named Taipei the most “vegan-friendly” city in Asia.

Much has changed since 2013. Vegan restaurants like Ooh Cha Cha and Soul R Vegan and bakeries like Vegan Haven and Green Bakery have been popping up all over the city.

“You will never worry about not being able to find... a ‘bacon and cheese’ burger or mocha and walnut waffles,” says Jason Baker, PETA Asia’s vice president.

“On a recent trip to Los Angeles, people talked about how jealous they were about me being so close to Taipei and having the chance to taste the great vegan cuisine there,” Baker says.

Taipei was an easy choice, he says, because of its vegan movement, which has grown exponentially over the last few years.

TRANSPARENCY AND CHIA SEEDS

When I visit Kuo at Fresh Bakery & Cafe’s new location, she says she isn’t shocked that Taipei — a city known for its street food and night market delicacies — claimed the title.

Taipei has a large vegetarian community, many of whom are Buddhists, so the transition to veganism — cutting out dairy — wouldn’t be too big of a leap. Buddhism also teaches not to be cruel to animals, which is another important tenant of the vegan lifestyle.

A series of nation-wide food safety scandals — which involved restaurants and roadside stalls using recycled oil collected from grease traps — have made consumers wary of the ingredients used in their food.

Mai Bach, founder of Taipei’s first vegan restaurant Ooh Cha Cha, agrees that these two factors have contributed to the spread of veganism in Taipei.

“After the food safety scares, consumers are becoming more sensitive to the types of ingredients that restaurants are using,” she says.

The sun streams into the floor-to-ceiling windows of Ooh Cha Cha’s compact corner shop near Guting MRT station as we chat over smoothies packed with superfoods and a Vietnamese kelp noodle salad with ginger beet balls — “meatballs” made from beet.

When the California native opened her restaurant in November 2013, it was difficult to find ingredients because the vegan market was still finding its footing. Today, you don’t have to travel too far in Taipei to find something as rare as chia seeds, a nutrient-rich superfood.

“It was a sure sign that the market was ready to accept veganism,” Bach jokes.

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