Taiwan has about 6,000 vegetarian restaurants, small and large. The number is really no surprise given that one tenth of the nation’s population is vegetarian. Although a majority become vegetarians for religious reasons, more are adopting a greener diet for health.
Opened two years ago, Sufood (舒果) is in line with the country’s growing awareness of the importance of a vegetarian diet. With more than a dozen locations nationwide, the Italian-style eatery has quickly earned itself a name for quality among herbivores.
Though I’m more of a meat person, I have long heard of Sufood’s reputation for serving hearty vegetarian dishes at an affordable price: seven courses for NT$438. Not only is the food price-friendly, the place has excellent service, a nice vibe and chic decor.
Sufood’s modern interior and well-trained staff probably has much to do with it belonging to local chain restaurant operator Wowprime Corp (王品), which owns more than a dozen brands. If you’ve been to the company’s Tasty (西堤) steakhouse, Sufood is more or less the same — without, of course, the meat.
A quick glance around the spacious venue on a Saturday evening, I saw lots of young women and families with children. The restaurant, painted in peachblow and white, has a real delicate feminine touch. Although I found it appealing, my male companion though it was too girly and said he wouldn’t have walked in here alone.
The scene is definitely worlds apart from the normal Buddhist vegetarian restaurant that monks and seniors frequent. Not only were there no meat-shaped soy-bean products, there was also no chanting music in the background.
As I skimmed through the trilingual menu (Chinese, English and Japanese), I was first tantalized by the appetizer: blueberry and wild yam served with sweet pepper and lotus and konjac and tomato. As weird as the combination may read, the dish has actually become one of my favorites.
The presentation was an artistic indulgence. From left to right there are white yams cut into small skyscraper shapes, greens topped with chopped bell peppers and a clear jello-like substance with marinated small tomatoes. Unlimited refill of finger bread accompanying the appetizer is also enjoyment for the eye.
Of the four types of soup on offer, I ordered Milano pumpkin soup. Although I didn’t recognize any particular Milanese element in it, my palate did pick up some sweet potato taste. The waiter later confirmed that the cook mixed the two together to give the soup a more sophisticated flavor. Indeed, the soup was robust.
My male carnivore friend was also happy with his starter of Italian vegetable casserole. The assortment of vegetables were deliberately chopped in chunks to satisfy a meat-lovers’ chewing instincts, he suspected. The portions were so big that by the time we finished these appetizers, we were already half full.
For the main dishes, I was a bit disappointed, not because of how they tasted, but because of how they were cooked. The 10 options — mostly spaghetti, pizza, macaroni, gratin and risotto — were a bit on the heavy side and didn’t live up to the healthy impression I had for Sufood.
I had curry pasta gratin for the main course but stopped after about 10 bites because it was too greasy. My companion, however, loved it. He not only finished my serving but also his own, classic calzone. Plastic gloves were given to customers so that they can literally “dig in” to the pillow-size calzone.
A small bowl of brown rice with truffle and mushroom rounded out the meal in a light manner.
Sufood should be applauded for some of their innovative desserts and drinks that are found nowhere else. Sesame and walnut panna cotta and lemon grass licorice root tea made my dining experience all the more delightful and perhaps the reason why reservations on weekends are highly recommended.