Known for its tolerance of different religious beliefs, Taiwan is also home to countless restaurants catering to those of faith.
Taking a stroll through any of Taiwan’s enchanting night markets is a golden ticket to the sensory rollercoaster of smells and tastes of local edible delights. The sounds of sizzling oils, meat grilling, and the clanging of cooking utensils are open invitations to indulge in a slice of Taiwanese culture.
That is, if these flavors and ingredients fall within the scope of your dietary guidelines, lifestyle, and spiritual traditions. For those who live by Kosher, Halal, or Buddhist diets, the cuisine that fills their stomachs and soothes their souls may initially feel worlds away, and the magic of the night market becomes faint and slightly alienating. Luckily, Taiwan’s renowned hospitality is even more central to its culture than its food, ensuring that there’s always a seat at the table for you.
Below are brief introductions to Kosher, Halal, and Buddhist vegetarian practices as well as where to enjoy them.
“We aspire to share the excellence of gourmet Kosher cuisine with the local Taiwanese community, our Christian and international friends, as well as the Jewish populace of Taiwan,” says the Jewish Taiwan Cultural Association.
For Jewish people, keeping Kosher is not just a culinary choice. It is a divine blessing and a commitment to a higher power. Kashrut – the body of Jewish law inscribed in the Torah describing what foods are forbidden and permissible and how they are appropriately prepared and eaten – connects the past with the present.
The regulations for Kosher dining are numerous. Meats such as pork and rabbit are considered “unclean” and prohibited. Meat and dairy must never be mixed, requiring separate utensils for cooking and eating. Fish with fins and scales are edible, while shellfish and crustaceans are not, and all slaughter must be done by a Shochet – a Kosher slaughterer certified after years of training. A certified Rabbi meticulously oversees the strict adherence to these rules.
On an island with a Jewish community of only around 2,000, the Jeffrey D. Schwartz Jewish Community Center’s Kosher Culinary Lab in Taipei stands as a beacon of Jewish heritage. There are daily tours to introduce international Jewish cuisine and culture to the public, which has helped disseminate knowledge of Kosher and heighten interest and demand. The Center even has an elegant ballroom and exterior courtyard, both available to local and international companies for hosting events.
Kosher Culinary Lab specializes in a distinct fusion of Middle Eastern and European gourmet styles expertly presented with a pronounced French influence. This establishment is an excellent choice for anyone seeking “healthy dining” and a deeper understanding of an authentic Jewish experience within their community.
Other Taipei establishments include Wave Jaffa Cuisine Lab, an Israeli restaurant in Xinyi District, Falafel King near Taipei 101, and the Pita Bar on Zhongshan North Road. In the southern city of Kaohsiung there is also Loracorlo Israeli Cuisine, where chef Dan shares comfort food from his home country.
In a country where pork dominates as a primary protein source, a traveling vegetarian might assume that vegetarian options are scarce and uninspiring. However, the reality is quite different in Taiwan. With approximately 14% of the country’s population identifying as vegetarians (only Mexico and India have greater numbers of vegetarians), Taiwan’s non-meat options are plentiful.
Throughout Asia, spiritual practice takes the forefront among the myriad of motivations to be a vegetarian. However, original Buddhist principles didn’t articulate vegetarianism as a mandate.
Siddartha Gautama (釋迦摩尼佛), best known as the Buddha, instituted as the first of his Five Precepts “to refrain from killing living beings,” but did not prohibit his followers from consuming meat. Handling money was forbidden to his followers, so they were expected to beg for food. Donations were allowed if the animal from which the meat came wasn’t “seen or heard or suspected” to have been slaughtered specifically for them.
Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty in China was the first to introduce the requirement that monastics be vegetarian by law, a rule also influenced by Confucianism that describes the mindset of the ideal person as “earnest and faithful, overflowing in his love for living beings.”
In Taiwan, the most common types of meat-free diets include vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, vegetarian, and diets that avoid the consumption of the “five pungent spices” (onion, green onion, garlic, chives, and leeks). The latter is avoided since some Buddhist masters elaborate that the five pungent spices could affect people’s moods and induce euphoria, which is inconducive to good practice.
Vegan options can be found in pasta dishes, hotpot meals, and most restaurants in Taiwan. As one of the countries with the highest number of vegetarians, Taiwan has numerous vegetarian-exclusive restaurants. The Michelin Guide lists several top picks in Taipei, including Serenity Restaurant, Little Tree Food, Monsoon, and Yu Shan Ge. Nationwide Healthy Vegetarian and Minder Vegetarian are chain restaurants with locations throughout the country.
If you want to immerse yourself in Buddhism, you can attend Buddhist rituals through the Tzu Chi Charity Foundation, Dharma Drum Mountain, Fo Guang Shan, and Chung Tai Chan Monastery. These monasteries’ rituals are all followed by vegetarian meals.
Islamic dietary law in the Quran and Hadith distinguishes between what food and drink are permissible (halal) and prohibited (haram). Muslims do not consume pork or alcohol and follow a humane process for the slaughter of animals for meat. Following these dietary principles is a way of maintaining purity in both body and spirit.
Halal diets necessitate specially trained Muslim slaughtermen and prohibit the consumption of certain parts of the animal. The process of slaughtering animals for halal meat includes invoking Allah’s name before each slaughter after an initial blessing, emphasizing the importance of gratitude and respect for the life that sustains us.
Taiwan’s approximately 60,000 permanent Muslim residents represent only 0.3% of the population, according to the Taipei-based Chinese Muslim Association. However, the total number of Muslims living on the island is much higher, as most are found among the migrant worker population. An estimated 250,000 workers from Indonesia alone call Taiwan their home.
As a result, halal and Muslim-friendly food can be found throughout Taiwan. A helpful resource is the Taiwan Tourism Administration’s list of Muslim-friendly places for dining and accommodation (available online), all of which have been certified by the Chinese Muslim Association. In addition, the organization Kuliner Halal Taiwan has built a library of extensive information resources covering restaurants and eateries, grocery shops, mosques and prayer rooms, and Muslim-friendly travel destinations.
Kunming Islamic Restaurant, Chang’s Beef Noodle Shop, and Saturn Landing Turkish Coffee are on the list of recommended restaurants and cafés in Taipei. Further, Uber Eats and Foodpanda advertise several dozen locations offering halal food, including Fried Chicken Master, Masala Art, and Paoding Hall International Beef (Halal).
Beyond the capital, highlights around Taiwan include Himalayan Momo, which serves halal Nepalese food in Tainan; Baboş, a Turkish restaurant in Hsinchu; Aladdin Pakistan Spice Curry Roll in Hualien; and Podo Mora Makan Halal, an Indonesian restaurant in Pingtung.
Those interested in learning more about the religion can visit one of Taiwan’s seven principal mosques. The largest and oldest of these is the Taipei Grand Mosque, which was constructed in 1960 and recognized as a historic site by the city administration in 1999.