Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Vegan in Taipei

I've been in Taipei for two weeks now and I love it now just as much as I did upon first impressions. It's a real foodie city so of course I've been delving into that side of things and it seems that Tiramisu is the hot trend right now. You can get a rice and soy based version at Vegan Heaven, a raw version at The Green ROOM, and a super authentic coffee-full version with the perfect ratio of cake to cream at Soul R Vegan.

You can also grab a piece at Yummy Vegan House in the Beitou district and at the Xindian branch of Loving Hut. I'm sure there are more delicious variations of this Italian dessert to be found in the city and I'm looking forward to stumbling upon them!

Tiramisu aside Soul R Vegan has become one of my favourite spots to visit in the city. They're at the pricier end of the spectrum because of their location in the Da'an area but the combo of delicious desserts, fun flavoured tea lattes and hot frothy soy milk drinks has me well and truly won over.

Both their rose tea latte and their chocolate brownie, more like a dense nutty cake than a brownie, are well worth the splurge but the tiramisu is where it's at if you only have one chance to stop by.

Disappointingly the service at Soul R Vegan is a bit hit and miss, everyone working there is incredibly friendly, speaks amazing English, and happily answers all of my menu questions, but I definitely find it confusing when your meal comes out with a dessert first, then a drink, then the main part of your meal, followed by another drink and then the second dessert. When Nick and I have been for lunch we've really enjoyed our creamy risottos and sandwich combo plates but on our first visit Nick had almost finished his meal before mine had even arrived and of course he waited a polite amount of time before digging in. I'm not opposed to this in more casual settings but it's not what I'd usually expect from somewhere more upscale. 

Another of my fave's so far is casual neighbourhood joint About Animals where you can get a delicious hot cocoa and a bacon sandwich in an openly queer friendly environment. If you're into craft beers and ciders this is also the place for you. For me though it's all about this sandwich!

Lightly toasted bacon cheese bread piled high with vegan bacon, a hash brown and crispy lettuce and topped off with both a smear of peanut butter and a squeeze of mustard. It's the perfect sandwich and the fries that accompany it are both crisp and excellently flavoured. About Animals is located around the corner from iVegan, Taipei's 100% vegan supermarket, and my favourite place to shop in the city. Not having to read ingredient labels is awesome although I wish that they didn't sell products by companies that test on animals. They do have almost all of the ingredients for a bacon sarnie though which is a definite win but you'll need to make a pit stop at either the Guangfu or RenAi Road Loving Hut branches to score some vegan margarine unless you want to spend 350TWD / £7 / $11 on a tub of Earth Balance.

Another of my go-to iVegan purchases is this sesame seed covered, ketchup drizzled hot dog roll. It's ridiculously cheap, 30TWD / 65p / 90¢, totally delicious and the perfect day trip snack alongside some fruit from iVegan's excellent produce section and a piece of pineapple cake from either Loving Hut or Vegan Heaven. 

This next recommendation isn't food based but you can eat there... mysterious! NanShan theatre is a second-run or second chance cinema and it seems to be the done thing to rock up with a steaming bowl of noodles or a handful of snacks from the closest 7/eleven.

I'd never heard of a second-run cinema until I stumbled upon NanShan but I have fallen head over heels for both the place and the concept. NanShan is situated in a 60's era movie theatre, think slightly less comfy seats than in a brand new theatre and squat toilets in the bathrooms, and they show movies that are no longer on at the regular cinema but that haven't yet been released on DVD. As the weather here has been hovering somewhere in-between rain, rain and more rain since we arrived the cinema is the perfect place to chill after spending the morning walking around one of Taipei's many museums. At 140TWD / £2.90 / $4.20 for a ticket that'll get you into as many movies as you want all day long it's also a solid budget friendly entertainment option. Nan Shan is located on lane 24 off of Tonghuà Street in the Da'an area and it has four screens showing 8 movies throughout the day so the chances of finding something you'll enjoy is high. It's a true Taiwanese experience and I'd highly recommend it. Bonus: Vegan Heaven is only a short walk away so if you have a gap between movies you can fuel up with some of the world's best sugary treats.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Adventures in Taipei!

Oh hi! It's been just over a week since I left Bangkok and arrived in Taipei and I'm loving it here. It's amazing how a change in both pace and climate have reenergised me and reignited my passion for exploring. Whilst I loved the time I spent in SE Asia this past year, 8 fun-packed months in total, I've definitely learnt that hot weather is just not for me in the long term. Good to know! Relentless heat seems to sap my energy in a way that even the darkest winter days don't manage to do and there's only so much exploring I can get done in the heat before I just want to curl up and hide in an air conditioned room or, when I reach breaking point, in another country with much milder weather. This weekend's cold snap aside January in Taipei is very similar to March or April in the south of England, drizzly and around 17°. I find it so much easier to explore a new city wrapped in a few layers and with an umbrella to hand than I do when the mercury is hitting 30° plus every day. 

I'm going to be spending a month in Taipei and this marks the start of a slightly different style of travel for me. Over the next 6 months I'll be spending longer in each place I visit, a month here, a month in Tokyo, a couple of months volunteering at a cat sanctuary, some travel in-between and an open month in South Korea at the end... maybe by then I'll want to be moving constantly again? For now though I've definitely been missing some of the great things that come with being settled somewhere more long term - making friends, cooking breakfast at home, having the occasional chilled day, getting to know somewhere properly, actually unpacking my backpack. And on top of all of that Air B&B style accommodation is cheaper if you stop somewhere for a month or more. 

This is my new street, I love it! I'm definitely still in that stage of being somewhere new where literally every single sign and doorway and shop front is fascinating. I love that feeling! 

It's sometimes hard to know where to base yourself when you've never been somewhere before so a good bet is to pick something within walking distance of a couple of different MRT / metro / tube stations, that way you can get almost anywhere in your new city easily. The MRT here is a really cheap way to get around if you aren't in the mood for walking long distances and one of the first things Nick and I did is sort ourselves out with shiny new Easy Cards. It wasn't as easy as Lonely Planet made it out to be as you can only buy a new Easy Card at stations on the blue line... it took us exploring a couple of red and green line stations before we worked that out though! 

I'm obviously going to write some more in depth posts about being vegan in Taipei but so far so good. Being vegan here is super easy and there are dining options for most budgets. I've also been surprised and totally delighted by how much variation there is in the vegan cuisine here. So far I've enjoyed bubbling, flavourful hot pots, delicate risottos, French macarons, ice cream cakes, huge bowls of ramen heaped with veggies and mock meats, ridiculous sandwiches, great bread, Taiwanese pineapple cake, tiramisu, and some of the best Japanese food I've ever tasted. There's even an all vegan supermarket here and thanks to Instagram I went out last night and met a whole bunch of local vegans who I'm hoping to spend more time with over the coming weeks.

I'm also loving having a tiny but totally perfectly sized kitchen. It has one electric hob, perfect for all of my tofu scramble needs, as well as a microwave and a toaster oven that just fits in two slices of bread. As you can imagine my toast game has been pretty strong this week! There's even a weekend farmer's market just a short walk from my apartment and whilst I don't see myself cooking up anything fancy and veggie-full it's a great place to get some fruit, fresh juice and sweet potatoes which I have grown to love since I've been in Asia.

Another of my favourite things about Taiwan so far is that the people here are so friendly. The Taiwanese people I've met are seriously rivalling Albanians for the much coveted most hospitable people ever crown. It seems like everywhere I go people want to give me free food, advice about where to eat and their telephone numbers just in case I get lost or have a question about Taipei. My Air B&B host even sent her friend round with a rug to cover the tiled floor in the apartment prior to the weekend as the temperatures were set to drop down to 3° and she was worried that we'd have cold feet! Taipei also seems to be a very dog friendly city - everywhere I go I see cute dogs dressed in their winter jackets hanging out with their humans who clearly love them. Best!

Nick and I have a whole spreadsheet of day trips to go on and sights to see but one spot that needed to be ticked off early was Houtong, often known as Houtong cat village! Yeah you read that right, cat village! Houtong is situated about an hour and 20 minutes from Taipei by train. You catch one train from Taipei main station to Ruifang and then change trains and catch another train to Houtong. Obviously it was super cute and as well as actual cats there were cat statues, cat signs, cat shrines, cat based artwork and shops selling cat things. I bought some adorable kitty socks! I think that pictures can do this place more justice than words can...

Im not 100% sure how Houtong became a cat town. It seems like it used to be a mining town but after that industry collapsed a cat loving villager got some volunteers together to look after the abandoned cats and now Houtong has become a whole village of cat lovers as well as a much visited tourist destination. It was such a cute place for a day out! I didn't find any vegan food there though, there isn't even a convenience store, so don't forget to pack some snacks.

Have you travelled in Taiwan before? Is there anywhere that needs to be on my must-visit list? If you want to keep up to date with what I'm eating, thinking and looking at on a daily basis you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram.