All foodies know one of the greatest pleasures of travelling is uncovering the best traditional local cuisine. But sometimes that can be harder (particularly for us vegans) when you’re roaming around places where you can’t speak or read the language. This means that a lot of people sometimes miss out on the very best local cuisines.
Here in Taiwan there is an abundance of both traditional and Western-style vegan food, and some of the very best places aren’t in the bustling CBD, but hidden away off the beaten track. Many traditional style mom and pop Taiwanese vegetarian shops also stick to a very familiar formula, which if you are here for a while, can get a bit tired a bit fast.
So it’s nice to stumble across a place that has a somewhat original take on the classic noodle shop menu items, and where the salt and MSG play more of a bit part, rather than the starring role.
From the outside He Yuan Su is just another neighbourhood vegetarian noodle shop; and while it is just that with a menu that could be almost identical to every other noodle shop, I also think it’s better than the average and one of Greater Taipeis best kept secrets, and the reason is the quality of the food, especially in this price bracket, was above average.
So what’s good for vegans to eat?
Fat Noodle Ma Jiang Mian
While fat noodle is not exactly the correct translation, I like to call things what they are, and these are some fat noodles.
Ma Jiang Mian (Sesame Sauce Noodles) is a classic Taiwanese noodle dish that is essentially boiled noodles served with a Taiwan style sesame paste. The dish is usually served somewhat deconstructed, and the eater stirs the noodles through the water and paste until it forms a sauce that coats the noodles. This dish can be found at 8/10 vegetarian noodle shops in Taiwan and is a delicious, cheap and easy vegan go-to dish that you should remember for wherever you travel in Taiwan.
This particular variation was outstanding, as the sauce had a nice, light and slightly sweet flavour, while going easy on the salt (some places can over do it a bit). The Hakka style flat rice noodle (or fat noodles as I like to call them) had a nice chewy texture that has me totally hooked.
While I’m sure the fat noodle ma jiang is not 100% unique, it was the first time I had chanced it in a local mom and pop vegetarian noodle shop, and this along with the delicious sesame sauce has had me going back multiple times.
On this occasion we also ordered the Angelica soup (a traditional Chinese medicinal herbal soup), a light sesame oil noodle with a braised vegan mince (this was a special when we visited) and all were better than the average with a deeper flavour and a higher quality than what you would normally expect in this price range.
This place is hidden away in the alleys of Shulin, an inner city district South-West of Banqiao. There is no MRT but you there are regular TRA trains departing every 15 minutes from Banqiao or Taipei Main Station and the journey takes about 15-30 minutes. There are several vegetarian eateries in the area around the train station as well as a traditional market with fruits and vegetables.
He Yuan Su (合緣素素食小館)
238, New Taipei City, Shulin District, Lane 20, Section 1, Bao’an St, 4號號
Tuesday – Sunday 10.30am – 7.30pm