Today at lunchtime I foraged in the maze of lanes just north of National Taiwan University. A humble Buddhist vegetarian buffet beckoned; unlike American buffets, Taiwan’s are generally very fresh and very cheap.

This little restaurant, staffed by serene women in eyeglasses and aprons, featured meatless Buddhist dishes. Long before tofurkey, rich and savory flavors and textures in Asian vegetarian cooking have used a wide variety of fungi (lovely mushrooms of every shape and color and those crunchy black delights termed ‘mu er’ or ‘tree ears’), tofu in every form imaginable and some never imagined (silky, crunchy, in noodly ribbons), and an ingenious selection of wheat gluten nuggets in sauces sweet, salty, and spicy.

Rubbing shoulders with students and monks, I loaded my plate with delicious food for the US equivalent of $3. Nirvana.


Vegetarian Buddhist buffet. A happy sight for hungry eyes!


No one can prepare cabbage like the Chinese. When it’s fresh and cooked just enough, it retains a hint of sweetness.


Chinese stewed boiled eggs: salty, savory, satisfying.


Lotus root with red chiles; a lovely delicate flavor with slightly nutty overtones.


Crunchy ‘tree ear’ fungus with red chiles.


At least four different kinds of mushrooms evoke flavors of secret forests in Taiwan’s mountain heart.


Stir fried tofu chunks in a sweet and sour sauce.


Carrots, edamame, and tofu shreds in a light gravy.


Mysterious sheets of tofu, just a bit chewy with nice star anise flavors.