Hungry? Just Look for a Swastika

By Tooker Gomberg and Angela Bischoff, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Eating veggie-style in Taiwan.

Being a vegetarian in Taiwan has been a shock. As we roam the bustling streets we’re assaulted by heaps of octopus tentacles, piles of dead frogs, boiling pools of entrails, and hanging carcasses. Dogs and even rats can end up on the dinner plate.

Ask a kid what their favourite food is, and the answer will likely be fish eyes.

Not that we ask. We can hardly speak any Chinese. It’s a tricky language – not only do you need to know the word, but the inflection is key. So when we’re hungry we wander around keeping our eyes open.

One night we settled on an outdoor restaurant across the street from the joint serving cobra soup. First we had a quick look at the live serpents in the metal cages, feeling a little fear for our friends in the animal kingdom.

We pointed to some noodles and some veggies, and it all went soaring into the wok for quick cooking. Good thing that we only noticed afterwards that the cook’s hands were smothered in blood from all the meat.

We’re staying in a hostel in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city. Sherry, our native-born neighbour across the hall, took us for a walk and to our delight introduced us to a several veggie restaurants.

How do you recognize them? A swastika, believe it or not. To us it symbolized evil and extermination. But Buddhists have been using the swastika, actually its mirror image, since long before the Nazis appropriated it.

We feasted on tasty dumplings, rice, noodles, tofu stew, and stir-fried veggies at one of the vegetarian market stalls. Well, it wasn’t totally veggie – there was a small worm in Ange’s bowl of rice. When she showed it to the cook he just grabbed it and tossed it to the ground. Case closed.

In another eatery, while eating a scrumptious meat-free meal, we noticed a rat scurry by. Would a Buddhist kill it? We were certain, at least, that it wouldn’t end up dead on our plates.

Meat eaters may crave their golden arches. But if you’re a vegetarian in Taiwan, where they’re growing in numbers, just look for the swastika. You’ll eat well.


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