Taipei, Taiwan 2015/11/21
First, I’d like to say a big thank you to Ruby Wang for organizing and interpreting our Taipei event - we couldn’t have done it without her energetic support and tireless effort. The enthusiasm for vegetarianism in Taiwan is surprisingly huge. There are THOUSANDS of vegetarian restaurants in Taipei and throughout the country. Taiwan is a vegetarian heaven! Taiwanese Buddhists are serious about vegetarianism...so serious that many don’t even eat “provocative” vegetables such as shallots, chives, onions, garlic or cook with wine and other spirits. This restriction posed a new challenge for us as we are ordinarily big fans of these particular flavours.
We did two sessions in Taipei. In the morning we made Tofu Quiche with a rice crust, tomato soup, ‘shiomomi’ salad, and apple pie. In the afternoon we made pizza (everything from scratch - the crust, sauce and the cheese), herb dressing salad and tiramisu (also, everything from scratch). Nearly all of the recipes had to modified to omit “provocative” ingredients, yet still turned out to be remarkably flavourful. Thankfully, suitable ingredients were pretty easy to find and our friends brought us around to do all of the shopping (Thanks Ruby, Gordon and Kris!). In the morning lesson, Meg prepared an impromptu addition of ‘yaki onigiri’ (grilled Japanese rice balls) and everyone absolutely loved it. As always, the apple pie was a big hit. We received an email the next day from a participant who made an apple pie for her family - and her family was very happy!
The lesson was held in a space which used to be a vegetarian cafe called Sophie’s Garden (Thank you Sophie!). The schedule was really tight this time. We arrived at Sophie’s Garden late in the afternoon on a Friday and had to organize everything needed for the lessons which began the next morning at 10:30am. Thankfully, Sophie has a good range of equipment and was happy to keep the vegan lattes flowing. It’s still a bit of a challenge to cook in another person’s kitchen, but It somehow all came together on time.
This time the participants were a good mix of vegetarian, vegan and non-veg people. Most Taiwanese Buddhists avoid the provocative veggies, but consume egg and dairy. Many of the participants are interested in moving towards a more vegan diet but find it hard to transition away from the standard ovo-lacto vegetarian choices. These people were very delighted by our homemade vegan alternatives. One of the non-veg members said “The pizza and tiramisu far surpassed my expectations of vegan food...frankly, I enjoyed the food much more than the wedding dinner that evening at the Ambassador hotel.” We always have a lot of fun in Taiwan thanks to our good friends and the wonderful vegetarian community!
I don’t play sports, but I now very much understand the meaning of home-field advantage. We’ve been teaching vegan cooking lessons in our own kitchen since 2008. This past April (2015), we had the good fortune to teach a group of people in Chengdu, China. Thanks to the support of our friends and the hotel general manager everything came together all right.
We were requested by our host/good friend, Dong Dong, to prepare pizza and tiramisu - both recipes on our regular rotation of homecooked meals and relatively easy to make. All the ingredients are super easy to get here - most of the time we have everything we need regularly stocked. In an unfamiliar setting this is not the case. The language difference proved to be a bit troublesome. Also, the physical properties and availability of key items such as sticky rice powder, fresh tofu and soy milk presented a challenge. Whole soy milk, which can produce tofu, is easy to get in Japan even at your average supermarket. In Chengdu, we had to be at the small specialty tofu shop at 6am to be sure it wasn’t yet sold out. We were surprised to discover that even oregano is an item difficult to find.
We love kitchen gadgets! The kitchen was well equipped, but simple things like a silicone spatula apparently aren’t on the list of essentials. Luckily, the wife of the hotel’s general manager likes to bake and loaned us a boxful of tools and gadgets that saved the day. Next time we won’t strictly adhere to our carry-on only luggage policy and will certainly travel with a well stocked suitcase kitchen! And, the difference in heating quality and cooking time amazingly varies between appliances - the pizzas took about three times longer to cook in the hotel's electric ovens.
About 20 people attended the lesson. Some of the members were English speakers, but most spoke Chinese and our friends DongDong and Yingchu interpreted. As with any event that’s conducted in more than one language, the time needed increases. Surprisingly, none of the members are vegetarian. With the extra ingredients, we made a vegan ‘cheese’ fondue which turned out to be very popular. Hotpot is the local delicacy in Chengdu and fondu is rather similar in eating style.