Sunday, 20 April 2014

iVegan: Taiwan's First Vegan Supermarket

iVegan is a few minutes walk from Wanlong Station

 iVegan is Taiwan's first all-vegan supermarket. If you live in Taipei it's your one-stop shop for all your grocery needs, including fresh fruit and veggies, packaged goods, frozen foods, fresh baking, cleaning and body care products and even housewares.

iVegan opened its doors in August 2013, but I only made it for my first visit in April 2014, a fleeting visit before I left for the airport. I was expecting a small grocery store, but found a large, busy supermarket.

I had just enough time to whip around with my camera and stock up on Taiwanese tea (expensive and hard to find in Japan) and enough green curry paste to last me until I next return to Taiwan. Even in my short and rather limited shopping spree, it was most enjoyable, if a little strange (almost unnerving) to not need to check the ingredients of anything. It just didn't feel right to not have to check the curry paste for shrimp.

iVegan is in the basement of a mostly residential area, but it's well-signposted and just a hop, skip and a jump from Wanlong Station, just six stops from Taipei Main Station on the Green MRT line.

In such a fleeting visit I didn't get to ask the staff much about the supermarket, but the photos and title should speak for themselves/

Organic Foods
iVegan has a small organic selection with a wide assortment of products.

I'd never seen some of these products, like liquid amino acids.

Dairy Alternatives
In the past imported dairy alternatives were difficult to find, except for locally-produced soymilk and tofu. I used to buy imported soymilk from Jasons grocery store (under Taipei 101 and in Hsinchu) but these soymilk outings are no longer necessary.

I used to bring mayonnaise back from Japan.
Indian Foods
iVegan sells both frozen and packaged Indian goods.
frozen Indian foods
packaged Indian snacks

Baked Goods
iVegan sells pizza from Veggie Joy and baked products from Fresh Bakery.

various frozen products, including pizza from Veggie Joy

baked goods from Fresh Bakery.

Cleaning and Body Care Products
All products sold at iVegan are strictly vegan, so far as they don't contain any animal ingredients. However the store takes a pragmatic line on animal testing, since many customers off the street will expect to be able to buy conventional cleaners (at conventional prices) and it's difficult to find out about animal testing, especially of third-party ingredients (which most cleaners are made from) and for locally-produced products. IVegan avoids products from the big companies with the worst reputations (Unilever, Proctor & Gamble etc) and of course they support non animal-tested products as much as possible, but they do sell products from local suppliers as long as they don't contain animal ingredients. The store aims to improve its animal testing policy in the future, and welcomes suggestions on how it can achieve this. I didn't specifically check, but I'm sure there are enough products from reputable vegan suppliers that buying everything non-animal tested would not be a problem.

iVegan has a large variety of vegan (and cruelty-free) body care products.

iVegan Opening Hours
07:00 - 22:00 (every day)
Phone: 02 2935 0900

To get to iVegan take the subway to Wanlong Station (six stops from Taipei Main station on the green line). It's a 250m walk from Exit 1. Car parking is available and according to Google it's about a 20 minute drive from Taipei Main Station.

These signs will point you in the right direction if you get lost.

About Animals 

Near iVegan is a new(ish) bar / restaurant About Animals. While many vegan business choose not to include vegan or animal-friendly references in the name to attract non-vegan customers, which often makes good sense on many levels, it's also refreshing to see a business which does, and nothing can be more direct than the name of this restaurant.

About Animals is clearly run by animal rights activists, and according to its Happycow listing it also serves as a space for activist photography and events. It is probably the place to go to meet animal rights activists in Taipei.

Unfortunately I visited before About Animals opened, but the owner kindly let me see inside. It feels (as much as I could tell while it was closed) like more of a bar than a restaurant, though I'm sure it serves excellent food as well, and look forward to trying it when I'm next in Taipei. When I first came to Taiwan I missed being able to order an alcoholic drink with my meal (as most vegetarian restaurants are run by people who follow religious or spiritual teachings which prohibit alcohol). It no longer concerns me, but if you would like a drink with your meal in Taipei then head to About Animals. You'll probably meet some activists, and you can stock up on your favourite hard-to-find vegan groceries while there. It's quite small, so it's probably better to stock up at iVegan after your meal.

About Animals is also a hop skip and a jump from Wanlong Station, but from Exit 2 (the other side of Roosevelt Rd from iVegan). Unfortunately to get there from the station you'll need to walk past a traditional butcher's shop to get there, and I saw whole pigs heads on sale. Perhaps it's a good reminder for non-vegans to go vegan after they visit About Animals.

About Animals Opening Hours
Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun 14:00 - 23:30

View iVegan (vegan supermarket) & About Animals (restaurant) in a larger map

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Fresh Bakery

 Fresh is Taiwan's first all-vegan bakery. It produces a sumptuous and ever-growing range of breads, cakes and other baked items, and also a small but delicious range of meals, including international dishes not easily found elsewhere in Taiwan.

There are plenty of cakes for sale.

The vegan owner, Ravi, was born in India and is a long-time resident of Taiwan. He started the bakery as a side project to his main business (clothing) because he wanted to be able to buy good quality vegan baking for his family but was unable to find any; hence came Fresh in January 2013.

If the number of customers passing through during my couple of hours spent here in October 2013 is anything to go by, word has clearly got around the vegan community that this is the place to come for baked goods, and more.

Did I take enough photos of the cakes?

But it's not just vegans coming from afar. Fresh doesn't openly state its items are all vegan, and most customers don't realise, at least to begin with. This ensures that passers-by aren't put off before they find out that their favourite items from their local bakery are all vegan.

Who would know this was all vegan?

As well as the baked goods for which it's clearly most popular (with vegans and non-vegans), Fresh also serves a delicious range of Indian, Taiwanese and Western meals, including pizza and Indian curries - two meals I tend to crave after a while without them, both of which are hard to find vegan in Taiwan (pizza can be had at @Peace Cafe and Veggie Joy).

It's not just the baking: Soy Chai and an authentic Indian curry - guaranteed free of ghee - are not easy to find anywhere. They also serve pizza.

It's well worth checking out their facebook page for latest products and offers. These photos were taken in October 2013, and many more new products have since been introduced.

This cake was delicious.

Fresh is open Monday - Saturday, from 11:30am - 8:30pm. To get there, take the blue subway line to Kunyang Station. Take Exit 4, then cross the road and walk left. And as the directions on the facebook page say, follow your nose (literally) from there.

View Fresh Bakery (Vegan Taiwan) in a larger map

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Loving Vegan Buffet

Loving Vegan  Buffet Restaurant, Hsindian

 Taiwan has many thousands of simple pay-by-weight buffets, most of which serve similar dishes based on tofu, fake meats and fresh vegetables, and while living in Taiwan I used to eat at them almost daily. Most are run by Buddhists and followers of I Kuan Tao, and as such serve dairy products, and /or egg, so fake meats should be treated as suspect. Nonetheless, these buffets offer an extremely convenient, affordable and reasonably healthy option for a simple meal, and it would be hard to be more than a few blocks from one in any Taiwanese city. At such places, expect minimal (but friendly) service, and always take your own plates to the disposal place, often out on the street.

Besides these buffets, Taiwan is also famous for its five-star all-you-can-eat buffets, such as my favourite Evergreen Vegetarian. These are fine-dining establishments, and meal prices can reach up to 1000NT (excellent value for what you get, especially if spending foreign currency).

The Loving Vegan is one of a few buffets which offers an 'all-you-can-eat' deal of the typical dishes found at the more humble buffets, at an excellent price of only 120 TWDs. And the best thing: it's all vegan, so there's no need to worry about what's in the fake meat.

all the old-time buffet favourites, just guaranteed vegan and only 120NT.

 If you live in Taiwan, this place provides an exceptionally good-value meal, if you are in the area (thought it's probably too far from central Taipei to make it worth doing regularly). And if you're visiting Taipei it's an opportunity to try all the traditional Taiwanese dishes found at common buffets, without worrying about egg, dairy or worse in your fake meat.

Loving Vegan is located a few minutes walk from MRT Xindian District Office Station, the second-to-last stop on the green line. It would combine very well with a trip up to @Peace Cafe in the Xindian Mountains, with perhaps one either side of an explore around Bitan Lake. Together these would be well worth an afternoon's outing for anyone spending a few days or longer in Taipei.

Opening Hours: 10:30-2:30; 5:00-8:30 (everyday).
Phone: (02) 2915 9026

View Loving Vegan Restaurant in a larger map

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


Vege Creek, Guanfu, Taipei

Vege Creek is a new vegan restaurant close to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, not far from the Guangfu Loving Hut. A tiny, slick and stylish establishment, it combines modern minimalism in its simplicity with an enormous array of possible meals, with all ingredients hand-picked by the customer for a unique and delicious meal. It's run by two young men who saved money on working holidays in Australia, and returned to Taiwan to set up Vege Creek. It recently featured in the Taipei Times, Taiwan's leading English-language newspaper.

You know your meal's going to be fresh when it starts with choosing your vegetables from here...

Customers first choose fresh vegetables off a wall, and then select additional ingredients, such as tofu, mushrooms etc, and place them in a basket. They then choose a card for a type of noodle, and take these to counter to pay. The chef then uses a small kitchen behind the counter and a lot of skill and flair to whip these up into a one-pot wonder in a matter of minutes.

and then additional ingredients from here...

In many ways, Vege Creek employs the cook-to-order section from the large all-you-can-eat buffets (such as my favourite Evergreeen) and makes a restaurant out of it. Almost frightening in its simplicity, it's hard to believe that no one I know of has done it before, in Taiwan or elsewhere.

and then finally a card from here to determine the type of noodle . My lucky dip scored me glass noodles cooked to perfection in a broth of Chinese medicinal herbs.

The cards for the type of noodle will affect the meal significantly, and the waitress, who speaks good English, kindly explained what was what each was, but I soon forgot, and just chose one at random. Sometimes it's nice to have that option. My green bean noodles didn't disappoint. All meals are cooked in a simple, healthy broth of in salt, pepper and traditional Chinese medicinal herb. A simple hot sauce is also available, and well worth it if, like me, you like things 'la4' (spicy). April 2014 update: these now have English translations, so no lucky dip is necessary. 

I visited mid evening on a Tuesday, and the restaurant enjoyed a steady turnover, and was full for much of the time I was there. One customer walked in and asked if it was all vegetarian - more out of curiosity it seemed than either relief or disappointment - and then proceeded to order with her partner. This is all not bad for a jaunt less than a year old (established Dec 2012).

Take these to the counter to pay. It then takes the chef only a few minutes to turn these...

In keeping with their simple menu, Vege CREEK does not serve desserts. So if you feel like a little more after your meal (depending on how many ingredients you choose) one option is to go to the Guang Fu Loving Hut for dessert. However, do NOT let this be your only visit there, as the Hotpot experience at the Guang Fu Loving Hut should be high on any visiting vegan's itinerary. Alternatively, go to the Loving Hut for lunch and Vege Creek for dinner (or vice versa) either side of a trip to Taipei 101.

into this! It was cooked to perfection, down to the last piece of vege.

My meal cost 205NT, which is very good value for a specially-prepared meal in such an upmarket neighbourhood.

Hours: open every day 12:00 - 2:00, 17:00 - 21:00
Directions: MRT to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Station (Exit 1) 

View Vege Creek (Vegan Taiwan) in a larger map

Friday, 6 September 2013

Minder Vegetarian Restaurants

Minder Vegetarian are a chain of restaurants are run by the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation (more in this post). While they are not strictly vegan they are often a very good option for a lunch or dinner on the go.

Minder Vegetarian span an interesting (and clearly very successful) zone in the vegetarian restaurant market between the cheap and simple pay-by-weight buffets found in every neighbourhood and the large, all-you-can-eat fine dining establishments like Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant. Their pay-by-weight buffets which are slightly more upmarket than most others, and their all-you-can-eat buffets - sometimes located on the second floor - are slightly cheaper and less posh than the likes of Evergreen.  They are always clean, and food always tastes fresh, and I used to eat at them quite regularly. A large pay-by-weight meal generally runs to about 200 Taiwan dollars.

Besides two nightmarket stands, Minder Vegetarian Restaurant in Hsindian was my first vegetarian restaurant in Taiwan, which a colleague kindly took me to after I told her how difficult it was to find vegetarian food in Taipei. I still remember the "Oh yes... this is what I had expected in Taiwan, but haven't been able to find" feeling, and still enjoy going back to that restaurant for that reason (as well as the food).

a typical pay-by-weight Minder Vegetarian meal (Taipei Main Station branch)

While there is still a lot of uncertainty around the fake meat situation in Taiwan, I would be inclined to trust a large Buddhist organisation than an unknown restaurant or vendor. However, being Buddhist they do use dairy products, and being a little upmarket they use more than most, especially mayonnaise. They don't label what contains dairy, and never responded to an email from me asking them which dishes are vegan. So it's generally necessary to avoid all dishes containing fake meat, sushi (which often has mayonnaise, if not fake fish too) and many others with a white sauce (which is generally obvious) but this still leaves plenty of safe vegetable-based dishes to try. They don't use egg, however  they do sometimes make 'fake' eggs which look disturbingly real (but aren't).  

 One problem is that sometimes they serve "milk tofu" (curd). It looks a bit different to 'real' tofu, and is generally served with little if any sauce or dressing. I don't have a photo, and this description isn't really enough, so if in doubt ask the staff so you can avoid it. I will try to get a photo eventually.

I wouldn't suggest going out of your way to eat at a Minder Vegetarian Restaurant, but there will probably be a time that it's very convenient.

Please note the signs which request (according to Buddhist philosophy) not to talk while taking the food. It's a terrible look when foreigners come in chatting away about how great to food is (or which products contain dairy, or whatever), oblivious to the Taiwanese watching on unimpressed but too polite to say anything.

This list includes branches likely to be of interest to travellers or expatriates, but is not complete. Further stores, and locations and opening hours can be found on their website (in Chinese only, but the opening hours can be read).

Taipei Main Station

Minder Vegetarian Restaurant, 2nd Floor, Taipei Main Station

This is a small, very busy restaurant. Like some other Minder restaurants, but unlike most other buffets, it is open all day (from 11AM) so there's no scraping the bowls at 1:30 or waiting hungrily through the afternoon until it opens for dinner.

If you need a take-out meal for a train in a hurry this is the place to go. I personally prefer to make a run to the Huaning Loving Hut if time permits, but will sometimes eat here if I've already been to a Loving Hut that day, or if I don't have time. If you do get a take-out meal beware of too many sauces, keep it upright in the plastic bag, and use the compartments in the take-out boxes to separate dry dishes from ones with sauces, otherwise your meal will quickly become a soggy mess. And just in case, don't put it in your backpack, for the same reason.

It's located in the foodcourt on the second floor of Taipei Main Station, which runs around the perimeter of the building, and can be reached by any stairs from the ground floor. I find it very confusing, and just wander around the foodcourt until I find it. If in doubt, ask someone for 明德素食園.

Xin Yi (for Taipei 101)

Minder Vegetarian in Eslite Bookstore (near Taipei 101)

This restaurant is also open throughout the afternoon, and is the closest vegan-friendly restaurant to Taipei 101. As this post says, don't bother with the Taipei 101 foodcourt, unless you want to stock up on (expensive) groceries at Jasons. Note that it's on the way to Taipei 101 from Taipei City Hall MRT Station (the closest station) so consider going on your way to or from Taipei 101.

Hsindian (Xindian)

Minder Vegetarian, Hsindian Branch

This original Minder Vegetarian Restaurant is one of their most upmarket. The food here is especially good, and it has a simple but very pleasant interior. There is also an all-you-can-eat buffet upstairs, with extra dishes, more like the other all-you-can-eat buffets such as Evergreen. The interior upstairs is more posh than downstairs, and of course it's nicer to be able to go back for seconds without worrying about paying again, especially if dining with a group for a special occasion. However, it's considerably more expensive than paying by weight downstairs.

If this will be your only opportunity to try an all-you-can-eat buffet, I would consider it, but otherwise I would just eat downstairs and save that experience for Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant.

More information on this branch and another in the hospital itself can be found in my post on Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital.

Minder Vegetarian, Hsinchu Branch

While living in Hsinchu, before the new vegan Japanese restaurant, I used to eat here at least every other night, to the point that I got quite sick of it. But it's offers a well-balanced, well-priced meal that then was quite difficult to find in Hsinchu. It's only open for lunch and dinner (10:30-14:00 and 16:00-20:00) but they may start running out of the best dishes before that time, and of course the food isn't as good if it's been sitting around for a long time.

The Hsinchu branch also has an upstairs all-you-can eat buffet. But again it costs a lot more than eating downstairs, for similar food (better presented, again with more variety). For a more upmarket dining experience in Hsinchu I would try the Miracle Green House, but I haven't made it there myself yet. For a map and more on Hsinchu, see this post.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital & Medical Care in Taiwan

Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital, Hsindian, Taipei

I have a very low opinion of the conventional medical establishment, because, having being dominated by the all-powerful pharmaceutical corporations for over a century, I believe that its primary focus is on dispensing expensive and animal-tested (and often sourced) drugs to sick people, rather than encouraging people to stay healthy. I believe that with a healthy vegan diet (and vitamin B-12 supplementation, and perhaps vitamin D for those who don't get enough sunlight), and with adequate rest and exercise, most people should stay very healthy most of the time, including into old age, and only need to visit doctors occasionally. That said, it never hurts to have a check-up, and most people will need doctors (if only for advice) or dentists occasionally, and this post is for those times.

Taiwan has one of the world's best public health insurance schemes in the world, and while it has had some financial problems in recent years, it ensures that everyone in the country receives world-standard healthcare when needed. The compulsory health-insurace scheme is government run, and workers contribute different amounts according to their income. Most visits for simple ailments or illnesses are very cheap, and an hour or so's dental work generally costs a few hundred Taiwan dollars (under twenty US dollars).

In New Zealand, citizens pay for the national healthcare system through high taxes, however the standard is so low, and waiting lists for basic operations so long, that people often opt to pay for their life-saving operations or other procedures at private hospitals, and private health insurance is very popular for those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford it. In Taiwan, the insurance subsidy can be used at any hospital, so if one chooses to use a private hospital, the excess paid on the visit is slightly higher, but most is still covered by insurance. And I've never heard of waiting lists either.

I recommend Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital in Hsindian (also Xindian), southern Taipei. The Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation (Wikipedia) (literally 'compassionate relief' carries out lots of charitable work in Taiwan and abroad. It boasts over 10 million members in 47 countries. A year ago I stumbled upon a centre in Kuala Lumpur underneath a vegetarian restaurant, where a visiting Taiwanese was delivering a lecture to a large crowd. They also hold a booth at the Tokyo Vegetarian Festival every year. While both groups seemed especially popular with Taiwanese residents, the group are very welcoming to everyone, and while I have never become involved in the group myself, doing so may offer a good opportunity to carry out meaningful charitable work around the world, and meet compassionate, like-minded vegetarians in the process. The organisation also runs educational facilities across Taiwan, and they also run a program to produce quality clothing from recycled PET bottles, which is for sale at a shop in the hospital.

An advertisement for Taiwan as a destination for medical tourism,
Shanghai Pudong Airport, China

The standard of medical care in Taiwan (perhaps especially at Tzu Chi) is in some ways very high: if you need a certain medical procedure you can expect to get it, from a well-qualified doctor, using safe, modern equipment, in good time. Doctors in Taiwan study from western medical textbooks, so they generally speak good 'textbook English'. Prices might not be as low as Thailand, but for the quality of care, Taiwan may be a possible destination for medical tourism.

Perhaps a reflection of the large population and efficiency mindset, while 'medical' standards are high (conventionally speaking), expect little if any support or interest in holistic healthcare, and a strong emphasis on prescribing drugs (perhaps even stronger than in western countries). Doctors seem to be obliged to prescribe something even if it's totally unnecessary (placebo effect perhaps, or pressure from pharmaceutical corporations?). I usually ask "What will happen if I don't take this?" and they say "Nothing - it's ok if you don't take it, but you still need to collect it before you pay and leave."

I once woke up with an itchy foot, which had a tiny mark, and I found a small insect in my room. A little worried, I took a photo of the insect and showed my foot and the photo to a doctor at Tzu Chi hospital. She didn't seem concerned at all, so neither was I. But she did write me a prescription, so as usual I asked if it mattered if I didn't take it and she said that wouldn't matter, and then sent me on my way. As I got up to leave, I said something like "Thank you. And by the way, just out of curiosity, what do you think happened to my foot?" Her reply: "I don't know. If you want to know that, you'll need to see a dermatologist." And then she began writing me a referral form to see a dermatologist (which I declined).

Vegetarian foodcourt, basement, Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital, Hsindian, Taipei

Perhaps the best thing about Tzu Chi hospital is its all-vegetarian foodcourt underneath, including a large branch of the Minder Vegetarian chain (which I think is owned by the Tzu Chi foundation). Elsewhere in the hospital is a vegetarian Starbucks. Beware that, being Buddhist, many of the small restaurants use dairy products, so all fake meat should be assumed to contain dairy products. Also, don't expect doctors to be vegetarian (or members of the organisation at all), or not to prescribe drugs derived from or tested on animals.

Vegan options from Minder Vegetarian, basement foodcourt of Tzu Chi Hospital

There is also a Traditional Chinese Medicine section in the hospital, and TCM is also covered by the national health insurance scheme. While I have generally been rather cynical of TCM, I once stumbled upon a TCM clinic (not at this hospital) and didn't realise until I'd already paid and was about the see the doctor. I have to say that I was very impressed with their care (which was effective, and probably not placebo) but that's another story. My understanding is that most TCM doctors are also trained in western medicine. While it's probably not as bad as all the animal testing by pharmaceutical companies, beware that many TCM products are derived from animals (including insects) so it's important to specify you don't want these to the doctor.

My TCM experience: Keeping this herbal medicine-soaked bandage on all day, and going back to the clinic every evening to have it changed was a little tiresome, but it was certainly preferable to the massive dose of antobiotics I'd have been sure to receive from a conventional doctor.

 Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital is about a ten minute walk from Dapinglin Station on the green (Xindian) line. Take Exit 1. The walk is not very pleasant, especially on a hot day, due to lack of functional footpaths and fish restaurants with live fish on display along the way. There is a regular shuttle bus from the station to the hospital, butI generally prefer to walk it than to share a bus with lots of sick people. There is a Starbucks outside Exit 1.

This Minder Vegetarian branch, a short walk from Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital, was my first vegetarian restaurant in Taiwan (after a stall at the Gong Guan Night Market).

If you don't feel like dining at a hospital, another branch of Minder Vegetarian is within walking distance, and only a slight detour from the walk back to the station. It also has an all-you-can eat section upstairs. It's more expensive than the pay-by-weight option on the first floor, but not as elaborate (or expensive) as Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant.

View Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital (Hsindian) in a larger map

While you're in Hsindian, consider a trip up to Garden City to visit @Peace Cafe. It's in a much more beautiful setting than a hospital (even an all-vegetarian one run by a worthy Buddhist foundation) and there's no need to worry about what's in your fake meat: @Peace Cafe is run by disciples of Supreme Master Ching Hai, so is strictly vegan. Here is my blog post about it.

Pizza from @Peace Cafe (Summer 2012). It's well worth the trip up the hill while in Xindian.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Maokkong Gondola

The Maokong Gondola offers specatular views of the Taipei Basin, especially at dusk.

The Maokong Gondola carries passengers 4km into the Maokong Hills, famous for tea houses and beautiful views of Taipei.

It feels like quite an escape from the city.

Maokong used to grow tea for Taipei, and while some tea plantations remain (many it seems for aesthetic purposes) most tea is brought in from further afield, with the best tea in Taiwan coming from Alishan and Lishan.

Taipei 101 and Zhinan Temple (which has its own gondola stop)

 A trip up Maokong Gondola, a walk in the hills and an afternoon preparing and sipping Taiwanese tea watching the sun set over Taipei makes for a very enjoyable day's outing.

tea plantations, Cherry Blossoms and a teahouse to enjoy then from

The French-built gondola system has been plagued by technical and economic problems from the beginning, including some rather disturbing erosion of the pillar foundations, and at one point it was closed for two years, during which time several pillars were relocated. My understanding is that the French engineers didn't factor in the typhoons and other weather extremes Taiwan is regularly subjected to.

The sun sets over the Maokong Hills. The Gondola and the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Building (near Taipei Main Station) are visible.

 One noticeable example of this for passengers is that there is no ventilation or cooling system in the cars - perhaps unnecessary in Paris, but a good idea for Taipei in summer! One idea suggested is to place solar panels on the roofs, and use these to power fans in the cars. It should be noted that while there have been closures and safety concerns, there have never been any injuries or fatalities, and it is considered safe to ride.

Maokong has some colourful wildlife.

Environmentally speaking the project has also been controversial from the start, with some environmental groups opposing its construction. While all infrastructure affect the environment (increased litter is one concern raised) a gondola has a relatively low footprint (literally and figuratively) and is certainly better for the environment than buses up and down the mountain (which still run).  A better option environmentally speaking (assuming the extra food you'll need to eat to make up for the lost calories you'll burn come from locally-produced vegan food) is to hike from Cheng Chi university, a beautiful walk. As the gondola is used by locals to commute to Taipei, prices are incredibly cheap, at 50NT (~$2) each way (not including the MRT trip to reach it).

The ubiquitous Taipei 101 as seen Maokong

Unfortunately as of my last visit there are no vegetarian restaurants in Maokong, so it's best to eat before going, and just enjoy the tea in the teahouses. (There used to be a vegetarian stall in a food market just outside the exit, but it appears to have gone.)

Unfortunately this Buddhist food stand (from 2010) seems to have gone. Please let me know if it re-appears - Xie xie.

One good option would be to eat at the Mikai Loving Hut, close to Nanjing East Road Station, which is also on the Neihu/Wenshan (brown) MRT line, one stop north of ZhongXiao Fuxing. Note that they often close during the weekends, and their opening hours (from their website) are as specified: "Closed on the second Saturday and the first, second and third Sundays of every month." It is open on the fourth and (when applicable) the fifth Sundays each month, but will then close the following Tuesday." It's probably a good idea to call and check they're open (02 2545-6100).

Alternatively, the Thai Cuisine Vegetarian Restaurant is open daily for lunch (11:30-14:00) and dinner (17:30-21:00). It's almost on the way, being a short walk from Shandao Temple Station, or just from Taipei Main Station.

To get there, take the Bannan (blue) line to Zhongxiao Fuxing, and then transfer to the Wensha (brown) Line to Taipei Zoo Station (the last stop). (The zoo and the gondola are separate entities, despite all being located close together). There are three stops along the gondola route, including Zhinan Temple (visible from the gondola), however note that if it's busy and the cars are full  you may have difficulty getting back on if you get off at any of the other stops.