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 Fruitful Food. 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). It's a sign of how fast things have changed that Minder has gone from my best meal in Taipei to one for when I'm desperate or just don't have time to leave Taipei Main Station.
|a typical pay-by-weight Minder Vegetarian meal (Taipei Main Station branch)|
No, it's Not Vegan!Like virtually all restaurants owned by Buddhists and I Kuan Tao followers, Minder Vegetarian turn a blind eye to their use of dairy products and claim that it's all vegan. They have recently removed the claim that it's all vegan from their website, but staff still frequently claim so, which unfortunately fools many foreign visitors. All fake meats should be assumed to contain dairy (despite assurances from staff otherwise) as should mayonnaise and other milky dressings. The radish cakes, which are usually a delicious and surprisingly satisfying meal when little else is available, contain tiny pieces o f fake meat which is unlikely to be vegan. Sushi also contains fake meat and maiyonnaise. Their stinky tofu is likely to be made with milk in the fermentation process, but it's impossible to know whether or not it's vegan since the restaurant do not reply to queries about dairy products in their food. Tofu is usually ok, however they sometimes use "milk tofu" (curd) which to the untrained eye looks indentical to tofu. Deep fried and heavily dressed tofu is usually ok. Some branches (most notably the Hsinchu branch) pay lip service to vegans by labelling a few dishes as containing dairy, but it's not nearly consistent or reliable enough to be of any use.
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.
Notable BranchesThis 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 MinderThere is a small branch in the B2 foodcourt of Q Square, under Taipei Bus Station, just north of Taipei Main Station and walk-able from the underground maze of 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.
In April (2018) a branch of Veggie Creek has opened in the foodcourt of the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Building (the tall building across the road to the south of Taipei Main Station). So if you have time to eat I recommend going there instead if you have time, since it's all vegan and a much better meal and dining experience overall. If you have time for a quick subway ride it's much better to go to Joy Bar, one stop to the east at Shandao Temple Station, where you can get enough take-out meals for Jiufen and Taroko Gorge. If, however, you need a take-out meal for a train in a hurry then Minder Vegetarian is the best option. Avoid deep-fried foods (which soon spoil because of the steam), separate wet and dry foods, and keep you meal upright in the plastic bag they will provide; otherwise, your meal will quickly become a soggy mess.
Xin Yi Minder (for Taipei 101)
|Minder Vegetarian in Eslite Bookstore (near Taipei 101)|
This restaurant is also open throughout the afternoon, and used to be the closest vegan-friendly restaurant to Taipei 101, but now that a branch of Veggie Creek has opened in the Breeze centre I recommend going there instead. 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
|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 Fruitful Food. 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. 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).