In the shadow of Taipei 101—the ultimate icon of the modern capital—is Wuxing Street (吳興街). With its daytime vegetable market, grain stores and general victualers, not to mention its thriving nighttime snack stalls, this ancient thoroughfare—now slightly off the main east-west and north-south routes—represents a throwback to former times as well as being an epicurean hunting ground.
Among the area’s innumerable food outlets, there are at least half a dozen vegetarian establishments. These range from a stall selling “red-bean cakes (紅豆餅; which despite the name, also specializes in “custard cakes” 奶油餅 and “radish cakes” 蔡脯餅), and a shop offering meatless stuffed buns (包子), to a family-run eatery selling noodles and soups, and a typical buffet restaurant providing a wide range of cooked vegetables, tofus and fake meats sold by weight.
|Despite the TV, Kelaiyuan is fairly quiet.|
This week’s review, however, is of a popular vegetarian restaurant in Zhuangjing Road (莊敬路), one block north of Wuxing Street. The Kelaiyuan Su Fang (客來源素坊; literally “Customer Source Vegetarian Shop” but no English sign) at No. 268 has a variety of soups and noodles. Most customers also order a least one portion (a maximum of 6 portions is the house rule) of pot-stickers (鍋貼) and dumplings (水餃), however, the house specialty. These snacks, originating in northern China, are usually filled with pork and either cabbage (高麗菜) or Chinese leeks (韭菜). Local diners who have converted to vegetarianism often mourn the absence of these items from their diets and, to be honest, some of the meatless variety found in the city can be pretty bland.
Not so Kelaiyuan’s version, which are crisp where they should be crisp and chewy where they should be chewy (pot-stickers are first fried on the bottom and then steamed on the top). Proprietor Chang Wen-yi (張文議) says he sells about 600-700 every day, at NT$50 for a portion of 8.
|Kelaiyuan pot-stickers: chewy and crispy|
Dumplings are 10 for NT$50, and dumplings in miso, hongshao (soy sauce), spicy, curried or Thai sour-and-spicy soup (湯餃) cost NT$75 per bowl. Soups of the same flavors are NT$45, and corresponding noodle dishes cost NT$60. Side dishes are too numerous to list but include tofus, dried beancurd, seaweed and various boiled leafy greens which, at NT$25 per portion, are among the cheapest in town.
Kelaiyuan has two other establishments in Taipei—one on Bade Road, the other on Nanchang Road—which have almost identical menus. Chang started his branch in Muzha six years ago before moving to the current Xinyi District location three years later. Like most of Taipei’s vegetarian restaurant owners he is a member of the Yiguandao (一貫道) religion but, also like most, does not proselytize his faith.
He is evidently sensitive to environmental and health concerns too, as he has already replaced the melamine-resin bowls with metal ones for the hottest dishes, well in advance of the government’s year-end deadline, and ahead of most of his Wuxing Street neighbors too.
Opening hours: 11:00~14:30, 17:00~20:00; Monday ~ Saturday
No. of seats: 30
NOMM fake meat/processed food index: 3/10
Typical meal price: NT$75~125 per person
Address: 268 Zhuangjing Road, Xinyi District, Taipei City
Tel: (02) 2758 5138
Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011