Taiwanese chefs and restaurant owners are the new wardens of the island’s aboriginal food traditions.
Taiwan has 16 official aboriginal tribes, and each carry their own history, language and food culture distinct from the rest of Taiwan. There are the Tsou in the Alishan mountains, who live by hunting and gathering; the Amis in Taitung, who farm and raise livestock; the mountain-dwelling Rukai from southern Taiwan; and many others. Aboriginal culture has found new guardians in the form of chefs and business owners, who have returned from working abroad to bring with them new sensibilities and techniques that help spotlight the earth-loving traditions of the local indigenous communities.
This vegetarian restaurant in Taipei, led by head chef Vincent Wang and executive chef Daniel Negreira, highlights foraged vegetables on its rotating menu. Supporting local farmers and aboriginal tribes across Taiwan, the restaurant features seasonal ingredients like fennel head from Yuchi Township in Nantou, white asparagus from Chenghua and horseradish harvested by a tribe in Taichung. Inspired by his grandmother, Vincent says he tries to bring his knowledge of the land and its bounty into Verde’s aesthetic. 401 Ren’ai Rd Section 4, Da’an District, Taipei
Chef Alex Peng, a member of the Rukai aboriginal group, pays homage to his roots with Akame, a compact 19-seater restaurant in the hills of Pingtung County. Akame, meaning “grill” in Alex’s native dialect, offers a menu of grilled dishes made with ingredients sourced from land and sea. Alex, with his brother Sky, who styles and plates the dishes, give aboriginal dining a twist by combining locally foraged herbs and vegetables with ingredients like Parmesan cheese. The hunter-gatherer culture is also apparent: fresh lobster, line-caught fish and local game form the focus in its mains. Foodies are taken on a gastronomic journey around the county. Akame is situated in Rinari, a settlement of just 3,000 inhabitants, and can be easily reached by high-speed train. 8 Lane 17, Gucha Boan St, Haocha Village, Wutai Township, Pingtung County
Da Lu An Aboriginal Humanities Theme Restaurant
Da Lu An, run by owner and movie director La-Wei—himself affiliated with the Amis tribe—is a themed establishment whose unique aboriginal ambience is buoyed by its staff, who are also members of the Amis tribe, Taiwan’s biggest aboriginal group. In celebrating the culture of the Amis, there’s song and dance and a menu that includes homemade rice wine and slow-roasted chicken marinated in native herbs and spices. Da Lu An also delves into recipes from other tribes—a highlight is the cinayu, a Paiwan tribe dish that consists of pork and millet wrapped in the leaves of a rare native plant. 369 Ren’ai Rd Section 2, Linkou District, New Taipei City
This article first appeared in the August 2019 issue of Smile magazine.