Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bunun Hunters Restaurant: Indigenous Specialties in Kaohsiung (Travel in Taiwan)

All the focus is on the food at Kaohsiung’s Bunun Hunters Restaurant (布農族獵人餐廳), where adventurous diners try specialties of the Bunun and Paiwan tribes, including some very exotic dishes.

Tourists who come hoping for the kind of cultural-visual experience some indigenous establishments offer may leave disappointed. The multiethnic staff don’t wear tribal costumes. There’s no stage on which aboriginal entertainers sing or dance for the customers. In terms of decor - apart from the a handful of wild boar and barking-deer skulls, plus some nice woodcarvings - the interior looks much like a thousand other Taiwanese eateries.

Entertainment is provided by a TV. Most of the 40-odd seats are arranged around circular banquet-style tables. If it’s a sunny day - and in Kaohsiung it usually is - consider having your lunch at one of the slate-topped tables on the shaded deck. But if the temperature is above your comfort zone, you’ll find the air-conditioned interior very welcoming.

Visitors who come expecting good food, however, will leave more than satisfied. In the five years he’s been running the restaurant, owner Yibi (一比) has built up a loyal following in this affluent neighborhood near Chengqing Lake (澄清湖), about 7km northeast of downtown Kaohsiung. Yibi is a member of the Bunun tribe, the fourth-largest of the 16 Austronesian ethnic groups recognized by Taiwan’s government. Just over one tenth of the island’s 541,000 indigenous inhabitants are Bunun. Most live in mountainous parts of Kaohsiung City, Hualien County, Nantou County and Taitung County. 

Yibi has a great deal of experience in the restaurant industry. Until mid-2009, he ran two eateries along the South Cross-Island Highway, a road linking Tainan and Kaohsiung in Taiwan’s southwest with Taitung in the southeast. One of his operations was in the hot springs resort of Baolai (寶來). The other was very near where he grew up, in what’s now Kaohsiung City’s Taoyuan District (桃源區, not to be confused with Taoyuan in north Taiwan).

That summer, the region suffered dozens of landslides and serious floods in the wake of Typhoon Morakot. Ever since the disaster, the highest and most scenic stretch of the South Cross-Island Highway has been closed. Visitor numbers dwindled as a result, so Yibi was forced shutter his restaurants. Like many other indigenous residents, he decided to relocate to the lowlands where making a living is easier.

Yibi doesn’t claim to offer absolutely traditional aboriginal fare, emphasizing that when using a gas stove, it’s very difficult to recreate the exact taste of dishes normally cooked on a wood fire. But there’s no doubting his skill and knowledge. He’s much in demand as a teacher of indigenous cuisine in local elementary schools and evening classes...

To read the complete article, go here and click on the cover of the May-June 2015 issue of Travel in Taiwan. The images accompanying the article were taken by Rich J. Matheson; he also took the one above, which doesn't appear in the magazine. 


Cary said...

It seems a bit odd to write up a restaurant and never discuss the dishes except in a vague, relative way. The decor and history are all interesting and appropriate, but when I read about a restaurant what I'm mainly interested is the food, the flavors, the preparation, the presentation and the prices. Have you actually eaten there?

Cary said...

I see now the link to the magazine article, which does cover the cuisine. Sounds very interesting and tasty. Good writeup.

They could do with a better interface for reading the magazine online, though. It doesn't scale up very well.