For some years, Sandimen in Pingtung County has been known as an excellent place to seek out and purchase art works and handicrafts produced by Taiwan’s indigenous Austronesian minority. A bastion of the Paiwan tribe, this compact hillside town is home to artists and artisans who work with wood, stone, leather, fabric and other materials. It's also a great place for sampling aboriginal culinary specialties.
The Paiwan number almost 98,000; the tribe is Taiwan’s second largest aboriginal ethnic group. Sandimen can be considered the northwestern outpost of the Paiwan, who also inhabit townships in Taitung County, on the other side of the Central Mountain Range. Reaching the busiest part of the township involves a short but steep drive up from Shuimen, a lowlands community separated from the mountains by the Ailiao River.
Many tourists park, then browse the souvenir shops which line the main road. A few may wander into the backstreets, where they’ll hopefully follow the bilingual signs to, or simply stumble across, Sha Tao Zazurite Art Studio. In addition to being one of the area’s best glass-bead workshops, this store is the home base of a renowned indigenous dance troupe.
If visitors feel hungry, there’s a good chance they’ll buy a portion of sliced pork or some sausages from one of the town’s stone-barbecue stands. Rather than cook on a metal grill over charcoal, these vendors place choice cuts on a slate slab heated from beneath. Because the juices don’t immediately drain off, the meat is basted as well as roasted. For hardcore carnivores, the results are exquisite.
Visitors who like to head beyond Sandimen toward breathtakingly scenic Wutai know there’s a better eating option a minute or two further along Highway 24, the road which links these two indigenous townships to Freeway 3 and Pingtung City. It’s called Qiu Yue’s Restaurant, and in keeping with the township’s creative leanings, it was originally an artist’s workshop. Located just inland of the km24 marker, Qiu Yue’s takes its name from and is managed by Ms. Li Qiu-yue. Surprisingly, given the role she plays in the local community, Ms. Li isn’t Paiwan. She’s not even an aborigine. Like approximately four-fifths of Taiwan’s population, she’s a descendant of migrants from mainland China’s Fujian province. In addition to being an industrious promoter of local culture and a gracious host, Ms. Li is the wife of a prominent Paiwan carver-illustrator, and the mother of an up-and-coming artist.
Her husband is Sakuliu Pavavalung. If that name seems very different to others you’ve come across while reading about Taiwan, it’s because it’s a true Austronesian name. Sakuliu means “arrowhead” in Paiwan. The majority of native people still use the Han Chinese surnames foisted by the authorities onto their parents or grandparents soon after World War II. Sakuliu, however, is one of a growing number of aborigines who’ve taken advantage of a special law to “fully restore” his tribal name. A parallel movement is demanding that certain Austronesian place names be restored.
Sakuliu, a man of many talents, created many of the decorations which now adorn the restaurant. Among them is a set of alluringly asymmetrical chairs he made two decades ago. Each is hybrid of iron and wood, but the blend of materials is isn’t so much an artistic statement as a reflection of that period’s economic realities. “Back then, iron was cheaper than now, and the government was very strict about people taking large pieces of wood out of the forests,” Ms. Li explains.
A master potter to boot, Sakuliu can often be seen at the restaurant, when work isn’t calling him to other parts of Taiwan. These days he’s much in demand. If you’ve flown between Taiwan and New Zealand recently, you may well have come very close to one of his largest works...
To read the rest of the article, which includes a description of some of the dishes on the menu and the restaurant's address, click here - or pick up the November/December issue from a visitor information center.