There are many good reasons for a short break and fine dining in Pingtung on raw tuna is one of them. The world's sashimi aficionados fly in every year around this time and join Taiwanese around the table for the thin slices of fish that dissolve on the tongue and recharge the body.
The Japanese, in particular, go crazy for the fatty meat of the migratory bluefin tuna that returns annually to its spawning area off Taiwan's southern and eastern coasts. The fish couple in the moonlight, to avoid the attention of predators in daytime, and the male fish jump out of the water to attract females. After a two-week period, the tuna shoal up again and swim northward, as far as California, riding on the northern currents.
Thunnus thynnus is one of the biggest fish in the seas, growing up to 3m in 20 years and weighing as much as 600kg. Its reddish meat is different from the white meat found in most cans of tuna and is so highly prized that it can fetch up to NT$8,000 a kilogram (though it usually sells for NT$1,500).
PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES
Overfishing to the point where the number of bluefin of breeding age has fallen below the level for species survival also gives it a scarcity value. Every year President Chen Shui-bian (
In Tungkang there is a museum dedicated to the bluefin tuna industry and the harbor, which would have been more useful to foreign tourists if it had English translations. There is also the visitor attraction of Dapeng Bay, which has boat rides, bird spotting and bunkers dating from before World War II, in addition to an enormous wooden boatplane that rises above the bay and houses a cafe and viewing platform.
But there is more to Pingtung than tuna and a trip around the county should take in the hotspot of Kenting for water sports and some rest and relaxation on the beaches of Kenting National Park. There is also the newly developed ocean entertainment route along the western coast, or "Blue Way," connecting Tungkang with places of interest like Little Okinawa, Haiko and Fengliao: good for a stroll and a bite to eat.
Pingtung stretches from the bottom of the island and Kenting National Forest Park in the south, to the Central Mountain Range in the north of the county. Below the peak of Mount Tawu are found the Aboriginal settlements of the Rukai and Paiwan tribes and on the planes below are the remnants of the Pingpu tribe and many Hakka settlements.
Like other areas of Taiwan, Pingtung is developing its tourism structure by building museums, adventure parks and completing other projects. Some of the ideas may seem farfetched (such as the Pingtung Windbell Festival) but others are well-founded and the Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park is one of these.
The park includes a visitors center, exhibition hall of historical relics, an aviation park and a staging area for performances of Aboriginal songs and dances. There are also trails to walk and there is accommodation at two resorts and a villa.
PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES
Contact the Bureau of Cultural Park for further information, in Machia, Pingtung County. Call (08) 799 1219. The Santimen Arts Village is nearby and it's worth taking a stroll and having a look at where the locals have come up with innovative and successful businesses such as the glass bead-making center, Sha Tao, in Santimen Village.
Two days and one night in Pingtung is just enough on one of those whirlwind tours that has you rushing from one stop to another for the obligatory victory-sign photo. A better option, perhaps, is to spend two nights, go by car and enjoy the relative freedom of the road, rest where and when you like and breeze in for the main course in Tungkang at a time of your choosing. And do remember while you eat that of the estimated 10 million eggs a female fish lays, just two will manage to make it to adulthood and possibly to your plate.
Two-days-and-one-night tours are operated by ezTravel (www.eztravel.com) for around NT$5,000 to NT$6,000.
PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES
Restaurant: Rising Dragon (龍興)
Address: 1 Guanghu Rd, Ln 362, Sec 1, Tungkang, Pingtung County (屏東縣東港光復路一段362巷1號)
Telephone: (08) 833 3428 or (08) 832 0379
Average meal: NT$1,000 at least
Details: No English menu
Rarely do I have a shock of pleasure on tasting the house special at a restaurant, but the buttery meat of toro provoked an immediate and involuntary "mmm" -- much like the "ah-ha" response of a discovery.
Toro is how the Japanese refer to the meat taken from the upper belly of the bluefin tuna and it's especially good when landed the same morning and served up at the Rising Dragon restaurant, by Tungkang harbor.
At the meal laid on by the restaurant to entertain the dignitaries left hanging by the flying visit of President Chen Shui-bian (
It was at this point that the Japanese contingent of journalists forgot its customary politeness and dived in. There was a minor feeding frenzy and soon there were just greedy faces looking at bare plates. Though usually eaten dabbed in wasabi and soy, one photographer in the party indicated that such was the quality of the fish that it would be sacrilege to use the sauce.
Purists will be delighted by the Rising Dragon. Though clean and well-appointed it's not a fancy restaurant but what it does well is provide the freshest bluefin tuna.
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