Although people talk about Taiwanese food (台菜), the food of Taiwan has considerable regional variation. This is something that the chefs at ECOH Restaurant and Kitchen Lab (一口一口學食驗室), part of the Xuexue Institute (學學文創志業) are eager to show off with their rotation of regional cuisines from around the island. Until the end of January, the restaurant is featuring the produce and cooking of Pingtung County, providing its own take on dishes ranging from popular favorites such as Wanluan pigs trotters (萬巒豬腳), the humble onion from Hengchun (恆春) and seafood delicacies from the port of Tunggang (東港).
According to Noah Cheng (鄭章鉅), CEO of the Xuexue Institute and a man who has established a reputation as a discerning diner and committed foodie, the program at Xuexue is aimed at bringing the wealth of Taiwan’s diverse culinary arts to diners in Taipei.
Cheng said that the he had joined the kitchen team in visiting Pingtung to discover what the county had to offer, talking to county government officials and local residents, and taking in everything from the mountains to the sea.
“Since Xuexue was established in 2006, it has focused on promoting Taiwan’s creative industries. This includes the creativity that is part of everyday life. We have worked at bringing together Taiwan’s fine cuisine, its local specialties and food shops that have passed down traditions through the generations, and want to introduce them to people in Taiwan. Each quarter (a three-month cycle), we provide an introduction to a county or city, and using the produce of that season, and introducing people to local traditions and cooking techniques.”
Cheng said that in order to provide a feast for the senses, the restaurant would also feature music and artwork from the region.
ECOH Restaurant gives many of the dishes a makeover, and something like the bitter gourd chicken with salted pineapple (高樹苦瓜鹹鳳梨雞, NT$280) has a balance of colors and a delicacy of arrangement that you wouldn’t expect from your average roadside eatery. The clean presentation of the Wanluan pig’s trotters (NT$320) seems almost antiseptic compared to the exuberant grubbiness of establishments selling this dish in the actual town of Wanluan (萬巒).
It is no surprise that ECOH Restaurant also makes a point of highlighting the “three treasures of Tunggang,” a fishing port renowned for its bluefin tuna, sakura shrimp and mullet roe. But the menu is inclusive, and one of the highlights is the ginavu (祈納福), also called A-bai (阿拜), a dish similar to the Taiwanese zongzi (粽子), but made with millet. It is a dish made by the Paiwan Aborigines (排灣族) that deserves to be better known outside its native Pingtung, and this is a task that ECOH Restaurant is well placed to do.
The ECOH Restaurant and Kitchen Lab is located in the Xuexue Institute building located at 207, Tiding Boulevard Sec 2, Taipei City(台北市堤頂大道二段207號). More information about the restaurant, the special Pingtung season menu and the restaurant’s regular menu can be found at: ecohecohxue.xuexue.tw.