Sat, Apr 20, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Restaurants: Modern Aboriginal cuisine

In the Rukai village of Rinari in Pingtung County, visitors can indulge in sophisticated Aboriginal fare made with the choicest of seasonal, local ingredients

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

At Akame, a complimentary starter of bamboo shoots with pigeon pea, millet miso and puffed rice combines unlikely ingredients.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

Michelin — the tire company now better known for its food guides — awards its coveted stars based on the effort a diner is advised to expend to get to a restaurant. One star is “worth a stop” and two stars are “worth a detour,” but only three stars herald “a special journey.”

Rinari (禮納里), an Aboriginal settlement in the hills of Pingtung County an hour’s drive east of Kaohsiung City, is outside Taipei and therefore outside the remit of Taiwan’s Michelin Guide. The only stars this village has accrued are in the night sky overhead.

Yet against the odds, Rinari has acquired a reputation as a culinary destination unto itself. That’s largely thanks to Akame, a four-year-old restaurant that Commonwealth Magazine has dubbed “southern Taiwan’s most elusive reservation.”


Rinari is a charming rectangle of paved streets, ample gardens and symmetrical cottages with gabled roofs. The village houses a close-knit community of just about 600. Doors are left unlocked, children play badminton on the roads and men gather in their yards with millet wine to shoot the breeze.

This picturesque quality has made Rinari a popular tourist destination, but belies its tragic roots in the destruction of three Aboriginal villages — Haocha (好茶), Majia (瑪家) and Dashe (大社) — by Typhoon Morakot in 2009. Rinari was the brand-new settlement to which the government relocated the villagers, the majority of whom are Rukai.

Behind Rinari’s immaculate appearance, therefore, is the loss of traditional livelihoods and ancestral lands that held deep spiritual significance for the Rukai. This history is recounted on trilingual plaques sprinkled throughout the village.


Address: 13, Lane 17, Gucha Boan St, Haocha Village, Wutai Township, Pingtung County (屏東縣霧台鄉好茶村古茶柏安街17巷13號)

Telephone: 0972-060-887

Open: Daily from 12pm to 2pm and 6pm to 8pm

Average meal: NT$550 per person

Details: No menu; cash only

On the Net:


Address: 8, Lane 17, Gucha Boan St, Haocha Village, Wutai Township, Pingtung County (屏東縣霧台鄉好茶村古茶柏安街17巷8號)

Open: Wednesdays to Sundays, 6pm to 8.45pm and 9pm to midnight

Average meal: NT$3,500 for two people, without drinks

Details: Reservations for the following month open at 11pm on the last day of the current month (i.e. reservations for June open at 11pm on April 30); menu in Chinese; cash only; 10 percent service charge

On the net:


Typhoon Morakot wrought destruction, but also gave a generation of young and worldly Rukai people the impetus to return and rebuild their communities.

Among them is Alex Peng (彭天恩), who previously worked with celebrity chef Andre Chiang (江振誠) at the latter’s eponymous, two-star Michelin flagship restaurant in Singapore. Peng and his brother Sky Peng (彭天耀) co-founded Akame in 2015, and immediately upended the common imagination of Aboriginal cooking by bringing it into the world of fine-dining.


Before plunging into Akame, however, I arranged to eat at Luluwan (魯魯灣), a two-room inn and restaurant located just down the street, to acclimatize my senses to Aboriginal cooking on my first night in Rinari. The prix fixe, chef’s choice meal is priced at an affordable NT$550 per person for seven courses.

Because of chef Balu’s tendency toward standard European fare, the unfamiliar elements are more conspicuous and easily recognizable on the plate. Those seeking an even deeper understanding of Rukai cooking, however, can request for one of Balu’s introductions to the local culture and cuisine, which are available by pre-booking.

An appetizer of cinavu — boiled dumplings wrapped in leaves, one stuffed with lean pork and ground taro, the other with fatty pork and millet — was the most traditional dish of the evening. The Rukai serve this delicacy at celebrations, making this course akin to a welcome by Balu, the son of a village chieftan who worked in Taipei and then moved back to Rinari after Typhoon Morakot.

To sample the best of mountain vegetables, Balu serves them poached and unadorned, groups of leaves and beans laid out side-by-side so that we can taste each on its own. The accompanying yuzu and sesame sauces are pedestrian, but the variety of vegetables is intriguing.

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