We keep going for nearly an hour while the leader, Yan “Xiao Yan” Jilu, a 41-year-old who runs a homestay, points out which plants are edible and which are highly toxic, the differences too subtle to the inexperienced eye. He also tells me about the rituals and taboos of the aborigines.
New restaurants earn stars as Michelin Guide recognizes southern Taiwan
Only men are allowed to hunt. We started the hunt with offerings of wine to the spirits that roam the forests.
“We avoid hunting when we know there is a high likelihood of getting baby animals that have not been weaned,” says Xiao Yan, whose aboriginal name is Sapod. “Taking down a pregnant animal is also a no-no.”
The aborigines are the only people in Taiwan issued with hunting licenses. However, restrictions apply; they may hunt only unprotected species, and only for sustenance. And they may use only traps and home-made firearms. It is not clear why the government will not allow them to buy safer, professionally made weapons.
The Three Men are endorsed by a well-known chef who has come along on the hunt. Nick Yang is a Han Chinese transplant from Tainan, in the south, who fell in love with the area and aboriginal culture during 11 months doing military service in Changbin, the township surrounding Mount Jingang, in 2013.
Yang later did an apprenticeship as a chef in Provence, southern France. Learning about the French concept of terroir – the geographical conditions that affect the flavor of food – made him reflect on his time in Changbin, where some of his peers had shared with him the aboriginal wisdom of seasonal eating.
Yang, who by 2017 was the chef de partie at the three-Michelin-star Le Petit Nice, in Marseille, returned from France when he was contacted by the owner of Sinasera, in Changbin, to head the hotel’s restaurant, Sinasera 24.
Over the past six years, Yang, now 33, has grown the reputation of Sinasera 24 to such an extent that guests must now book a table at the French fine-dining restaurant at least a month in advance.
As a nod to the aborigines, who favor eating food high in nutritional value and with warming properties during winter, Yang has designed a NT$4,000 game menu in collaboration with The Three Men.
However, because hunters are forbidden from benefiting financially from their activities, their spoilers do not feature in paid-for meals at Sinasera 24, although sometimes The Three Men give Yang a small portion of their kill, which the chef turns into a complimentary dish for guests.
For his 13-course menu, therefore, Yang buys ingredients such as snake, peacock and meat of the brilliant green-necked Mallard duck, as well as bee pupae, from farms that breed these animals for export.
Third Michelin star for Taiwanese cuisine restaurant in Taipei is a first