Authentic Paiwanese food at Taichung City’s Gulu-Gulu [classic article]

Paiwanese cuisine? That’s not a typo! Paiwanese are an indigenous tribe in Taiwan who arrived at the eastern most part of the country long before the Han Chinese — and they found Taiwan hundreds of years ago. The indigenous tribes, more than a dozen, are theorized (which is supported by DNA tests) to be South Pacific islanders. They use the ingredients found on the island, but to totally different effect than the ethnic Chinese. Their cuisine is not overly spicy or intensely seasoned: the true flavors of natural food shine through.

It’s rare to find an aboriginal restaurant in Taiwan’s cities, but Gulu-Gulu would stand out even if there were 100. They don’t have a website, but the address is 2, Lane 13, Wuquan W 4th Street, Taichung City, Taiwan. Phone: (04) 2378 3128. They’re open 10am to 2pm for lunch; 5pm to 12am for dinner. With the early lunch hours, that’s perfect if you have a bit of jet-lag. English and Chinese menu. Credit cards accepted. Reservations are recommended. Dress is casual. I’m so glad I was hosted to experience it!

The owner, Ran Er Ran, is Paiwanese, a chef and a singer-songwriter. He does it all at his place! It’s decorated with maps of the aboriginal tribes, artwork, native-made blankets. Ladies — heads up — they have the infamous “squatting toilets” in the loo.

Aboriginal food is seasonal, local, fresh and sometimes wild-gathered. Presentation is simple and clean. Delicacies to start the meal included pork, wild green vegetables that had an asparagus-like flavor presented with fresh bamboo and bell pepper, along with a sweet potato-peanut butter-betel nuts flour (the grain) thick puree folded into a lettuce wrap. It had a rich, slightly sweet, slightly nutty flavor.

Gulu-Gulu serves aboriginal adult beverages, such as millet wine, as well as passionfruit juice-beer punch. It helps start the party before the live singing!

The menu has lots of vegetarian choices, like tofu. There’s also a local favorite: bitter melon slices treated as a veggie. Sweet potato and millet are given another treatment a hearty, casserole-like dish.

The whole fish presentation is amazing! It was an aboriginal deep sea fish that doesn’t have a name. The fish was mild and fresh and tender.

When Ran Er Ran sits for a music set, it brings a lot of unique charm to the place. The restaurant is quite small, so the concerts are intimate. The friendliness of the Paiwanese shines through!

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