Curious about the taste of deer meat or wild boar? Ever wanted to try snails or "virility soup", rice in a bamboo stick, cold millet wine, white pine plum jelly?
Ever wanted to see how coffee grown in Taiwan tastes?
Then go around lunchtime to Naruwan Indigenous People's Market (or dinnertime on Fridays and Saturdays, if you want live aboriginal music) and go wild.
I have to admit, we were expecting something homier - "just ten stalls" made me think of a tiny covered market or a few stalls along the street, not an entire building given over to those stalls with a huge sign on the front, and a sign near Longshan Temple MRT pointing to it.
It didn't look good at first - we walked inside and were greeted by a tacky plaster statue of a cartoon aborigine.
The place quickly redeemed itself, though, through its delicious food. We sampled millet wine (they wouldn't let us sample the hornet wine, as it was $900 NT a bottle and they didn't have an open sampling bottle) and tried some snacks from Hualien, then went over to another stand for deer and wild boar. We did get the bamboo rice, despite the fact that it's a recent addition to the aboriginal diet (rice was not an aboriginal staple before being influenced by the Chinese) and finished it off with Heliwan Mountain Coffee from Taidong.
The pig was delicious and garlicky, cooked with just the right amount of spice. The fatty parts weren't rubbery or gooey - I normally don't like fatty pig but this was quite good, it had an almost buttery flavor.
The deer reminded me of Sichuan cooking - hot and savory. The meat itself was exceedingly tender, and apparently is domestically raised (we didn't realize there were still deer in Taiwan - we go to the countryside often and only once do I think I might have seen a deer in the distance.)
The coffee was delicious, though a little strong and a overpowering. I did need a little sugar to get it down - I measure good coffee by whether or not I need to add sugar. To be fair, I needed to add a lot less than to Starbucks drip coffee.
Throughout the meal, a local aboriginal family (most of the people hanging around - not really being purposeful, just eating and hanging around - looked like they came from aboriginal communities) was sitting near us and one woman was either very enthusiastic or had imbibed a little too much millet wine.
"You have to order the soup!" she said (in Chinese). "Is that your boyfriend?"
"No, this one is. Isn't he handsome?"
"YES! He should order the soup. Then, when you go home, WOOOOOOOOOO YAAAA!"
Very Energetic Woman...very, very energetic.
We're heading back soon - I want to go to the handicrafts stall to buy gifts for people back home - behind the cell phone charms of bobblehead aborigines, they had some genuine handmade leatherwork and other interesting things. And, of course, we have to try the custard apple ice cream at another stall as well as hearing the live music.
On the same trip we visited Xuehai Academy, though we couldn't enter. Xuehai is one of the oldest buildings in Taipei and was once the most prestigious academic academy in Taiwan. It's beautiful, though it is crumbling a bit at the edges and covered with an ugly protective plastic roof. It is now the Gao family temple, so not accessible to the public. We're thinking we need to make friends with some Gao family members and get let in one day.
Also nearby you can stop at the Mangka Gate over Guangzhou Street Lane 223, which is not impressive at all...but inside there are several tiny hole-in-the-wall Taiwanese restaurants that look as though they're positively delicious. We're planning to go back and try some. You can also see Kenny. KENNY!
To get to Naruwan Indigenous People's Market, go to Longshan Temple MRT station and walk to the Guangzhou Street intersection (Longshan Temple will be on the right). Turn left and walk down the stone-paved street to the end. The market is at the intersection of Guangzhou and Huanhe Roads. Xuehai Academy is across the street. Mangka Gate is on Guangzhou Street over Lane 223 on the righthand side.