Taroko National Park
The valley of Taroko National Park is tranquil and majestic. The air is warm and smells sweet, at least in mid-July. This is where you will find the Eternal Springs Shrinepeering out of a wall of green forest and Swallow Grotto descending to meet the Liwu River. Both worthy of visiting. This is also where you will find The Leader Hotel and Restaurant in Leader Village. This was one of my favorite stops.
The restaurant serves aboriginal meals prepared with only local ingredients. Here I was served my first “rice coffin”. That’s what I called it anyway. It was rice that had been steamed in a long bamboo tube. I love sticky rice, so this was an absolute delight. I was also served savory grilled pork, sweet potato, fried wild boar skin (first time for everything) and a delicious sweet tomato salsa. The food was so fresh, it didn’t need any condiments. The natural flavors of these whole foods were prepared with care making them taste plenty satisfying.
Along our drive to the next tribal meal for dinner, we were suddenly stopped in the middle of the road along the Eastern coast. Foreign chants snuck up through the windows of our bus. It became apparent we weren’t going anywhere soon as hundreds of young locals danced in massive circles down the road making their way to the nearby village. Their voices powerfully drifted above their vibrantly colored head dresses and costumed mid-sections, creating a sound cloud over the nearby land and sea. A wave of emotion came over me. It was a beautiful expression of community that I don’t see in the car-flooded streets of Los Angeles. That film will play in my mind for ever. To see so many people my age and younger united in a tradition that must be old as time was priceless. That moment will always be my Taiwan.
For dinner we continued with the day’s tradition of enjoying tribal meals. Rain lightly drummed the open-air dining room roof of “Old Tribe Good Food,” the translated name of the this Taitung Tribe’s restaurant, while we feasted on roasted chicken, bamboo salad, fried rice, sautéed spinach, spicy lamb, grilled fish and the most unique dish of all, pineapple fried shrimp with mayonnaise and rainbow sprinkles. Rainbow. Sprinkles. They made me think about the costumes I had just seen parading on the concrete. The shrimp was sweet and crispy, it didn’t need the sprinkles for flavor, but sure, they added some serious pizzazz! Our round wooden table made it easy to pass plates and share, not just the food, but the looks of comfort and joy that only honest food and rainbow sprinkles can bring.
I slept well that night, pleased with another day of new memories and first-time tastes.