The food culture of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples is encapsulated in the phrase “living off the mountains and seas.” Traditionally a fishing and hunting society, the indigenous peoples lived a carefree life eating naturally flavored foods and drinking millet wine. Their primary sources of food included wild edible plants, mountain boar, wild deer, and freshwater fish and shrimp.

The main principle in indigenous cooking is to retain as much of the original food flavors as possible. Most ingredients are obtained from the natural environment, such as the peppercorns of the aromatic litsea tree on Mount Qilan, the leaves of the decaisne angelica tree, and the pigeon pea, which is said to promote health.

Traditionally, indigenous cooking methods comprised chiefly steaming, boiling and roasting. But along with changes in modern lifestyles, indigenous foods are no longer limited to the exotic tastes of mountain produce. Nowadays, these traditional dishes can be seen only at major festivals such as the flying fish festival and annual harvest celebrations.

In the 21st century, as society becomes more conscious of healthy and organic eating, the indigenous way of life and their respect for nature have evolved beyond the phrase “living off the mountains and seas.” Since the 1990s, indigenous cuisine has spread outside indigenous communities and taken its place on the national stage. It is a must-try for food connoisseurs traveling in Taiwan.