The Daily Grinds in Hawaii

DSC_0025Hawaiian Chilli Pepper Water

8 small hot red peppers (Hawaiian, ideally, but birdseye will do), chopped

2 slices ginger

1 clove garlic, smashed

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

about 2 cups hot water

Sterilize a pint jar. Place in it the peppers, ginger, garlic, vinegar and salt. Add the hot water, seal the jar, and let mellow a few days in the refrigerator before straining out and using. Slop it on anything you like – rice, pasta, meat, salad – to add a touch of Tabasco-like zing.

Chilli pepper water is a ubiquitous Hawaiian condiment which I think pretty well expresses the Hawaiian attitude to food. The word grinds refers to the kind of food you eat everyday, with relish, until you are bursting-full. The most famous grind is loco moco, two scoops of white rice (always medium grain), topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and gravy… which you should then feel free to slosh chilli pepper water over. Local variations abound, such as this dish we encountered in Hilo – katsu moco, rice topped with Japanese tonkatsu-style pork and fried eggs. Once you eat of this dish you will forget the days you were hungry.

Katsu moco

Katsu moco

I’m not so much into the diner-style eats, honestly, though they have their place. Mostly this is because I am embarrassed I can never finish a red-blooded-male-size portion. Also, I’m a grazer. I like to nibble on this and that through the day. The best Hawaiian nibble, which I have posted about here, is spam musubi. Again, medium grain white rice, topped with a slice of spam which has been lightly fried in soy sauce, then wrapped in nori. Sometimes other condiments are added, such as the famous Japanese pickled plums ume. Or a little fish roe. Or a sprinkling of furikake. Again, the local variations are endless. They are good. I want some right now.

Making spam musubi and onigiri rice balls

Making spam musubi and onigiri rice balls

Another indigenous food is kulua pork, which is pig that is roasted whole underground in a stone pit. Served with cabbage and the ubiquitous scoops of rice, it is salty, savoury, smoky, succulent and satisfying.

Hawaii (116)

Hawaii is fortunate enough to have a strong Japanese influence, even more so than Seattle. Hawaii is also fortunate enough to have a million available species of fish, which of all people the Japanese know how to deal with.  In Hawaii they put fish to the best of all possible uses, served raw as poke (I’ve previously mentioned poke here). There are even more versions of poke than there are of loco moco or spam musubi. Any creature that swims the watery deep, it seems, can be turned into raw fish salad, lightly seasoned with shoyu, sesame oil, seaweed and chilli. Ahi tuna is the classic fish of choice but you can also get octopus, sea snails, squid, crab, you name it. Poke is so ubiquitous in Hawaii that pretty much any corner store sells it by the pound and with a couple of pairs of disposable chopsticks you have a wonderful grazing lunch for two.

Poke counter at the supermarket

Poke counter at the supermarket

Among other things we have the Japanese in Hawaii to thank for is the tonkatsu-wich. Tonkatzu is pork which has been breaded in panko breadcrumbs and fried, then sliced and served with shredded raw cabbage and tonkatsu sauce, which is often apple-based. Tonkatsu is, historically speaking, already a fusion food. It is an example of yōshoku, the Japanized versions of the Western foods which were suddenly available in Japan after the Meiji restoration. In Hawaii they take the cultural confusion a step further by placing the breaded pork between two slices of white bread. Served with tsukemono (pickled vegetables), ground sesame seeds and a variety of sauces, this is less trashy than it sounds, and very, very delicious.

Tonkatsu-wich

Tonkatsu-wich

In Waikiki we visited a fantastic udon noodle restaurant. It was so popular the line usually doubled about the block, which was a bit odd for a place that really only served one dish. But their udon were fantastic, made before your eyes, thick as nightcrawlers and served with a few simple choices of garnish. Despite the line we went back, just to be amazed again that something so simple could be so good. I think I must try mastering the art of udon making.

Simply prepared udon at Marukame Udon, Waikiki

Simply prepared udon at Marukame Udon, Waikiki

Hawaii (6)

I could go on, and on. I haven’t even mentioned the most famous Hawaiian dish of all, poi, which is steamed and mashed taro root, and which a local we met advised us, if offered it, to smile politely and take a tiny taste so as not to offend anyone. I could rant about the sushi. Or the Portuguese influenced longaniza sausage. Or the dragonfruits and longans and lilikoi (passionfruit), my most favourite of all fruits.

Maybe next time.

32 comments to The Daily Grinds in Hawaii

  • War Pig

    We used to eat poi with hot dogs on the beach.

  • Your posts always make me hungry. I’ve got pasta with sausages and tomatoes today. Not quite udon, but it’ll have to do until I can get myself over to Hawaii. Any local recommendations?

  • War Pig

    It was good, really. Poi and wieners/franks/hot dogs (depending on what word you preferred) were a staple of cheap food on the beach when surfing in the 70s. Never gave me a moment’s indigestion. Also poi with fried Spam sticks was another favorite. I like Spam, anyway. Poi always tasted okay to me and never gave me any problems, digestion-wise. I think it was sweeter back in the day than now, maybe. Back then I just ate and wasn’t too worried about ingredients or methods. I have become a foodie since then. There may have been some honey in it back then, I dunno.

  • @Matt, you might try U:Don in the U District. I haven’t been there myself, but looking at their webpage it looks very similar to what I had at Marukame.

  • Hielario

    Oooh, now i get why they fought so hard over a loco moco ration in Ben-to.

  • Joal

    I’ve seen the breaded-pork-between-two-slices-of-white-bread thing in Tokyo as well. Still think it looks kind of odd.

  • Muzhik

    @Joal, are you talking about a pork tenderloin sandwich? Because there are plenty of places in Iowa where you can get one of those.

  • War Pig

    To bread or not to bread. Lots of people like to flour their Spam before frying it. I don’t, but my cousin does. I also do not flour or bread tenderloin for sandwiches. I find that in most cases, breading (except on chicken and some fish) only brings more grease to the table.

  • Honestly, the only thing I bread any more is tonkatsu, or it wouldn’t be tonkatsu.

  • War Pig

    Do you use real tonkatsu sauce? Impossible to get here other than by mail order. Even Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati (the nearest one to me, about an hour and a half drive one way) doesn’t carry it. I have to make due with home made, faked up tonkatsu sauce, to wit:

    1/4 cup ketchup
    4 teaspoons rice wine (I sometimes substitute brandy)
    4 teaspoons soy sauce
    4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
    2 teaspoons sugar
    2 teaspoons applesauce, apple butter or apple puree
    4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
    4 teaspoons yellow mustard
    1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    1/8 teaspoon ground clove
    1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

    Sometimes I’ll add a shot of peach brandy if I’m out of saki for a different flavor note.

  • War Pig

    PS: That’s also a good sauce for grilled tenderloin.

  • That is pretty much exactly the same sauce recipe we use. I don’t remember where I got it.

  • War Pig

    Nor do I. Off the internet, likely, or by email.

  • Hielario

    @War Pig: Did they name a store as Jungle Jim? OMG!

  • War Pig

    Yes.

    http://www.junglejims.com/

    An amazing place, really. You can get purple yam ice cream from the Philippines and cocoanut juice soda from Thailand as well as tasty viands from all over the US and about half the rest of the world. From the website:

    “Take a trip around the world at Jungle Jim’s! Our International department holds over 50,000 products from over 70 countries to satisfy just about any craving. Travel through Asia and make stops at China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Venture over to our Hispanic section for products from South America, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Central America.

    You can shop your way through Europe by traveling country by county and aisle by aisle. Get your fill of Middle Eastern cuisine and remember to get great spices in India. International teas and coffees are located here as well as our candy from around the world. Chocolate, fruit, mints, and even bug candies are available!”

    They have some delectable, rice-based candies from Japan and China with delicate flavorings; and about a zillion vinegars, from balsamic to yam to pomegranate. They have cherry syrups, rose syrups, syrups of all sorts of exotic flavors. They have something like a hundred flavors of Jelly Belly (TM) jellybeans. And they have a very wide (in price and flavor) selection of international cheeses. They have some very expensive meats which have been dry aged for up to a year.

  • Hielario

    Oooooh. Very appropiate name then.

  • Muzhik

    @War Pig! Just the carbon-based life form I was looking for! I bring you news of great joy! Hot off the press! (in more ways than one):

    What Happens When You Eat a ‘Carolina Reaper,’ One of the World’s Hottest Peppers — http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/carolina-reaper-peppers-100-times-hotter-jalapeno/story?id=20756069

    The Ghost Pepper is no longer the World’s Hottest Pepper! Say hello to “Smoking Ed’s Carolina Reaper”

    Eat hearty, my friend. Eat hearty.

  • War Pig

    @Muzhik: My brother got a few of those the other day, as a matter of fact. Ugly looking little things, like a habanero with herpes or something. I had never heard of them before, but they are supposedly twice as hot as bhut jolokias or Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chilis. We’re sort of trying to dare each other into trying a bite of one. So far, we’ve both resisted. He did put a slice of one in an 8 quart pot of chili and it was almost too hot to eat. Almost, but not quite. I’d say the way it was diluted, it tasted almost like eating raw habaneros. I wonder just how hot they can make these things? Pretty soon hot chilis be in the hazmat range just to harvest and will require respirators and goggles in the fields. One thing is for sure, the deer and other omnivores/herbivores will leave them alone.

  • Muzhik

    @War Pig:
    > Pretty soon hot chilis be in the hazmat range just to
    > harvest and will require respirators and goggles in the
    > fields.

    You mean they don’t already? I know the respirators, etc. are required in the packaging plants.

  • War Pig

    Not that I have seen or heard of yet in the fields. Yeah, in the plants and in the mixing areas, especially.

    Heck, edible chiles are approaching weapons-grade as it is.

  • Hielario

    Heh heh, chile grenades.

  • War Pig

    @Hielario: They’re already ahead of you.

    “The chili grenade has been found fit for use after trials in Indian defence laboratories, a fact confirmed by scientists at the Defence Research and Development Organization,” said defence spokesman Col. R. Kalia.

    http://www.nowpublic.com/world/indian-chili-bomb-military-uses-bhut-jolokia-pepper-vs-terrorism

  • War Pig

    MERRY CHRISTMAS ONE AND ALL.

  • Thanks War Pig. To you and yours too!

  • Muzhik

    Daniel, wanted to let you know that you’ve helped create a family holiday tradition. Last year, I made your French Onion Soup for New Years with my daughters. I’m making it again this year (but starting MUCH earlier in the day) and this year I have some proper cheese, so I can do the whole bread-soaked cheese-topped version.

    THANKS!

  • You’re welcome! That is my go-to meal when I am feeding teenagers.

  • Muzhik

    Well, the soup turned out delicious (of course), but it took 6 hours. I made a double batch because I wanted to be sure there was enough for everyone, and it took most of an hour to peel 6lbs of yellow onions and then thinly slice them. I think what I need to do is caramelize onions more frequently so I can find the sweet spot on my stove. I think when I was trying to cook the onions on “low” temperature, I think I got it too low. I never got the onions to dry out or get that deep red-brown that you got, but after 6 hours I said “done enough!” I baked my own baguettes and toasted the slices in my toaster — the end result didn’t seem to suffer from being toasted on both sides. I’m getting ready for having leftovers right now, and looking forward to how the soup will taste after resting overnight.

  • War Pig

    @Muzhik: I use a mandolin slicer for massive slicing chores, or the slicer disk on my food processor. Slices that are uniform cook at the same rate and it saves a HECK of a lot of time. Onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, turnips, etc.

  • @Muzhik, I just read an onion soup recipe in “Kitchen Diaries” by Nigel Slater where, because he too hates slicing 6lb of onions, he halves them and roasts them at 400F until browned before roughly chopping them. I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s next on the cards.

  • Muzhik

    Actually, peeling them took almost as long as slicing them; but the hardest part was cooking them down. I think if I just start the cooking at “4″ on my dial instead of the “between 2 and 3″ that I was using things would have progressed a LOT faster. Also, at the end I realized that my pot’s bottom wasn’t flat. When I lived with a gas stove it wasn’t an issue; now, with an electric stove, having all the bottom surface of the pot not touching the burner doesn’t help. I’ll have to find a new pot, or maybe take a hammer to this thing and flatten it that way.

  • War Pig

    I like to add a little chopped leek and scallion to my onion soup, maybe even a couple of shallots if I have any.