Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: New Years on Hawaiian Time
I was lucky enough to be part of this month’s “24, 24, 24” Foodbuzz spotlight for my own New Year’s Eve dinner. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make my meal after the flooding and power black out we had just before Christmas, but we decided to try to make do with our ripped apart house so we could enjoy a family and friends evening. In Hawaii we celebrate as one of the last to bring in the New Year, which is a great irony because island style typically requires everything to be late. My husband was born here on the North Shore of Hawaii and we have some very close friends that he grew up with and we were able to celebrate the holidays together.
The menu: (all the recipes can be found by following these links or within the post)
- Macadamia Nut Crusted Chicken w/ Tropical Pineapple Marmalade
- roasted Okinawan sweet potatoes
- white rice
- green salad with papaya seed dressing
- banana poe (although I just use vanilla extract, not vanilla bean)
- lilikoi juice
- chocolate, strawberry, and mango mochi ice cream
The highlight of the meal definitely went to Sam Choy’s recipe for Macadamia Nut Chicken with Tropical Marmalade (this recipe is very simple. I use half a diced papaya, a small can of crushed pineapple with juice, 1 T of sugar, and simmer for 20 minutes in a saucepan). When I first came to Hawaii over 10 years ago I ripped this recipe out of the in-flight magazine. I have loved it ever since.
Sam Choy’s recipe for mac nut chicken is a much more flavorful version of chicken katsu, which is actually a Japanese food. The chicken breast comes out so moist because of the macadamia nut crust. Because of the huge mix of immigrants we have in Hawaii, we consider the local adaptations of Japanese food “Hawaiian”, even though the actual Hawaiian diet has nothing to do with Japanese food. Hawaiians are probably the most cultured people out there because they regularly eat Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino, Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, and every other kind of food you can think of that is associated with the Pacific.
Sam Choy means something to Laie residents who claim stake to his fame. Hawaii in particular love their own, and there is a lot of fierce pride in your exact neighborhood association. Sam’s father owned “Sam’s Store” a long time local (and tiny) convenience store where my husband bought pake cake and candy as a kid. If you weren’t a Laie resident, you would probably never know the store existed, because it’s smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood. It is now called the Laie Cash & Carry, but still sells pake cake, candy, and other convenience food for any hungry kid from down the block. Right next door, and also previously owned by Sam’s father, is “Hukilau Cafe” which is featured in the movie “50 First Dates” by name only. The place filmed in the movie looks and feels nothing like the actual cafe. Hukilau Cafe serves breakfast and lunch, and has no nonsense good local food with big portions. I adore their banana pancakes that come with a dollop of butter that would be considered a stick anwhere else in the U.S. It’s natural to see how Sam Choy’s beginnings became a big influence on his now world famous cooking. Sam brought some class to the local “plate lunch” style and thrust a local staple, poke, into the public eye (that’s “po-kay” not “poke”).
Plate lunch is served at almost every roadside stand and fast food spot in the islands as well as for any and every meal. Even McDonald’s serves plate lunch breakfast here. A typical plate lunch will have a big helping of white rice, mac salad, and chicken katsu or teriyaki beef. Locals love their plate lunch and almost laugh if you ask for green salad to replace your mayo drenched mac salad scoop. The closest approximation I can make to what plate lunch is if you’ve never had it is a huge bento. White rice is big here, too, and if you go to a local grocery store to buy rice, you will find 25 pound bags of white short grain sticky rice, and almost none of that Uncle Ben’s that they serve on the mainland. People from here, when they move to the mainland, are usually shocked that the average grocery store does not sell rice as they know it.Often there is even a bed of thinly sliced cabbage, just as the Japanese would serve it. My green salad here has a papaya seed dressing which is sold everywhere in the stores here. I think the seeds are mostly for looks, but I did recently discover (after my daughter stuffed a handful of them in her mouth) that the peppercorn-like seeds taste remakably close to pepper. Not as potent, maybe, but similar.
Okinawan sweet potatoes are a perfect addition to the Hawaiian staples as they are wonderful smoked in an imu, the traditional way of Hawaiian cooking. I simply roasted them on a baking sheet at 400 degrees with olive oil, garlic and salt. Flip the potatoes after about 15 minutes or until the bottoms are nicely browned and crusted. I burned the bottoms on one pan, but no one complained. The color is off putting, but most people love or even prefer the Okinawan variety. When they are roasted they almost perfume the air.
Lilikoi or passion fruit are found locally in the mountains. My sweet husband loves to fruit hunt and caught some for me fresh in the morning. They are very thick skinned and have the most powerful smell and taste. Each seed is encased in fruit, so you must blend them to release the juice, and then strain the seeds. The seeds are definitely edible, but are very crunchy and don’t sit well in a juice glass. After straining you add water and sugar to taste. My daughter asks for the fruit by name and will eat any fruit you find on the trail, no matter how sour or rotten. My cooking buddy makes an amazing lilikoi mousse with them every time she comes to visit.
Poe is a Tahitian food, and it closely resembles poi in color and mochi in texture. It is incredibly easy to make and my husband is an expert at being able to tell when it is done. Even though it is not “Hawaiian” it is very typical to see poe at a luau. Poe is made from bananas (boiled until they turn purple), tapioca flour, and sugar, then it is covered in coconut milk. It is almost a dessert, but I like to eat it with dinner.
The mochi ice cream was the only bust here. Bubbies, a famous ice cream store in Honolulu, makes amazing mochi ice cream but it is so expensive (because I want to eat 10, and not just 1) I have always wanted to make it. Making mochi is easy enough these days, with the bags of mochi flour sold at Foodland. The hard part is wrapping up the ice cream. My mochi ice cream looked awful and tasted okay. If anyone has more ideas how to make this work, I would love to try again. Every time I started wrapping the ice cream it immediately started to melt, making it hard to stick to itself and easy to stick to me. I threw away at least 2 batches of mochi before I got a few that worked out okay. At least there was enough for a taste. TIPS: Cool down the mochi completely before wrapping. Freeze the ice cream into balls beforehand. Work fast, put it back in the freezer fast. Use a LOT of cornstarch. Cornstarch on the worksurface, over the top, on your hands, whatever.
We had a great evening and I had lots of help making food and taking pictures (thanks, Adam). Ping pong, card playing, and good conversation is the perfect way to finish the holiday. The fireworks that lasted all night smoked out the house until well after the midnight hour. Here’s to you and your culinary adventures in the New Year!
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