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February 2006


By Rochelle delaCruz

If you grew up in Hawai`i, you not only know `opihi, but love it well. There are several varieties but the favorite for eating is `alinalina (cellana sandwicensis – yellowfoot.) This succulent limpet turns up fresh and raw at lū`au; in fact, for some of us, the presence of `opihi tells us the lū`au is authentic. I like to spoon an `opihi or two with a little limu and scoop up some poi with the same spoon and then into da mout all at once. If we’re at the same lū`au and you by chance do not eat `opihi, I’ll come sit with you. But don’t be fooled; it’s really your `opihi I’m after. “Wat…you not goin eat dat?” I’ll sweetly ask as my claw reaches over to grab the little paper tub before someone else notices it. And then I’ll chug the whole thing down in one gulp before you change your mind.

`Opihi like to live on rocky coasts where waves crash, so gathering `opihi has always been dangerous, especially since they suck on the a`a lava rocks and have to be pried from them. On the Big Island, we all know of at least one person who lost his life picking `opihi. And because `opihi is so prized but the picking so dangerous, `opihi is a precious commodity whose price has always been high. Despite the risk, there are always those willing to pick, and consequently, `opihi are getting scarce.

So State Senator Clayton Hee D-23 rd (Kahuku to Kāne`ohe) has just introduced a bill to ban the sale of `opihi, saying it is close to getting on the endangered species list. State regulations currently allow the collecting of `opihi as long as their shell diameter is at least 1.25 inches long or the diameter of the foot (the edible part) is half an inch. Hee says that isn’t realistic because anyone picking `opihi on sharp lava rock with waves crashing over them will not be checking to see if they measure an inch and a quarter. And it’s fine he says, if people pick `opihi for their own table, but he hopes that banning the sales will stop pickers from over-harvesting in order to make money. And maybe the beloved `opihi will be allowed to thrive.

I hope so. For some of us, if no mo’ `opihi, no mo` lū`au.

I was thinking that I never saw a recipe with `opihi and why would I? Those little suckahs get eaten too fast for anyone to come up with a recipe. And then as I was thumbing through one of Sam Choy’s cookbooks, I found this:

Da Kine Poke Supreme

Serves 24
(24 Munchkins or maybe 8 local people – RdC)

2 cups raw `ahi, cubed
1 cup `opihi (or poached scallops or cooked mussels)
6 whole crabs, cleaned and lightly salted, quartered
2 lbs cooked octopus, thinly sliced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes or 1 Hawaiian chili pepper
1 cup ogo, chopped
1 cup limu wawae`iole (rat’s feet seaweed or miru), coarsely chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 cups cucumbers, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
6 Tbs. shoyu
2 tsp. sesame oil

Mix ingredients well and chill until ice-cold

From With Sam Choy – Cooking from the Heart. Mutual Publishing, 1995


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