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March 2005


Penelope’s Pursuit of Plate Lunch

By Rochelle delaCruz


(Several of us at Northwest Hawai`i Times have been noticing stories about plate lunches and reviews of Hawaiian Restaurants in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer daily newspaper. “Ey, who dat?” we started asking each other. Her name follows Hawaiian pronunciation patterns - Pe-ne-lo-pe, but we couldn’t be sure. After all, I used to think that town on the eastern side of Washington State was Spo-ka-ne. Finally, near the end of January, there was another sighting in an entertaining story, complete with a grass skirt-lei-pineapple-hibiscus graphic, about her quest for plate lunches on the Big Island . That’s when I pounced and sent her an email asking for an interview. Let’s get to the bottom of this. I thought only Hawai`i people are perpetually seeking the ultimate plate lunch, complete with two scoop rice and mac salad. So who is this Penelope Corcoran? Read and find out. ~RdC)


Since I'm assuming you're not from Hawai`i, how did you learn to appreciate Hawai`i-style food?
P: Eating and learning about Hawaiian food is one of my favorite hobbies! No, I'm not from Hawaii . I grew up in white-bread upstate New York , in a small town between Rochester and Buffalo . In fact, I never even visited Hawaii until March 2002, when friends invited me to stay with them in Kauai at Poipu Beach . I fell in love with Kauai and returned with my housemate in December 2003. Last December (2004), he and I decided to tour the Big Island in a VW Westfalia camper (they're only available on Maui and Big Island ). This December, I'm thinking Maui , but we may not make it there
until early 2006.
The first time I encountered Hawaii-style food was about 10 years ago at a (then) little place called Da Kine's in Pacific Beach, San Diego . Their macaroni salad hooked me; their saimin noodle soup intrigued me. On subsequent visits to P.B., I made a point of eating there. Meanwhile, back home in Phoenix , I sought out and wrote about Aloha Kitchen, a small Hawaiian eatery serving plate combos and saimin, in suburban Mesa . As I love noodle soups, ono sticky white rice and good macaroni salad, it was pretty much a given that I'd have a built-in affinity for "local food."

Hawai`i restaurants in Seattle often get overlooked.  Why do you think that is?
P: I didn't know they were overlooked. Is this why I always get such a great reaction from the Hawaiian community when I write about them? Former Canlis chef and Bainbridge Island cookbook author Greg Atkinson has written about Hawaiian food with great affection in Pacific Northwest magazine.

How often do you go to the Islands ?  Is it mainly for the plate lunches or are there other reasons?
P: If I could visit once a year, I would be a very very happy girl. And, yes, my passion for Hawaii goes beyond plate lunches. Although I thought I'd be immune to the almost cliched allure of the Islands , to my surprise, it hooked me my first visit. I love the gentleness of the air there. I love the sound of the ocean, watching the waves, the temperature of the water, visiting all kinds of beaches. I love Kauai's tropical jungle and the Big Island 's eastern lushness. I like swimming with the fishes, aka snorkeling. I like the people, although sometimes it’s clear they have very limited aloha for visitors. I like the crack seed. I like the tropical fruit – especially apple bananas. I like the POG you buy in cartons in the dairy case. I adore tropical bark cloth fabric and classic floral print designs. I'm a sucker for hibiscus images and icons.

What advice can you give to non-islanders who often show disdain for Hawaiian-style food?
P: Who are these people? What's their deal? Fortunately, I don't know many people like this. When I introduce newcomers to Hawaiian-style food, I make it an adventure, as I would with any less-familiar or "exotic" ethnic cuisine.

I know you just returned from 8 days on the Big Island and are now on a quest for da kine macaroni salad you ate there. Any luck finding it yet or have you "perfected your own Big Island-style recipe at home"?

If so, will you share it?
PS: This is the best advice/recipe I've received, from Candace Heckman, a P-I colleague who grew up on Oahu and treasures her Hawaiian heritage:

Mac Salad

elbow macaroni
grated carrot

P: I want to correct a misimpression in the article I wrote www.seattlepi.com/food//208381_dining19.html). I've been a customer of Kauai Family Restaurant for years and like it very much. When I got back from the Big Island in early December, I wanted macaroni salad exactly like what I ate -- and loved -- there. While I like KFR's mac sal on most occasions, this particular time, it didn't reach the level of what I had on the Big Island . It's good, but different.

(Penelope Corcoran is the Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic whose stories and reviews appear on Wednesdays. She’s always looking for new Hawaiian restaurants, so if you know of a new one or even a well-hidden old one, please call 206-448-8391 or email her at penelopecorcoran@seattlepi.com.

 Mahalo Penelope for sharing stories and recipes. It’s true that we islanders sometimes lack aloha for visitors (auwē), but one sure way to win us over, is to enjoy our food!)

We also asked Penelope for a recipe to share with our readers and here it is:

Phyllis's Very Green Salad

- 2 kinds of lettuce, torn and mixed: e.g. 1 head of BUTTER and 1 large head of Romaine
- FRENCH feta -- other Feta will work, but this is really the best. 1/4 lb or more (you won't use all of it; you can use it for omelets later)
- handful of fresh green beans (break tips off ends with paring knife, slice on angle if you wish)
- 1 bunch of scallions, chopped
- 1 or 2 zucchini, sliced thin
- 1/4 head red cabbage or radicchio, sliced ultra thin (optional: mostly for color on top)
- hulled sesame seeds, toasted

- Rice Vinegar, unseasoned/plain
- GOOD olive oil or grape seed oil
- 1 large lemon
- SPIKE (R) seasoning --> typically stocked in aisle with salt and spices; near salt substitutes. I'm
pretty sure PCC has it.

1. In large bowl, assemble mix of lettuces, followed by sliced zucchini, chopped scallions, crumbled feta cheese, fresh green beans and optional sprinkling of shredded red cabbage or radicchio for color.

2. In dry frying pan (preferably cast iron), toast sesame seeds over medium heat till they turn an even brown color. Shake them around in pan to turn them. Watch so they don't burn. Light brown is fine.
3. Sprinkle/shake sesame seeds over top of salad.
4. Apply DRESSING directly to salad when ready to serve. It's pretty simple.

Use these proportions, in this order: 1/3 oil (olive or grape seed), 1/3 rice vinegar, 1/3 fresh lemon juice. Add 5-6 shakes of SPIKE and fresh ground pepper and salt to taste.


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