As far back as I can remember, no respectable holiday dinner in Hawai`i would be without sashimi or noodles. Obviously, our typical island holiday meals reflect our mixture of cultures: Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Filipino. Oh, I forgot, and Haole (the turkey and mashed potatoes). But aside from the food, islanders have a dining “style” of their own.
My twisted mind (as a result of sucking on a whole lemon stuffed and laced with li hing mui) has come up with some features which typify “island style”:
Number of dishes - An island Thanksgiving dinner will have 10 to 15 different dishes as compared to 6 to 8 mainland style. Islanders have something from every culture and everything is out on the table at the same time without any placement order; however, the desserts may be on a separate table or it may be brought out later. Presentation is not as important as satisfying the guests tastes and appetites, or as my tutu would say “da opu more important dan da maka”.
Seating - Mainland style - chairs are placed around the table. Island style - guests will sit and eat every where: on the floor, sofa, folding chairs, and on the concrete blocks in the lanai. This is a result of having the table filled with the 10 to15 dishes leaving no room to eat.
Plates/china - Mainland style - beautiful matching china. Island style - paper plates and napkins. Perhaps islanders are more practical and being fancy is not too important; besides, my family never had matching dishes anyway. Paper plates match.
Flatware - Mainland style - glimmering settings of forks, spoons and knives. Island style - mismatched forks, knives, spoons, with some plastic flatware. Do the chopsticks go on the left or right side of the plate?
Shoyu - Islanders always have shoyu on the table. We pour shoyu over everything. On Guam, tabasco, shoyu, and finadene (a sauce of lemon juice, chili pepper and onion) is standard.
Mixing foods - Mainlanders rarely mix their food. Island style - stir the rice, turkey, gravy, peas and carrots together, top it with some chicken long rice, pour some shoyu on it, then scoop it in your mouth with a large soup spoon (it’s too slow to eat with a regular fork or spoon). I can still hear my aunty from the states scolding “Your mother seasoned every thing separately, so you should eat every thing separately!!” The answer: “...but it tastes better this way”
Talk about mixing foods, islanders seem to have slightly different combinations which may be considered unusual (or weird) by mainlanders. For example, poi with beef stew, macaroni or potato salad with gravy (this used to be on the menu at Likelike Drive Inn in Honolulu), squid luau and rice, spam and rice ball (now spam sushi with nori), and shaved ice with ice cream and sweet beans. But we like it this way.
In a word, our island dining style is casual. But it is changing and becoming more formal due to the influx of people from the mainland. I hope our children will remember the old ways, and if they do not, I hope they will remember this one old time snack lemon and li hing mui (this is good to keep the kids quiet for a while). Take a fresh whole lemon; gently pound it on the table and roll it to get the juice flowing in the lemon. Then bite a small hole at one end of the lemon, and stuff about 2 to 3 li hing mui (sweet/sour seeds) in it. Squish the lemon a bit to get the lemon juice to soak up the flavor of the li hing mui, then start sucking the juice. Hoo, da baggah so ono, goin’ broke your mout!!
My best friend’s mom always used to make this and I never thought about it much until of course after I left the Islands. This recipe I got courtesy of Sam Choy’s Island Recipes (available at the Pierce County Library) and it is `ono! I include it in my annual “Aloha to Summer hea comes Winter Cookout” among other local favorites and this gets praised every time! Enjoy!
MochiMochi Marinade (makes 2 ½ cups)
½ cup mochiko (Japanese glutinous rice flour)
Combine marinade ingredients in large bowl and set aside.
5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into large cubes (I found you can use any kine chicken. I even tried drummettes, still ono!)
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Prepare mochi marinade and marinate chicken overnight in refrigerator. When you’re ready to start cooking, drain the marinade from the chicken pieces. Heat about 2 inches oil in wok or deep heavy pot or deep fryer over medium heat until it registers 350-365º on the thermometer. Fry the chicken pieces in batches without crowding, until deep golden brown and just cooked through. This will take about 2-4 minutes, depending on size of cube. You can tell if it’s p ā pa`a, it’s been in the oil too long! Drain on paper towels and sample! The recipe says serve 8 but you know that’s different Hawaiian Style!!
This is a dish that we make during the holidays – or on cold nights. We freeze the turkey carcass and bones (neck, wings and drumsticks) after Thanksgiving—and leave lots of meat on the bones and salt it with Hawaiian salt.
Boil: 1 heaping cup old rice
Add: Surimi or Chinese fishcake balls seasoned with green onions.
Copyright © 2004-2009 by Northwest Hawai`i Times