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October, 2010:

Holoholo Links

Kaho'olawe Hawaii

Kaho'olawe, Hawaii by Ornellas Would Go via Flickr (Creative Commons)

  • I haven’t bothered diving in the all the news around the new Hawaii 5-0, other, more pop culture addicted types than I will do a better job. But this made me laugh, hard. Hawaii 5-0 bingo cards on PopWatch.
  • Not quite win win, but a step in the right direction: The St. Regis Princeville makes changes to help the endangered Newell’s shearwater.
  • Wow, that thing is huge. The new Disney resort is taking shape at Ko’Olina. Flickr set here, hat tip to The Disney Blog.
  • Crazy. Check out the surfboard front desk backdrop at this new Waikiki hotel. On Luxist.
  • Bring your shopping bag. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the law. Maui’s plastic bag reduction starts in January, 2011.
  • The photo above is from a stunning Flickr set taken on a restoration trip to Kaho’olawe. Click through to see the more.
  • ReThink: Hawaii is on and yes, I am a little sad to not be there for this 2010 edition. Here’s to tropical mellow helping build big ideas.

So Ono! On Hawaiian Food

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck - Kahuku, HI

Giovanni's Kahuku Shrimp Truck by imgdive on Flickr (Creative Commons)

It’s difficult to think about the flavors of Hawaii without going on a global meander. There are so many delicious — ono —  things to eat in the islands and so much cultural diversity that it’s difficult — for me — to define what, exactly, Hawaiian food is. Fresh fruit is a critical part of it — my first stop when I arrive in the islands is typically for a mango smoothie. Seafood is critical — a dish of fresh poke (marinated raw tuna) is an essential stop on your exploration of island grinds. Taro (kalo, in Hawaiian) shows up at the luau buffet and in any number of place, sometimes made palatable for the malahinis (visitors) by incorporation into dinner biscuits. And there’s some barbecue, the classic pig in a pit, or huli huli chicken, coated in a sweet sauce of sugar, ginger, and soy sauce — depending on who’s recipe you use.

The traditional native Hawaiian diet was a less commodified variation on all those items — produce, fresh seafood, some poultry, maybe a pig on a special occasion. But what’s Hawaiian food now? There’s something called Hawaii Regional Cuisine in which local ingredients are reinterpreted by chefs — I had the honor of experiencing this style of food at Chef Mavro’s in Honolulu during a dinner we are still talking about, five years later. But I’ve also eaten very local style — chicken katsu and Portuguese sausage — at CCs in Honoka’a. Chicken katsu is, at the most simplistic, Japanese fried chicken, and Portuguese sausage… well, that’s Portuguese. And there’s Spam, of course, in musubi, in eggs, in sushi rolls. Hawaii can thank the US military for Spam’s arrival on Hawaiian shores, but they have only themselves to blame for its tenacity.

The Portuguese also gave Hawaii the malasada — fried dough — and sweet bread. The Japanese brought mochi, a rice flour sweet that’s filled with bean paste or sesame or even peanut butter. There’s haupia — a sort of coconut jelly pudding that is traditionally Hawaiian, and plenty of good ice cream — Dave’s, Lappert’s, Roselani — which is not traditionally Hawaiian at all but comes in Hawaiian flavors, with mango and mac nut and coffee, of course. Thanks to the Japanese (again) you can get shave ice (leave off the “d”) in either the most simple form, covered in sticky sweet syrup, or you can get it with bean paste and condensed milk, but I draw the line there.

So what is Hawaiian food? It’s garlic shrimp from a North Shore truck, eaten on a picnic bench across the street from the beach. It’s mac nut encrusted halibut with pineapple salsa, grilled and served under a banyan tree at a fancy Maui hotel. It’s take out bento and breakfast burrito with grilled mango and conveyor belt sushi and Thai food at the mall. I like to think about it not because I’m striving to define it, but because it is so varied. And so very ono!

Holoholo Links

Water world around Maui

Waterworld Around Maui by juhansonin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Reason #402 to Love Hawaii: Diversity

“It was like being in another country. I was so surprised!” –My neighbor, telling me about her first trip to the islands.

“Nobody’s just AMERICAN, we all came from somewhere else! What are you, REALLY?” –French Vietnamese swimsuit booth guy at the International Marketplace.

I love Hawaii’s — Honolulu’s, especially — melting pot culture. Even the Native Hawaiians came from somewhere else originally, taking their big ocean going canoes out into the wide Pacific and navigating by the stars. Then, Captain Cook and his crew arrived, followed by Han Chinese on trade ships. Japanese and Filipino immigrants came to work the sugar cane and pineapple plantations; the Portuguese did the same, bringing with them the braguinha, the precursor to the ukulele.

According to the 2008 Census, under 30% of Hawaii’s population is white — the biggest demographic group is Asian. Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese at almost 40%. In such a small place, it’s not surprising that humans mixed it up and gave us the hapa, mixed race types with (maybe) one white ancestor in there somewhere. Even Hawaiian royalty jumped the fence and married outside the Native Hawaiian community — Hawaii’s last princess, Ka’iulani, had a Scottish father.


T-shirt, Honolulu Airport

All this mixing has created a place that’s American, certainly, but also, like nowhere else in the US. It’s a Zippy’s where you can get eggs and rice next to a Korean place next to a French bakery. It’s a big Hawaiian guy whose grandmother was a British music teacher, the child of missionaries. It’s Barack Obama, a Honolulu born boy with a Kenyan father, our surfing president. It’s an imperfect society to say the least. But at its best, it’s the American melting pot envisioned as a tropical utopia.

If you spend enough time in the islands, you pick up cultural affectations or obsessions not your own. These little pieces of other societies stick to you, you take them home as souvenirs. You end up at your mainland kitchen table — as I did, yesterday — eating cold noodles with furikake and trying to recall what’s included in those take out supermarket bento boxes.

An appreciation for all those mixed up cultures, all they have to offer, is a fine a souvenir from Hawaii as anything you’ll buy in a store. And it’s truly Hawaiian made.