Ever eat the contents of a barnyard? I have.

Given that the vacation was weeks ago, I should probably just give it up and stop posting about Hawaii and its regional cuisine. I'm still picking up our Kauai guidebook and reading about places I should have gone, just to torment myself. It's sick, really, and quite unhealthy.

In Honolulu, we went to Shirokiya, a giant department store filled with Japanese goods and foods. It was hard restraining myself with dozens of dried fish snacks, fried sweet potato puffs, a plethora of take-away bento boxes, and an entire counter dedicated to mochi. It was truly marvelous to behold. Too bad I forgot to take a picture. Here's our hand-picked selection of mochi and cakes for the road. The cake on the far right was shaped like a little chick, and was filled with salted egg. The tastiest of the four was the purple mochi filled with a sweetened taro paste. This tiny cake was no larger than an egg but was so dense you could cause serious damage if you lobbed it at someone's head.

For lunch, we stopped at the Ala Moana Shopping Center food court. They had a nice selection of Korean, Japanese, local, Chinese, Thai cuisines. Yes, it's in a mall. But no mall in upstate NY has this much variety! Usually the only Asian faces I see in our malls belong to those working at the Cajun food booth handing out Bourbon chicken (Why is that? What's the correlation between mall Cajun food and Chinese entrepreneurs?). It was nice to see my people all over the place for a change, and not only stuck behind restaurant and dry cleaning counters. It was also great not being in the minority, for once, and to hear English being spoken all around me. I felt right at home! If only I could find a way to afford life in Hawaii. It's an expensive place, I've heard.

Tony (finally) made a winning choice and ordered a plate lunch from the folks at Yummy Korean BBQ. On his plate: glass noodles, fried tofu, beef kalbi, fried gzoya, pork chop, kimchee, and seaweed salad.

Since I hadn't the opportunity to eat real laulau and other Hawaiian foods, I thought I might do so at a place called the Poi Bowl. Big mistake to order this at any mall. My plate lunch: laulau, kalua pig, lomi salmon, chicken long rice, and haupia for dessert. After ordering the "local boy" special, I brought my spoils back to our table. Upon opening up my styrofoam container, Tony suddenly sat up with a look of alarm and disgust. "What smells like a barnyard?!" he asked. Sure enough, after one whiff, we both confirm that it's the laulau. (Laulau is a bundle of pork butt and butterfish wrapped and steamed in taro and ti leaves). It's stinky. In usual fashion, I ate it anyway. Funky smells never stopped me from eating anything on my plate before. However, this unfortunately tasted like a barn. Or rather, used straw in a barn. We cooked laulau in the hotel class I took last fall, and I remember it being quite delectable with no trace of barn whatsoever. I can only conclude that either I don't like real Hawaiian laulau, or I made a bad call in getting a so-called "authentic" dish in a mall food court. It's probably the latter. Just for the record, I choked down most of it anyway since it seemed a shame to waste all that *good* meat, even if it did taste like a farm animal. Mom, Baba, look what happens when you teach your kids to finish everything on their plates! In this case, my guilt for leaving food uneaten overrode my discriminating palate (or common sense not to eat rancid meals).

We followed up Tony's great meal (and my lousy one) with a mango snow ice from the Shirokiya smoothie counter. Shaved ice, condensed milk, and mango jam - what's not to love?


Hawai'i eats continued - the sushi post

One of the nights in Honolulu we were too exhausted to go out hunting for dinner. Less than a block from our hotel (actually connected to the property) was one of those sushi conveyor belt places where the fish glides around their makers on a little track, and diners wantonly pluck and eat any dish their choosy hearts desire. Sadly, the generic sushi here was better than anything we get in Ithaca. The tuna seems so different than in upstate NY; it hasn't the least bit of metallic blood flavor that I usually find so appalling in tuna sashimi.

One of the best things about Hawai'i are these abundant onigiri, handrolls, and musubi that folks can pick up at any convenience store (7-11, Safeway, ABC Stores) for a quick snack or lunch. Just this fact alone makes me want to pick up and move to the Islands. I'm not kidding, it's seriously a huge motivator. Why can we only get dessicated hot dogs, Hot Pockets and Hostess fruit pies at our convenience stores? It's not fair. Here's a half-eaten spicy tuna handroll and some fruit eaten on our hotel balcony.

Below is an example of really bad saimin at the Kauai airport. We had delicious saimin at Hamura's Saimin Stand in Lihu'e, but I neglected to take a photo. We met this great local family at Hamura's who advised us on the best restaurants and beaches in the area, and also turned us on to eating BBQ meat sticks along with our saimin. Saimin basically tastes like the ramen that we make at home, except with thicker egg noodles and a hard-boiled egg instead of a poached one dropped in at the last moment before serving. The green onions, char siu and wontons all stem from Chinese cuisine, while the dashi broth and fish cake slices are distinctively Japanese. I also am enamored with the fact that saimin can be slurped down at almost any time of day at saimin stands all over Hawai'i. Much better than fast food burgers, although with comparable sodium counts, I'm sure.

Yet more Hawaiian food to come in another post...


In the land of mochi and spam

The Hawai'i trip has sadly ended, and now I'm back in rainy Ithaca blogging away in front of the computer.

Obligatory beach shot before food pics commence:

We hiked up the Kalalau Trail in Kaua'i to see the Na Pali coastline. Here's Ke'e beach, filled with snokelers and feral roosters.

One of the hotels we stayed at gave mini cupcakes and water at nightly turn-down service instead of chocolate on the pillows. How novel is that? The cupcakes varied each night, but this coconut one was my favorite. I wish tiny cupcakes magically appeared every evening in my bedroom.

While I was working, Tony explored Honolulu and had food adventures of his own. Here's the result of one of his sojourns - okonomiyaki! According to Harumi Kurihara, (Japan's version of Martha Stewart) in Harumi's Japanese Cooking, okonomiyaki is a popular family style of eating with ingredients that vary from region to region, but usually is a layered concoction consisting of a seafood and veggie pancake, fried noodles and eggs. Hawai'i's version of this pancake included kimchee, fried eggs, and cabbage topped with soy sauce, mayo, and dried nori. It really freaked the food stand server out to see this skinny haole (white) boy ask for an okonomiyaki with all the fixings. It's a gruesome mess of ingredients that Tony claimed was actually really tasty, but it definitely could be confused for the aftermath of a lab dissection in the photo.

Lastly for today, since I'm on this pancake roll, is a pic of the obscenely huge pancakes served up at the Hilton Prince Kuhio's restaurant Mac 24-7. It's hard to show how big these flapjacks actually were, but take my word, they were immense and awe-inspiring. We ordered the kona coffee mocha cakes which came with guava, maple, and coconut syrups. Oh, and they were drizzled with warm butter caramel. It's a diabetic's nightmare, I know.

Despite our good intentions and best attempts at finishing, we only trimmed off a fourth of the pancakes. It looks lame, but they really were three huge pancakes, and each one was about 2+ centimeters thick.

More to come soon!


Boston foodfest

The family trip to Boston in June. My sister was thrilled to host all three of us in her cozy one bedroom apartment for the entire weekend. I was practically frothing at the mouth in the excitement of eating new foods, since I live in a rinky-dink town lacking in decent "ethnic" food.

The family on a late night Mexican food jaunt. Above: My parents digging into shredded pork enchiladas with massive sides of beans and rice. We ordered a chicken tamale on the side in case there wasn't enough food. Everything is washed down with tall, frothy glasses of horchata. We prepare for a night of wretched indigestion after such a heavy meal at 11 pm, and aren't let down a few hours later. Mysteriously, Andrea seems unaffected by this gross quantity of food, and chides us for not playing a round of "Dance Dance Revolution" with her an hour after eating.

Obligatory dim sum meal since I can't get food this good in Ithaca. The tripe was excellent, nice and gingery, but a lot of the dishes had a whopping portion of MSG in them. We ended up consuming lots of tea and water. Don tots (egg tartlets) were fabulous, and the flaky crusts were made with real lard (love that porky taste!).

Andrea's miraculous Flavia drink station machine at her workplace. We were a family obsessed, drinking cup after cup of powdered ground coffee goodness. The drinks were surprisingly good considering they come out of little shiny foil packs. The Flavia website says:

The S350 delivers employees and clients consistently superior gourmet beverages with freshness and convenience unmatched by traditional office coffee or other single-cup systems. Over 30 drinks – fresh ground coffee, flavorful tea, healthy wellbeing drinks and rich indulgent creations, and no cross-contamination."

I had not ever thought about dirty, dirty cross-contamination from drinking coffee out of a regular pot, but come to think of it, my co-workers could be possible disease carrying filthmongers. Such a bizarre point to make, but perhaps bacteria is transmitted through communal coffee stations.

My dad loved his "Intense Dark Roast" and drank it throughout our trip. I do believe all that caffeine spurred us to walk many more miles than we ought to have walked that weekend.


Spring is here, and it's time for shad roe!

Shad roe is our new culinary finding for spring, and what a find it is!

This is a shad. It's bony.
(photo: Carina Salvi)

This is its roe:

And here's what it looks like pan-seared and served with cilantro-lime butter:

I had read somewhere recently that shad roe tasted a bit like liver, and was emblematic of spring in some parts of the U.S. Not sure which species we ate, but I'm guessing it was the American shad, A. sapidissima. These poor fish live their happy lives in the ocean, and each spring make the perilous journey up rivers to spawn. That's when hungry eaters like us snatch them from their waterways, tear out their roe and gobble it up like candy.

Apparently shad and shad roe used to be food for the poor. But as with many foods (lobster, oxtails), shad roe has become a delicacy and is now quite costly.

Cooking it was an interesting experience; some recipes encouraged poaching it before frying, and others just recommend wiping it down and plopping it in a pan with butter. Since T and I were ravenous and not fans of overly complicated cooking, we opted for doing the latter. A recipe from Gourmet advised us to fry it lightly, and warned that shad roe was fickle so we shouldn't leave the stove lest it become overdone. So we stood there religiously by the fire, trying to restrain each other from poking and prodding the mushy bloody sacs. The heat must've been too high, for the sac membrane split open with a sharp pop and a few searing hot stray eggs landed on our faces and arms. The shad's revenge for interfering with its offspring, I guess.

The taste was slightly liver-y - savory and meaty without any hint of fishiness. The texture was delicate, but still hearty since the outsides were seared to a nice crispy brown finish. We added butter with lime and cilantro so the acid would cut through the richness of the butter and roe.

A fine meal for a weeknight, and our tribute to welcoming in the spring season!