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Archive for the ‘Hawaii’ Category

Happy new year!  In Hawaiian we say, Hau’oli makahiki hou and in Japanese, akemashite omedetoo. Growing up, Christmas was not the most important holiday for us but new year’s day was.  Like the Scots, the Japanese have a big clean of the house to welcome the new year and thus, it metaphorically starts the year off with a clean slate.  Traditionally, a large feast was prepared and put into containers that would last three days (because you are not supposed to work the first three days in January).  Most items were salted, sweet or preserved somehow and meant to be served cool/room temperature.  This feast is called osechi ryori and today in modern Japan, most people purchase their feast pre-made from restaurants, department store food halls and even 7-eleven!  I have read of some osechi ryori costing as much as $10,000USD per person (CRAZY – I hope it comes with a diamond!)

Growing up, my grandmother used to make it and we would help out.  I can’t recall what she made each year (as it would change) but what I loved most was the kazunoko (herring roe) that was served.  They are expensive and hard to get so it was a special treat.  Very crunchy and salty, I loved the texture more than anything, dipped in some soy sauce.  The next best thing was kobu kazunoko (herring roe on kelp) – roe that somehow clung onto pieces of thick kelp.  Black sweet soy beans (kuromame) were another thing that I remember well and various types of fish cakes and sweet egg.

The other mandatory thing to eat on new year’s day is ozoni – a brothy soup with ingredients that change depending on what part of Japan you are from and what your family likes to put in.  In the Kanto area (Tokyo) the broth is clear while in the Kansai area (Osaka), they add miso paste.  My maternal side of the family came from Shimabara in the south and their specialty is guzoni, ozoni that is filled chock-full of ingredients and eaten not just on new year’s day.  The one similarity and obligatory ingredient is mochi or rice cake, for good luck/strength for the new year.  A piece of grilled mochi is placed into the soup and it becomes sticky and gooey and oh so lovely!  People who didn’t grow up with this texture may find it challenging (like my husband) but it is very filling and comforting for me.

This year, I spent new year’s day in Noosa, Queensland in tropical Australia.  My friend’s parents have a beautiful holiday home on the river and invited us to spend a few days there.  As a way to thank them, I wanted to cook a Japanese new year’s day breakfast (as best as I could) but it was quite a journey to figure out where to source the ingredients in a different state.  Prior to going to Noosa, we spent a few days in the Gold Coast and stumbled upon a small Japanese grocery store in Robina but it was still quite a few days before the new year so I waited to go to another store closer to Noosa.  This second store had more frozen goods and I was able to buy roughly what I needed to make this feast.  My biggest mistake is that I forgot to buy dashi – essential in Japanese cooking – fish stock!!  Needless to say, it was interesting making this in someone else’s kitchen in the tropical heat and without all the right ingredients.  My grandmother was proud of me for being able to make this as many young Japanese have lost the skills of traditional cooking since it can so easily be bought.  She doesn’t believe me when I say that it was her that made me a good cook.

Although the meal was not totally traditional, it turned out pretty well despite a few hicks – forgot dashi, sushi rolls were a bit small, rice for sushi was very sloppy (had to make it twice – over the stove with gas), and rolled egg was a bit overcooked.  For the ozoni, I grilled the mochi on a grill rack instead of the traditional grill used in Japan and it did a great job.  The kuromame (black soy beans) were made mostly out of my instinct and memory of what it should taste like but I had no idea they’d take nearly five hours to cook!  I also think that they were the most challenging item as most people couldn’t work out whether the beans were for dessert or to be eaten with the meal.  I guess it’s sort of like eating candied yams at Thanksgiving – many people who encounter it the first time think that it is a dessert and find it strange to be eaten alongside all the other savoury stuff.

I served two different sakes with the dish – one Australia-made and one Japanese-made and what was awesome was that the meal was eaten by a Scotsman, three Kiwis, one South African, one Australian, one Englishman and an American…now that’s what I call international!

Setting up the ozoni before I add the broth in.

The spread.

L to R: datemaki (egg), namasu (pickled veg - didn't have daikon available), kamaboko (pink fish cakes), kuromame (black sweet beans), california roll.

Nimono (stewed root veg - lotus, burdock, bamboo, taro, carrots & shiitake).

The Cameron family and the gorgeous view we had.

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Honestly, I have no idea how many places in Hawaii serve up onion rings but every time I go home, I crave the ONION RING TOWER at the Yard House (chain restaurant found in nine states) on Lewers St. in Waikiki and I think that it’s the best I’ve ever had.  It comes with both regular Ranch and Chipotle Ranch dipping sauces and is piled high on this pole. The batter is very light, crisp and slightly sweet and I could probably eat the whole thing by myself but I have always shared it with someone.

If you order it, make sure you enjoy it with some of their over 100 draft beers!  Apparently they have the world’s largest selection of beers on tap!  The downside of the place is that it is very noisy and you can’t really book reservations. The weekends are very busy and the wait can be around an hour for a table.  Luckily, the restaurant is right where there are new shops to whittle the time away.

To finish, their Kona coffee ice cream sundae was as HUGE (as big as my face) and it was very, very tasty.  Hubby got the Lemon Souffle Cake and it was really disappointing so don’t waste your time on that (didn’t even taste like lemons).

Aloha!

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Andre Lopez on Tasting Night

Andre Lopez on Tasting Night

Susan (looking shy) and Andre's Mother

When I was much younger, the only decent wine shop in Hawaii was R. Field in Ward Centre and most of the selections at the local supermarkets were pretty abysmal.  Fast forward 20 years and Hawaii’s wine retail scene has become infinitely better with many decent wine shops and wine bars – even the new Safeway on Kapahulu Ave. has a huge (slightly overpriced) wine section.  I have been to just about all but I think one of these wine establishments on Oahu and my favorite place so far is The People’s Wine Shop on S. King St, just past the vacuum specialist shop on the corner of Pensacola and S. King St. (near Kaiser) in the King Street Apartment Hotel (ample parking on the street and in the back).  As soon as you see the vacuum shop, you have to slow down because there is no awning displaying the shop’s name but there is there is a simple bright neon sign that let’s you know where the shop is.

If any of you are familiar at all with Berkeley, California, The People’s Wine Shop reminds me a bit of Vintage Berkeley (around the corner from Chez Panisse) because of the small size, personalized service and interesting selections.  But The People’s Wine Shop has more of a welcoming feeling and I wonder if that has to do with the fact that it’s painted a warmer color or whether there is a lot of aloha spirit there.

I first met Andre at a trade wine tasting event at the Hilton sometime late last year and although we didn’t really talk to each other, I recognized him because we were often at the same tables tasting wines.  It wasn’t until I went to his shop that I realized that he was the owner!  I knew I’d like his shop because we must have had similar tastes to be at the same vendors.

The store, which opened in 2006, is run by Andre and Susan (who are always there with a smile) and his Friday and Saturday night free tastings are becoming very popular with local wine lovers.  He features a different winery/producer/supplier every week and gives a discount on the featured wine as well.  I love that he has harder to find wines from all over the world and with a really great Spanish and Italian section and best of all, the wines he brings in won’t break your bank!  Andre stocks more premium “collector” wines as well but he prides himself on making wines approachable to everyone.  I love the anti-snob quality there and because they’re so warm and friendly, they already have a big following of regular customers.  I have run into people I know there and nearly everyone who comes on tasting nights seem to be known by name.  Recently when I stopped by, he was tasting Mondavi wines to pay tribute to Robert Mondavi, shortly after his passing and that definitely touched me since I feel so connected to that place.

I wished this shop was around when I got married because it would’ve been great to purchase wine from him but alas, I bought it from another shop who barely gave me a smile.  Whether you are a wine geek or wine novice, Andre’s shop is a great stop to buy some interesting wines in Hawaii.

**If you are a tourist and have a rental car, this shop is only about 4 miles away – which should take about 20 minutes (depending on traffic) from most Waikiki hotels.

**UPDATE: This store has closed its doors.** 😦

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Continuing in my Hawaii posts…

If you’re planning a trip to Oahu and want to see what good island produce looks like as well as get an insight into the local culture, head to the Kapiolani Community College’s Saturday Farmer’s Market which is sponsored by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapiolani Community College (where my friend Adriana teaches).  Where is it?  Well, if you’re staying in Waikiki and head towards Diamond Head, you’ll see the large crowd of cars parked in a big parking lot near the entrance to the landmark.  This also has to be one of the prettiest community college’s around and all with an ocean view from most points on campus!  After you eat your way through the market, it would be a great idea to hike up the mountain and take in the sights.

This farmer’s market is great for local residents who have so long relied on so much of their food being shipped in from the mainland.  Many supermarkets I have been to in Hawaii have very sad looking produce departments – tired old carrots, wrinkly apples, moldy oranges and onions – mostly because (depending on the item) from the time it is picked in a field in California (or insert any other state), it’s probably sometimes a MONTH before it hits shelves in Hawaii.  This is truly sad.  With gorgeous volcanic soils on the islands and great year-round weather, I am glad that some people are foregoing the urge to be greedy (by selling land to real estate developers) and have decided to get back to the soil by farming in small plots – locally and most times pesticide-free or organically.  With gas prices sky-rocketing all over the world, it is also good to buy locally to save on the shipping costs (and help the environment by reducing emissions) and the produce is sooo much fresher!  What’s great is that many local chefs have gone on the local produce band wagon and have been promoting it a lot more now.

I was also so happy to see that North Shore Farms are growing juicy, sweet, multi-colored heirloom tomatoes.  It wasn’t that long ago when the only tomatoes that you could find in Hawaii were these hard red bullets and/or shipped from California.  They also sell their extremely popular tomato, mozzarella and macadamia basil pesto pizza every week.

You’ll also find locally produced honey, herbs, greens, eggs, hormone-free beef, sausages, organic drinks, pastries, bread and even sea asparagus!  A must to quench your thirst is a fresh ginger ale from Pacifikool made with locally grown ginger root.  They serve two varieties – Hawaiian and Thai variety ginger syrups with vary slightly.  I personally like the Hawaiian one because it has more spice.  The lines are very long but it’s definitely worth the wait!  Don’t forget to try the great sausages at Kukui Sausage Company.  I really liked the Kim Chee and Pastele sausages – yum!  The woman in the booth was looking at me very suspiciously when I started taking photos and wasn’t particularly friendly – did she think I was going to steal her idea?  Little did she know that I liked her sausages and wanted to write about them.  Regardless of the not-too-friendly service I got, I still think their sausages are unique and tasty.  Pomai of Tasty Island has great posts on local island cuisine and on these particular sausages.

I noticed that a few other food bloggers out in blogland have written extensive posts of this farmer’s market so I won’t go on about what I ate or what I did.  I’d rather leave you with some gorgeous photos that I took that day.  I have loved farmer’s markets since I was a kid and whenever I travel, I definitely seek out the local market and always come away with having learned or discovered something new and I hope you do too.

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My dear friend Adriana Torres Chong, originally from Mexico City, now lives in Honolulu and teaches Mexican cuisine at the University of Hawaii’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapiolani Community College (KCC) and does freelance food photography. As a fellow foodie, we often share our passion and experiences with food with each other and also joke about our experiences whenever we’ve revealed to have studied gastronomy at university (she has a BA in Gastronomy from Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana). Sure, foodies who read food blogs understand what gastronomy is but most people think that we study the stars or perform operations on stomachs and bowels so Adriana and I often don’t bother revealing it. An U.S. custom’s agent once asked me what I was studying in Australia and when I said gastronomy, he seriously asked if I drilled for oil (petrol)…and I digress.

I wanted to feature her Flan de Queso on my blog because uniquely, she adds finely grated Mexican cheese (either panela or queso fresco)* in the mixture and the result is a very tasty twist on the traditional flan that is served all over Mexico. Haven’t had a Mexican flan before? It’s a wonderfully, eggy, custardy, sweet and comforting dessert. What I also love about Adriana’s flan is that it is not very dense and super rich like some I have tasted so you can easily eat more than one piece! 🙂

*Queso fresco is made by pressing the whey from cottage cheese. It is very similar to cheeses called pot cheese and farmer cheese. It has also been compared to Indian paneer and to a mild feta and panela is also a mild, soft and crumbly cheese.

Adriana’s Flan de Queso

Makes 10 servings

4 eggs

1 14 oz (395 gm) can sweetened condensed milk

1 13 oz (375 ml) can evaporated milk

1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

4 oz (100 gm) queso fresco or panela finely grated

1 c. white caster (granulated) sugar

10 ramekins (1/2 c. capacity) or 9″ baking pan

Directions:

Pour the sugar in a warm pan over medium heat and stir sugar until it starts to dissolve and changes into a lightly brown caramel colour. At this stage, it can tend to burn very quickly so do not leave the pan at all and stir constantly. As soon as the sugar becomes a gorgeous caramel colour, take it off the heat immediately and quickly pour approximately 1 Tbsp. of caramel into each ramekin or all of the caramel into the baking dish if not using ramekins. Let the caramel cool.

Preheat oven to 350F/175C.

Either whisking by hand or in a food processor, combine the rest of the ingredients and pour the mixture into the caramel lined ramekins (or baking pan) and cover with foil.

Place ramekins or baking pan into a roasting dish and pour enough hot water in the bottom of the roasting dish to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins (or baking pan).

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the flan is nearly set. To tell when it is ready, the flan should only move slightly when shaken gently or when you insert a knife 1/3 of the way from the edge and it comes out clean. Remove from the water and let them cool before refrigerating.

To serve, run a small sharp knife around each ramekin (or baking pan) and/or fill a bowl or sink with very hot water and dip the bottom for about 10 seconds to loosen. Place a plate over each ramekin and in one motion, flip the ramekin over so that the caramel is on the top. Enjoy!

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My favorite place to have breakfast in Maui is at the Gazebo Restaurant at the Outrigger Napili Shores resort in Napili Bay (just above the bustling resort area of Ka’anapali). I first ate there almost 10 years ago when working for the travel industry and it is still as busy today as it was back then. According to TripAdvisor.com, the Gazebo Restaurant has been voted by travelers as #1 out of 125 restaurants in Lahaina. Wow, I am surprised that a breakfast and lunch place beat out numerous high-end dinner restaurants. What makes this place so popular? It is a combination of the oceanfront view (and a direct view of Moloka’i), generous portions, great pancakes, fast and friendly service and great prices – after all, in a place as expensive as Maui, a bargain is hard to find when it comes to dining out.

Let me warn you that no matter what time you arrive to eat, there will be a long line to get in but I’ve never waited any longer than 30 minutes (although I’ve heard some people waiting longer than an hour). If you go to Maui during whale season, you will most likely see whales and/or dolphins breaching while waiting in line. There is even a large bell that the hotel encourage that you ring to notify everyone else that you have spotted a whale. The hotel is also nice enough to provide a large urn of coffee for the hotel guests and people standing in line for the Gazebo free of charge. Hey but you’re on vacation so waiting shouldn’t be a huge deal right? If you hate waiting, bring a good book.


I love ordering the macadamia pancakes because they are so fluffy and they are very generous with the nuts. They also top the fluffy pancakes with a very light whipped butter and there are several syrups available to eat with the pancakes. This time I went to the restaurant with my mother and we decided to share a short stack of the macadamia, banana and pineapple pancakes (which is one large pancake with the three toppings placed on top) and a half-order of the fried rice and a large pineapple juice all for under $20. If we ordered full sizes, we would have been able to feed four people – not kidding. The fried rice was flavored lightly with soy sauce, onions, lots of black pepper and full of tasty meats – ham, Portuguese sausage, bacon and Spam, topped with some scrabbled egg and green onions (scallions), yum! The fried rice was very fulfilling and it was nice to have the sweet and salty together at breakfast.


Beware of the smart little sparrows though if you order the fried rice! They sit on the glass window panes above the tables and wait to attack your plate and according to the servers, the sparrows love to hone in on the eggs on top the fried rice. I was so surprised when a sparrow grabbed a large piece of egg (mid-air) and did it so quickly that I barely had time to react before the rest of the sparrow gang devoured it on the ground next to me. It was amazing! Never in my life have I seen such smart little birdies…see, even they like the breakfasts there.


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When most tourists go to Maui, they usually rent a car and go straight towards the resort areas of Ka’anapali, Wailea, Kihei or Lahaina and tend to bypass the town of Kahului – where the majority of the locals reside. I always like to stop by the Maui Mall to see what’s on offer at the farmer’s market and craft fair held from 7:00am to 4:00pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Fruit is what I usually look for as it is very fresh and locally grown. Because Maui has areas of farming that are at higher elevations than on Oahu, farmers on Maui are able to produce sweet strawberries, onions and other produce that cannot usually thrive in the steamy tropics. The first thing I do when I go home is to eat as many papayas as possible because they are cheaper than apples and far tastier to me. Papayas are so versatile – eaten ripe or green as in a Thai papaya salad. After eating the pulp, I usually keep the skins as a facial mask to soften and exfoliate using the papaya’s natural enzymes.

Lychees and longans were in season and I couldn’t resist buying a few ripe lychees. Boy was I surprised to see that the prices have shot up enormously and it cost me about 60 to 70 cents each! Long gone are those days when many people had lychee trees in their back yard and buying them didn’t cost a fortune!

I did come across two fruits that I was not that familiar with: the star apple and a yellow passionfruit of unknown variety. Star Apples are said to be originally from the West Indies, Haiti to be exact, and is a very dark purple fruit with a thin skin. When the fruit is cut crosswise, a star pattern is seen but I didn’t really realize this so when I cut the fruit to take a photo, I cut it lengthwise. The pulp is a milky lavender color and is creamy and tastes like a watered-down, less sweet version of a custard apple (cherimoya). I don’t know, I was so excited with the way it looked that I was expecting so much more with the flavor and it was a bit disappointing.

The yellow passionfruit that was sold had an almost spongy outer skin and it was full of pulp and seeds. The woman who sold it to me couldn’t even tell me what it was and until I cut it open I didn’t realize that it was a passionfruit. It had the most peculiar soapy, woody flavor yet with a passionfruit undertone. It was very floral and not something that I enjoyed immensely although I ate about three or four just to give it a chance. According to Julia F. Morton in her book Fruits of Warm Climates, she lists at least a half a dozen yellow varieties of passionfruit so I guess it could be one of these varieties. I honestly don’t have much desire to research further than this and was happy that I was able to try a new variety of tropical fruit that I had never tasted before.

This is a great stop to make while you wait for your hotel room to be ready and also it is much cheaper to buy fruit and veggies here than at any of the resort supermarkets. There are crafts and other food vendors selling other goodies. I personally always makes sure I buy Filipino sweets like suman (glutinous rice and sugar cakes) or puto (steamed cakes) to top off my market shopping there – yum!

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