Forget seared ahi steaks, mango salsa, and Pacific Rim Cuisine; Kaui Philpotts grew up in a sugar plantation on Maui and knows what real Hawaiian food is:
I ate impromptu picnics of fried shoyu (soy sauce) chicken neatly wrapped in waxed paper and musubi (perfect triangles of seaweed-wrapped white rice, like giant sushi) with my friend Lei on the steps of the VFW Hall in Wailuku after hula class. I ate tripe stew and day-old poi (the steamed and pounded corm of the taro plant), saimin noodles with bright pink fish cake, "plate lunches" of beef stew and chicken cutlets with sticky rice, and the Portuguese fried doughnuts called malasadas. I ate Spam, for heaven's sake, with musubi, eggs, or rice. (Hawaii leads the nation in per capita Spam consumption.) I ate real Hawaiian food—local food, the kind people who live in Hawaii actually eat every day.
This food is more than the pit-roasted pig and coconut pudding of the traditional luau. It's also more than the diet of the early Hawaiians, which was largely based on fish, poi, sweet potatoes, and tropical fruit. Local food is a multicultural style of cooking—one of the original fusion cuisines—much of it derived from the cooking of the immigrant laborers from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores who came here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to work the sugar cane and pineapple plantations that stretched across the islands. It is modest, down-home food—but full of exotic flavors.
I loved reading this piece and was surprised to find that it was first published in 1994! Someone at Saveur decided they should start posting articles from the depths of their archives onto their website—whomever it was, you are my hero of the day. I'll be pointing to more of their articles as they turn up.
Photograph from Hellochris on Flickr