a taste of alohaThis week, I’ll be cooking from the Junior League of Honolulu’s A Taste of Aloha (1983), one of the most unique and delightful titles in my collection.  Over the past thousand years, settlers have migrated to the island from all over the world seeking work, food, and land, and as a result, the cuisine has evolved into a collage of Pacific Rim flavors that’s somehow distinctly and unmistakably Hawaiian.

Only in a regional cookbook from Hawaii could miso, kim chee, taro leaves, and bean curd cozy up alongside roast pig, Portuguese sausage, and ceviche quite so seamlessly.

The book begins with an interesting essay by Lois Taylor that explains the different migratory waves to the island, and the influence that each had on Hawaiian food.

The first settlers came by canoe from islands in the South Pacific, bringing taro, bananas, coconuts, and sweet potatoes, along with chicken and pigs for breeding.  Next came an influx of Christian missionaries, and emissaries from England, France, and the United States, all jockeying to annex the island.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, European influence would work its way not only into the Hawaiian political system (a relatively short-lived monarchy), but also into its food, entertaining, and hospitality.

During the mid-1800s, Chinese settlers migrated to the island, contracted by plantation owners as laborers.  The plantation owners would go on to recruit thousands of Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Puerto Rican, and Filipino workers (there’s an interesting, and more detailed overview of labor history in Hawaii at the University of Hawaii’s Center for Labor Education and Research).  Taylor details the new crops that these settlers brought to the island — lychee, water chestnuts, eggplant, daikon — and also points out that the housing provided for plantation laborers necessitated that food be prepared by steaming, boiling, broiling, or frying.

As a result of all these factors — entrenched Hawaiian culture and language, waves of immigration, western colonialism — Hawaii has a culinary history unlike any other in the United States, or the world, for that matter.  When I think of Hawaiian food, my brain doesn’t know where to start.  Of course, I think of the luau and roast pigs and pineapple.  But then I think of Spam and macaroni salad.  And then I think of sushi and fish steamed in leaves.  And A Taste of Aloha introduced me to several additional ways of thinking of Hawaiian food, which I’ll be looking into this week.

Fortunately, the cookbook includes a detailed glossary that not only tells you what things are, but how to cook them properly.  There’s also a fish chart to explain local names like opakapaka, ono, and hahalalu to neophytes like me.  A few terms I’ve learned so far:

  • Long Rice:  “Dried bean curd thread-like noodles.  Made from mung bean flour.  Must be soaked in water before cooking to absorb flavor of food with which they are cooked.”
  • Laulau:  “Steamed bundle of pork, fish, and beef wrapped in taro or spinach leaves and enclosed in ti leaves.”
  • Ti Leaves:  “Large smooth green leaves of the ti plant.  The leaves are used as ‘wrappers’ for a variety of island dishes.”
  • Pipikaula:  “Hawaiian beef jerky.  It is cured dried beef.”

I’m going to try out a variety from A Taste of Aloha this week.  So far, I’m planning to cook one straight-up Hawaiian staple, one Tahitian classic, one Korean-inspired dish, something called “Evil Jungle Prince” (because with a name like that, I HAVE to make it), and one that is literally straight out of the kitchens of Mad Men (anyone for pineapple and pine nut pie?).

I have a feeling that this is either going to be a very good week, or a disastrous one, but either way, it probably won’t be boring.

View recipes and photos from the Junior League of Honolulu’s A Taste of Aloha (White Sangria, Poisson Cru, Kim Chee Salad, Evil Jungle Prince, Chicken Long Rice, Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie)