“KAU KAU” by Arnold Hiura


Filled with photos, restaurant menus, delicious foods, and recipes, “KAU KAU: Cuisine and Culture in the Hawaiian Islands” (2009) takes us on a culinary journey through Hawai‘i’s history. Writer, editor, and media consultant Arnold Hiura.

Hiura discusses the roots of Hawai‘i’s cuisine, based on fish, seaweed, salt, taro, sweet potato, yams, arrowroot, breadfruit, and fruits. Western contact brought goats, pigs, cattle, melons, pumpkins, and onions. Missionaries introduced new ways of cooking: stews, soups, boiled meats and vegetables, casseroles, and puddings; and new staples like corn, flour, butter, cheese, molasses, potatoes, salt pork, dried beef, salt cod, corned beef, and dried apples.

The breaking of ancient kapus about eating and sacred foods, along with the Mahele of 1948 that privatized land, transformed the Hawaiians’ traditional diet. Cattle ranching introduced pipikaula (beef), and the lack of refrigeration continued to encourage a culture of sharing and bartering. Commercial growers planted sugarcane, pineapple, coffee, macadamia nuts, and papayas. Contract laborers from China, Japan, Portugal, Korea, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico brought their own dishes and seasonings.

World War II changed Hawai‘i’s cuisine yet again, as military and tourist newcomers craved foods familiar to them – hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream. Everyone experienced food rationing and survived on canned meats like SPAM.

“Hawai‘i’s mixed plate today is a representation of those foods that appealed to the broadest base of people over time” (page 58), Hiura writes. The first plate lunch probably appeared at Honolulu’s Pier 2 in the 1920s, sold by struggling mother Moyo Iwamoto. The first loco moco, an icon of local food, with rice, hamburger, eggs, and gravy, was probably created at Café 100 in Hilo around 1949.

The 1970s saw a “Hawaiian Renaissance” the development of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, spearheaded by chef superstars like Sam Choy, Alan Wong, and Roy Yamaguchi.

Today, pa‘akai (white sea salt) is still cultivated in traditional salt ponds near Hanapepe, Kaua‘i. It cannot be purchased, but can only be received as a gift from a Native Hawaiian salt grower.

Foods I never knew existed:

Flying saucers, 2 slices of bread with a Sloppy Joe-like filling, topped with cheese, and toasted over a charcoal grill in round “pie irons.” It’s available only at Kaua‘i’s Buddhist temples during Obon.

Poi Cocktail (page 25)
Poi “cocktails,” common in 1920s and ‘30s cookbooks, were the white settlers’ idea of something the whole family could drink at a lu‘au.
Ingredients: Fresh poi; milk; sugar, to taste; cinnamon or nutmeg, a sprinkle
Pasteurize the poi for children by heating it in the top of a double boiler for 30 minutes. White poi is warm, put 2 Tbsp. into a glass. Fill glass with milk. Stir with a fork. Add sugar and spice.

Kulolo, Something Good (page 25)
This enthusiastic 1898 recipe is reprinted as it originally appeared in an Oahu church’s fundraising cookbook.
Six cups taro flour, 4 cups cocoanut milk, 4 tablespoonfuls sugar; grate fine the meat of 2 cocoanuts and mix all together well; put in a deep dish well buttered, and bake 1 hour in a moderate oven; eaten warm or cold it is excellent and cannot be beat!

All this talk of food has made me hungry. Let’s kau kau!

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