Dat sum ono food, eh?

Lunch on the back lanai in Honolulu, family-style — bowls passing, chopsticks darting this way and that to snag the choice pieces. I spy: jung [ti leaf-wrapped sticky rice, usually filled with fatty pork, boiled peanuts, and a preserved duck yolk], Portuguese bean soup, roast pork with crackly skin, pastele sausage from the incredible Kukui Sausage Co. [a certain MJW would probably trade an arm for their kimchi sausage. good thing I’ve got a pile in the freezer for bargaining power, and more on that later], and, of course, Maui pineapple. My cousin-in-law remarked that he had never eaten anything on the table before. That’s no surprise when in addition to all sorts of [primarily Asian] ethnic foods, there are innumerable cultural fusions that make up modern “Hawaiian” cuisine. It’s high time I share some favorites from my last trip.

We first discovered the Kukui Sausage Co. at the Kapiolani Community College farmer’s market, where they serve a selection of their sausages perfectly grilled. KCC is a fantastic market with produce, potted orchids, locally-produced jams and salsas and snacks, and too many stands cooking delicious food to choose from — loco moco and fried green tomatoes and kettle corn and . . . This trip, though, we decided to get serious about this sausage thing and buy directly from the factory. Address in hand, we drove down this skinny alley lined with apartments and small industrial buildings and ended up here:

Hmm, didn’t realize making sausages was such a sketchy operation . . .

When we rang the doorbell, a guy in a white apron furtively poked his head out the door and looked at us blankly until we said, “Umm, sausages?” at which point the smile turned on and he welcomed us inside. We stepped into a tiny office with a desk and shelves stacked ceiling-high with papers; a screen door led into the rest of the factory, where a guy was spraying down links with a hose.

In the end, I walked out with half a dozen kimchi, one pastele [a pork base mixed with green bananas, among other spices and herbs], and the one pound coarse-grind Portuguese [a Hawaiian breakfast staple]. I guarantee they won’t last very long.

Crack seed is a broad term for Chinese preserved fruit, ranging from kumquats marinated in honey to salty spiced plums. They’re definitely an acquired taste — I’ve only recently come around to it, and even then not all varieties. The li hing powder used for these plums is part salty, sweet, and tart, and it’s become so popular in Hawaii that it’s sprinkled on everything from dried mango to gummy worms.

Old-school crack seed stores like this one look and smell like traditional Chinese doctor’s shops — strongly herbal, a bit fermented, and full of unrecognizable things you’re supposed to be able to eat or make tea out of. You can get some of these snacks pre-packaged by big brand names now, but nothing beats the experience of pulling shriveled mystery fruit out of a jar.

This was the first time I’d ever seen these kuih loyang cookies, and with just a hint of sugar and plenty of crunch I couldn’t stop eating them. Sometimes called kuih rose or honeycomb cookies because of their lacy pattern, they’re special for Chinese New Year. They’re made by dipping a heated brass mold into a coconut milk batter to coat, and then dunking into hot oil until fried crispy; my mom remembers her grandmother “Popo” making them when she was little. This is a fun article from a traveling chef, with a recipe and a photo of the mold.

Hungry yet? We’ll have to schedule a kimchi sausage brunch. Til then, dream of some hot malasadas, and try not to drool.

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