Fish On My Plate?
by Veronica S.
The abundant bounty of the oceans doesn't strictly
define Hawaii cuisine, yet it surely is one of its strongest
and most influential characteristics.
Times have long passed when one could only choose local
mahimahi or snapper in restaurants where the menu was
otherwise filled with imported and frozen sole, lobster
or salmon. Innovative and creative chefs across the
islands are passionate about serving food that is grown
on local soil and caught fresh in Hawaiian waters. They
are inspired by the ethnic variety springing forth from
the wealth of different cultures living together on
the islands. Subtle flavors of the East meet bold taste
sensations of the West.
However, different languages are also meeting, and
especially when it comes to seafood, the names are often
confusing if not intimidating. Don't be surprised if
even your friendly waiter isn't quite sure about that
fish on your plate.
While it's impossible to list all the edible local
fish, here's a small glossary of sorts, just to help
First of all, you'll often find fish prepared in the
Sashimi : thinly sliced raw, high-grade fish, served
with spicy wasabi (Japanese horseradish) mixed with
Poke: raw fish cut in bite-size chunks and marinated
the Hawaiian way. How is that? Try it with seaweed,
sesame oil, chili pepper, ground candlenut, and chopped
onion. It's ono (sweet-tasting, delicious).
Ceviche: raw fish "cooked" in lime or lemon
juice. Coconut milk is often added with other seasonings.
As for the fishes themselves:
The Tender Snapper Family counts as its most revered
siblings: Opakapaka, Onaga, Gindai (Ukikiki), Ehu (Ula'ula),
Uku, and Lehi.
With succulent, white, flaky flesh, snapper will always
be a favorite. Onaga has the highest fat content and
makes a superb sashimi. Watch out for "market price"
on the menu. Snapper, increasingly scarce, has grown
The Fat Tunas revel in delicious oiliness, warmth,
and tenderness. With dusk-pink to claret-red flesh they
create stunning color contrasts when served "wok-charred"
or as sashimi.
Some favorite ones are Ahi (Yellowfin tuna or Big-eye
tuna), Aku, (Skipjack tuna), and Tombo Ahi (Albacore),
responsible for the "white meat tuna" label
on those handy cans!
There is a group of loners, Idiosyncratic Individuals:
Watch out for sweet, flaky Mahimahi (Dolphinfish), and
not related to dolphins at all, Ono (Wahoo), available
year round, great for sashimi, and honored member of
the mackerels, Monchong, disk-shaped, popular sweet
pomfret, and Opah (Moonfish), which any chef would recommend.
The Lean Billfish Competitors who never make the tournament
because they are too small ( and therefore delicious)
are, among others, Striped Marlin (A'u), great for poke,
Broadbill swordfish (A'u ku, Shutome), a dense-textured
fatty fish, Shortbill spearfish (Hebi, and Sailfish.
As for the Less Familiar Locals, try Moi, a threadfin
reef fish and fish of the ali'i (chiefs), now farm-raised
on Oahu, or Opelu, a mackerel scad, small, fatty and
"onolicious". Moano, Kumu, and Weke are all
members of the great goatfish, reefy, yet worth the
unknown adventure. Last and not least, praise to Nohu,
a reef fish with the taste and texture of a fine, rich
Give it a try, step into the unknown, taste the truth
of Hawaii's ocean. You'll be happily surprised!
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