Let's Go Grind
by Betty Fullard-Leo
Above photo was taken
in Kainaliu town, a popular weekend sight of hule
hule chicken cookouts.
When a Hawaiian friend says, "Hey, pau hana let's
go my house for grind. We got plenty ono pupu-poke,
musubi, might even be some pipikaula and po'i in the
fridge," don't hold your stomach (or cover your
ears) in bewilderment. Pupu (hors d'oeuvres) and pipikaula
(dried beef) are perfectly acceptable subjects in polite
company, poke has nothing to do with sticks and musubi
isn't a Japanese conglomerate. They're all tasty "grinds,"
the local term for food, or to eat.
From grinds to gourmet, pupus to hors d'oeuvres, plate
lunches to regional cuisine, local lingo for food can
be confusing for the uninitiated. This quick reference
should give you the courage to twist your tongue around
some of the most intriguing flavors you'll find this
side of the Pacific, with an occasional suggestion on
the best Big Island source.
and AKU The Hawaiian names for two types of tuna that
are most often used in making sashimi because of their
high fat content which imparts a buttery texture.
AZUKI BEAN Don't bother to ask that this bland red
pinto bean be tucked into your cone of shave ice. Some
shave ice vendors offer it or a dollop of ice cream
at a few cents additional. If they don't have ice cream,
trust me, shave ice is better just doused with sweet
sticky fruit-flavored syrup.
BENTO This Island innovation is similar to a plate
lunch. It takes its name from the Japanese lacquered
box lunch, which has small compartments for storing
separate dishes-sort of like a meal you might have had
on A Hawaiian Airlines flight from the Mainland, but
heartier and more compact.
CHICKEN KATSU Like most Island-style fast food, this
deep-fried, breaded chicken cutlet served with a soy-based
dipping sauce, usually comes with mounds of white rice.
PEPPER WATER Don't let the tiny size of the red chili
peppers floating in the bottle fool you-this firewater
makes Tobasco taste tame. Made of fiery Hawaiian chilies,
water and/or vinegar, bottles of it used to be found
only in homes, but today plate lunch places and even
upscale regional cuisine restaurants display it au table.
SEED In Hawaii, when you see a local kid sucking on
a ball of something in his cheek, it's likely to be
crack seed rather than a jaw breaker. In local markets
like Crack Seed, Etc. or Hilo Seeds and Snacks you'll
see big jars of different kinds of these brown Chinese
preserved seeds, but in places like Long's Drugs you
can buy a little sealed package of sweet and sour plum
or salty li hing mui to sample.
DIM SUM These tidbits of food-often dumplings stuffed
with seafood or pork and steamed-are dispensed from
carts and efficiently noted on a bill left at your table
throughout the meal so you can pick and choose from
successive carts as they come around.
HAWAIIAN VINTAGE CHOCOLATE This is the brand name for
chocolate processed from cocoa beans grown on the Big
Island-the only state in the U.S. that grows cocoa.
Delectable truffles and rich desserts are made of Hawaiian
Vintage Chocolate in a number of gourmet restaurants.
HULI HULI CHICKEN If you drive by a shopping center
or a park and see a big cloud of smoke in the air, it
means some club or Little League group is grilling huli
huli chicken to sell as a fund-raiser. Huli means "to
turn" and that's exactly what the chickens, stuck
on long, motorized barbecue stakes, do over the open
IMU Imus are commonly used at lu'aus to cook a whole
pig, but fish, taro and bananas also benefit from this
cooking method. Hot rocks are heated first in a pit
dug in the ground, then the rocks are placed in and
around the pig, which is covered with banana and ti
leaves, wrapped in burlap, topped with earth and left
to steam for several hours.
'INAMONA A brightener for bland flavors, kukui nut
meat is dried, salted, and grated for seasoning on meat,
fried taro and other local foods.
Men removing a kalua
pig from an imu during a luau at the Kona Village
Resort. Photo courtesy of Kona Village Resort.
KALUA PIG Traditionally this is shredded pork from
a whole pig cooked in an imu and served at a lu'au,
but a similar style of shredded meat can be achieved
by dousing a pork butt with liquid smoke and Hawaiian
salt, wrapping it in foil and baking it slowly in a
KONA COFFEE In recent years, Kaua'i, Maui and Moloka'i
have begun growing coffee, but that cultivated in the
upcounty Kona District of the Big Island is revered
by coffee lovers more than any other. Many of Kona's
boutique coffee growers and roasters welcome visitors
to tour their operations.
LAULAU It looks like a big bundle of leaves on your
plate, but strip away the ti leaves and you'll find
a delicious helping of steamed pork, butter fish and
taro leaves, which taste somewhat like spinach. Laulaus
are the main course at "poi suppers," so-called
because they are served with poi.
LOCO MOCO Hilo's Café 100 claims the dubious
honor of originating this mountainous breakfast, a heap
of white rice topped with a hamburger patty and a sunny-side
egg smothered in gravy.
The original Loco Moco
from Cafe 100 in Hilo.
LOMI SALMON A traditional lu'au course made of small
chunks of raw, salted salmon marinated with chopped
green onions and tomatoes. The salmon is pounded into
thin pieces, hence the name lomi, which means massage
LU'AU A traditional feast with Polynesian entertainment.
The menu centers around imu-roasted kalua pig. Other
traditional foods include po'i, lomi salmon, rice, chicken
long rice (chunks of chicken in translucent rice noodles),
squid lu'au (made with steamed taro greens), and haupia
MACADAMIA NUTS You can see these best of all nuts growing
at the Mauna Loa Plantation just outside Hilo off Volcano
Highway. Nuts can be roasted salted or plain for munching
on straight from the can, chocolate-covered for candy,
or chopped and cooked in regional cuisine dishes.
MAHIMAHI Best known of all Hawaiian seafood, this rich,
flavorful dolphin fish is usually served in boneless
filets. Mahimahi is not related to dolphin mammals such
Tex Drive In in Honoka'a deep fries scrumptious balls
of fluffy yeast dough by the thousands. Rolled in sugar
and eaten hot, the holeless Portuguese doughnuts are
a staple at carnivals and fund-raisers.
Also called char siu bao, these Chinese steamed buns
are filled with seasoned pork, pot roast, or sweet black
beans. Costco sells them frozen in plastic bags, but
those from local grocers and venders are mo' bettah.
MOCHI Slip into Hilo's Hongwanji Mission, especially
before New Year's Eve when mochi is placed in tiers
all over the place for good luck, and you'll spot these
glutinous balls of cooked, pounded sweet rice. Any time
of the year you can ferret out mochi in Japanese stores
or at Long's Drugs where the pink and gray globs are
displayed in cellophane packages.
'OHELO BERRIES Hard-to-come-by small red berries that
grow at Volcano, which are delicious in pies or jellies.
'OPIHI This chewy limpet plucked from the rocks along
wave-swept shorelines is considered such a delicacy
it retails for $125 or more a gallon.
PLATE LUNCH This is a paper platter of comfort food
consisting of two scoops rice, macaroni salad, meat
and gravy served with a plastic fork or chopsticks.
Quantity is usually more important than quality in this
local-style fast food.
POHOLE FERN SHOOTS Found in Waipi'o Valley these succulent
shoots of the pohole fern are added to salads and served
marinated as regional haute cuisine.
PO'I A Hawaiian staple made by steaming and pounding
the corm of the taro plant to a sticky paste. One-finger,
two-finger, etc. denotes the consistency determined
by adding water. Fresh, day-old, two-day po'i are terms
referring to the flavor; po'i sours as it ages.
Primo and poke used to be de riguer at any football
tailgate party. Primo is a beer of the past but the
bite-size chunks of raw fish marinated with seaweed
are still the number one pupu at local parties. Chef
Sam Choy hosts an annual Poke contest at Hapuna Beach
Prince Hotel, set for September 21 this year.
PUNA GOAT CHEESE A creamy, rich cheese (used in regional
cuisine dishes) made of the milk of pampered goats raised
and fed on organic greens in the Puna area of the Big
SAIMIN This noodle soup, often made with fish or chicken
stock and garnished with green onions and a slice of
fish cake, is so popular in Hawai'i, it's even served
SASHIMI This appetizer of raw red tuna, thinly sliced
and served with soy and hot mustard sauce, doesn't taste
quite right unless it's eaten with chopsticks.
ICE Mainlanders call them snow cones, but locals call
it shave-not shaved-ice. Served in a paper cone, this
frothy mound of finely shaved ice is doused with sweet
syrup in a variety of flavors and served with a straw
for a cool refreshment on a hot summer day.
MUSUBI One of Miss Hawaii/Miss USA Brook Lee's favorite
snacks, Spam musubi consists of a lump of room-temperature
rice topped with a slice of Spam lightly browned in
soy, all held together with a strip of nori, seaweed.
Surveys have long shown the Aloha state is the biggest
per capita consumer of Spam in the world.
The seafood that tops these bite-sized morsels of rice
is not always raw. You might choose flying fish roe,
cooked shrimp, or octopus, in addition to sliced sashimi,
but it's usually all wrapped in seaweed.
TARO A Hawaiian food staple, the gray or purple corm
might be steamed or fried, or pounded into po'i, while
the cooked leaves resemble spinach in flavor.
TERI BEEF Like teri chicken or teri burger, teri beef
is marinated in a sauce of soy, ginger, onion, and sugar
and grilled. Hit the beach on a holiday weekend and
the teriyaki aroma from open grills will make your taste
WASABI This green, Japanese-style horseradish can clear
your sinuses and cause steam to come out your ears when
you dip your sushi into an overly strong mixture of
soy sauce and wasabi.
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