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.

AHI 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.

CHILI 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.

CRACK 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 grill.

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.

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 conventional oven.

Men removing a kalua pig from an imu during a luau at the Kona Village Resort. Photo courtesy of Kona Village Resort.

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 in Hawaiian.

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 (coconut pudding).

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 as Flipper.

MALASSADAS 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.

MANAPUA 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.

POKE 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 Island.

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 at McDonald's.

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.

SHAVE 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.

SPAM 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.

SUSHI 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 buds quiver.

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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