It is always fun to find interesting things in your own neighborhood that may have been there all along but that you never noticed before - as when I stumbled across two very old Buddhist temples (see "The Time Capsule in My Back Yard", and "Further Back in Time" - May 2005 Archives). It reminds me of how unaware of things one can be while distracted by the daily routines of life, as well as how hurried life is in modern society. We not only fail to smell the roses, we completely miss things as big a house! (Or in the case of the vacationing President, a category 5 hurricane.)
I had passed by the pink and white two storey home several times in last few months as it is on a side road that leads to Hamanasu Park less than a mile from the house (described in "Bon Dance Update" and "Tall Stories" - August and July Archives respectively). I had noticed the sign on the roof that said " 'oli 'oli ", but I never stopped to check it out nor thought about what the sign meant as I was usually too busy either cranking my bike up to speed to get over the railway overpass or, when coming back, trying to maintain control coming down off of it. (One day, coming down the overpass, I was going too fast over a rough section and my headlight came flying off the bike and disintegrated on the street).
Anyway, today I stopped. The sign on the roof said in full "Hawaiian Style Cafe & Restaurant 'oli 'oli" with the last bracketed by depictions of pikake or plumeria blossoms. What!? In Kashima? Out in the boonies? As I looked at the sign I had seen several times before, the light bulb over my head finally flickered on and I got it. Of course. 'Oli 'oli is Hawaiian for "always joyful". Hau'oli is the Hawaiian word for happy, as in Hau'oli makahiki hou (happy new year). I am used to seeing signs with English words here (even if the words are misspelled and/or misused), but I never thought of making a connection to Hawaiian and had completely missed this one as a result.
I parked my bike next to a sign that read, "Parking for Hawaiians Only" - hey! that's me! - and went to check things out. As luck would have it, or not, they were closed. Japanese small businesses often pick a weekday to close, this being Thursday, as weekends are busier. Oh well, more opportunity to poke around before committing to a meal.
An archway invites one to walk along the seashell-covered path to the front door. To the right is a large wood deck for outdoor dining. Tiki torches and palms - obviously not coconut palms, but palms nonetheless - let you know you are leaving Japan and entering Hawaii. And in case you wonder if this is going to be traditional old style Hawaiian luau food, a blue surfboard lists a portion of the menu to clue you in that this is modern popular Hawaiian food - or "local grinds" as they say in Hawaii. This kind of food became popular in Hawaii after world war two brought exposure to more foods from around the Pacific as well as military delicacies such as SPAM - Hawaii's favorite meat (I'm only barely exaggerating).
So follow along in your books as we learn about some Hawaiian Local Grinds. If you forgot your book today, just refer to the photo. If you know some or all of these items, good for you, help your neighbor to learn them, as there will be a quiz after class.
First on the menu is Loco Moco (loco is "crazy" in Portuguese, one of the many cultures that emigrated to Hawaii for work over a century ago - in fact, one of my son-in-law's grandfathers is Protuguese and worked as a "paniolo", Hawaiian for cowboy). This is a dish I have never tasted as it looks like an invitation to a heart attack to me. It was developed after the war (WWII that is - there have been so many it is easy to lose count these days) by some restaurant in Hilo as a fast food and quickly gained popularity across the state. It consists of a huge serving of rice topped with a hamburger patty smothered in gravy with a sunny side up egg or two as the crowning glory - or perhaps Coup de Gras if you can't handle cholesterol.
Mahi-mahi is the well known "dolphin fish" - no it isn't "Flipper", though that wouldn't stop some Japanese - it is a fish, not a mammal, with a very firm white meat and a mild flavor. Correctly prepared it is a winner every time. Makes a great sandwich.
Shrimp Scampi. Well, last I checked that one is Italian, but Hawaiian citizens eat their share, so I'll accept that.
Next is Hawaiian Fried Potato, which, unlike one former Vice President of the USA, these people spelled correctly. These are probalby like home fries or country fries, i.e. thickly sliced, and seasoned with sea salt.
Then Tako Poke. Tako is Japanese for octopus, or octopus is English for tako - depends on your point of reference doesn't it? In Hawaii octopus are referred to as tako. Tako Poke (pronounced poe-keh) is a dish made with chopped boiled octopus, limu (a kind of seaweed found in Hawaii), sea salt, chilies, and roasted kukui nut paste. If you go to a potluck in Hawaii and don't find any Tako Poke or the next item, Lomi Lomi Salmon, or the one after, Ahi Poke, then you definitely need to make some new friends.
Lomi Lomi is Hawaiian for massage. This dish is a salad made with salmon that is massaged with Hawaiian sea salt (don't even think of using table salt, though Kosher salt would do nicely) and put in the fridge for 24 hours to draw the moisture out. It is then rinsed, cut and mixed with chopped tomatoes, green onions, pineapple, red chilies, lime juice, macadamia nut oil, fresh black pepper, and butter lettuce. Oh, I almost forgot and Kula onion. Why a Kula onion? Kula is a region on Maui on the side of Mt. Haleakala. The onions grown there are so sweet - I am NOT making this up - that you can almost eat them like an apple. My dad used to make Kula onion sandwiches - a slice of Kula onion between two slices of American cheese, bread optional. Really! They are that mild. Anyway, Lomi Lomi Salmon is ono! Delicious. Oishii. As local Hawaiian's say, "broke da mouth". You'll see "Maui Onion" advertised, but accept no substitutes if you can help it. Kula is no ka oi (the best).
Sorry, I have digressed. I am getting hungry just writing about these foods. Ahi Poke is similar to Tako Poke except the meat is a fish called ahi in Hawaiian. This is your basic b-flat yellowfin tuna. It is used raw in poke dishes (and sashimi of course). Personally, I like a thick ahi steak seared on the outside and raw in the middle, but ahi poke is good too.
Hawaiian spareribs are prepared with teriyaki sauce, which is made with soy sauce (shoyu), sugar, mirin wine, and sake wine. Actually the word "teriyaki" is made of two words, teri means luster and yaki means to broil or grill.
The 'oli 'oli surfboard menu comes full circle back to local fast food with Spam Musubi. Musubi is a rectangle of sushi rice wrapped in nori (seaweed that has been made into a paper thin sheet, black or green). If you have eaten at a sushi bar, you are probably familiar with nori. World War II brought lots of US military people to Hawaii and with them came lots of tins filled with SPAM - the predecessor of today's MRE or meals ready to eat. The salty flavor and high fat content became a favorite in Hawaii. Hawaii's large Nisei population had introduced musubi, so the two were soon combined and now one can find Spam musubi at almost every mom & pop and 7-11 store in the state - it's even sold in gas stations that carry convenience foods. A thick slice of spam on a pressed rectangle of sushi rice wrapped in nori. Mmmm-mmm. (Uh, no thanks).
Well, you may be wondering by now why I haven't mentioned Mother's cooking. I am sure Mom is! Well, it is because I remember different kinds of foods she used to make - especially around the holidays, but of course it was all good Mom! Teriyaki steak and rice and broccoli, mango chutney, mango pies, and pineapple upsidedown cakes were Hawaiian style favorites of mine. (Happily, no spam musubi or loco moco). Thanksgiving was amazing. If I start naming too many things I'll leave something out and be in big trouble, but I always loved the string bean casserole. And most especially, for me, on my birthday, many times she made lemon meringue pie - a glorious creation of love. (What? You thought I was going to leave my mother out of a post that involves cooking?). As they say in Hawaii, "Eh, no get nuts!"
So that's the menu in front of 'oli 'oli. Now I am really intrigued. I am looking forward to finding out how some of these items compare to what I'm used to on Maui, fully allowing for differences due to the location being about 8,000 miles distant. I'm also looking forward to finding out who runs the place and how they came to offer such fare in a rural neighborhood in Japan, and whether this is a hobby or they really do a business there. I'm a little nervous about finding out what the prices are. Maybe I'll order the "etc" to start.
Perhaps the restaurant sensed my concern, for on my way back to my bicycle I saw a glint of light among the seashells under my feet. It was a 500-yen coin (worth about US$4.50). Well, at least I can spend that much now, risk free. Stay tuned.
If you'd like to try any of these items and don't happen to be in Hawaii (or Kashima), do a Google search and you'll turn up lots of recipes for each.