Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Kailua, Hawaii

The Location: Kailua, Hawaii

2010 census: 36,513 people. 2013 per capita income: $25,138. 2010 census: 43.8% white, 21.1% Asian.

Kailua means "Two seas" or "Two currents" in Hawaiian. It is estimated that people came to Kailua and the rest of Hawaii in the 500's AD. During the 1500's, Kailua became home to the "Ali'i", or the ruling class that governed the region. Kailua became the residential seat for the Ali'i, replacing Waikiki.

Kailua remained a small town throughout the years of colonization by various cultures, until World War II, when Fort Hase and Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay were built. This brought in a large increase in population that never went down again after the war ended. The area continued to grow, with a hospital, churches, and schools being built. The first supermarket was opened in 1947.

Kailua Beach is thought to be the best beach in the entire state. It is a popular destination for all kinds of surfing, including traditional and wind surfing. President Obama has visited Kailua five times on his winter vacation during his tenure as president. This has increased tourism to the area, with people hoping to catch a glimpse of the president or his family.

The Food: Traditional Luau

This blog posts marks the halfway mark for this project. For my 25th post, I am honoring the 50th state! I researched foods from Hawaii that predated colonization of the region. Hawaii has been influenced by many cultures over the years, including American, Japanese, and even Russian. I wanted to find as close to "true" Hawaiian food as I could. This led me on a journey and a search for ingredients I've never used in my life and were rather perilous if used improperly. For this meal, it wasn't about the final product or how delicious it tasted. It was about trying out new ingredients and preparing them in ways I've never done before. And it was a lot of fun!

One of the ingredients I love most from Hawaii was one I wasn't able to use for this post. Pineapple, widely regarded as Hawaiian, is actually not Hawaiian. Pineapple hails from Brazil, which means, it's presence in Hawaii is the result of colonization. Coconuts were on the ok list, because these are thought to have been brought over by the Polynesian peoples who first inhabited the Hawaiian islands. They are also said to be responsible for bringing taro root to the land as well, which was something that played a very prominent role in my meal.

All of my recipes came from the internet, so I will not write them out here. I will write about the experience and result of making them and you can refer to the link to see the original recipe, if you are interested in trying it.

Lau Lau Pork:

This is the recipe that required the most amount of hard-to-find ingredients, and one that I was never able to find. I don't think it was missed, however. This dish required a trip to two different stores to procure everything. I visited my local Asian market for the second time in two weeks and became the very proud owner of frozen banana leaves and fresh taro leaves. Banana leaves are used to line the crockpot or whatever vessel you use to make the Lau Lau Pork. If you are like me, then you have never seen a banana leaf in person before. They are big! I unwrapped them and they are as tall as, if not taller, than I am! I only needed one to line my crockpot, so I put the rest back in the freezer for future use. What future use they might have besides making more Lau Lau Pork, I have yet to find out. But that will be the challenge, won't it?!

The taro leaves are also big, though not quite as large. They are also poisonous if not handled properly. Fun right?! Believe me, I treated these with great care, and wore gloves and everything. Apparently it's not like you get poisoned and die, but it can lead to skin irritation and kidney stones if not cooked thoroughly. So, treat it properly, treat it with care, but don't be terrified of it. If you know me, then you know how I feel about taking great risks to my personal safety. So, if I can do it, so can you! I cut the stems off the leaves and boiled them a couple at a time in water for a few minutes. This acts to start the cooking process and also makes them more pliable for folding.

For the pork, I just used pork spare ribs that I cut into large pieces. The dish is traditionally made with salted butterfish as well as pork, but I didn't have access to butterfish, so I left it out. For the seasoning, I used a combination of reduced-sodium soy sauce and red Hawiian sea salt. It's actually a sort of coral color and it colors the pork as well. If you can find this in your grocery store, I would recommend using it over Kosher or table salt. It's worth the extra money.

Two taro leaves are overlapped and then you place some of the seasoned pork mixture in the center. Fold it up like a burrito and if you are able to get your hands on the ti leaves that I was unable to get, use those to tie it up. If not, use toothpicks like I did. I used three toothpicks per bundle. Place each bundle into the banana leaf-lined crockpot and repeat until they're all used up. I had one taro leaf leftover so I just placed it on the top to help cover everything.

Put a cup or two of water into the crockpot over the leaf bundles. Place another piece of banana leaf over the top, and fold in the overhanging leaf so it's all well contained. Place a piece of aluminum foil on top of that and top with the lid. Turn the crockpot to low and cook for at least 8 hours. Make sure you actually plug in the crockpot, unlike me. Fortunately my sister was home when I called her on my way to go see Ant-Man and she was able to plug it in for me. Otherwise this would have been a blog meal fail. A very sad and expensive one.

The banana and taro leaves smell strong when you cook them. It reminds me of the smell of jasmine rice, if you are familiar with that scent. The taro flavors the meat and blends well with the soy-salt seasoning. The recipe I based mine off of calls for 4-6lb. of pork, but I used about 1.75lb, so I did the seasonings based on two pounds. This meant 1 1/2 Tbsp. each red salt and reduced soy sauce. However, when I saw just how much one tablespoon of salt looked like on the meat, I chickened out and left it at that. The water you add to the crockpot does help dilute the saltiness a bit so it turned out perfectly for my tastes, but if you like things salty, go ahead and add that extra 1/2 Tablespoon of red salt. This turned out really good!


Poi is made from taro root. It is gluten free, fat free, and full of vitamins. Taro root, like the leaves, can also be poisonous if not cooked thoroughly. I got mini taro roots, which most likely means that they were picked before they were fully grown, from the same Asian market that the banana and taro leaves came from. They are sort of hairy on the outside, so when I thoroughly washed these(while wearing gloves), I tried to get as much of that off as I could.

This was a really simple recipe to make. Cover the taro root with water and boil it for about an hour or until softened completely. Remove from the water and peel. Traditionally, poi is made by men. The cooked taro root is placed on a wooden board and mashed with a rock. It's a sacred tradition in Hawaii, so you should enter into making it with reverence. For the people, for the land, and for the ingredient. However, I'm not a man, and though I do have a wooden cutting board I could have used, I didn't have access to a rock, so I just used my potato masher. I think it turned out pretty much the same.

Poi is pretty much everything you've ever heard about it. It's softer than mashed potato, and has a slightly bitter taste to it. I ended up sprinkling a little of the red salt into it just to give it a bit of flavor. I ate a little of it but it definitely isn't something I would seek out again. I did wonder what it would be like if I prepared it like mashed potatoes, meaning adding milk and butter to it. It sort of congeals when it sits for a while so it also made me wonder what breading and frying it would be like. It also turns purple when it oxidizes, but when I ate it, it was still off-white in color.

Haupia: Coconut Pudding

I have never had luck making pudding, besides the packaged kind where you add milk. I tried many times when I was in high school to master pudding-making, only to be banned by my parents from trying it again after so many failed attempts. So, you probably won't be terribly shocked to hear that my pudding-making attempt was yet again a fail. The recipe is basically coconut milk flavored with sugar and vanilla and thickened with cornstarch. You pour it into a pan and let it chill and cut it up into squares. Alas, mine never thickened enough and ironically, turned out to be like what we know as pudding. Except it wasn't supposed to be that way at all. Sigh. The flavor was on point, though. I replaced the regular sugar with coconut sugar, which is an actual thing. The recipe said 4-6 Tbsp. cornstarch and I used 4. I probably should have used 6...But as I said, the flavor was good.

Not everything from this meal turned out perfectly, and not all of it was to my tastes. But that wasn't important. The important thing was immersing myself in ingredients and a culture not my own, for a day. It was a good way to see the world from somebody else's perspective. The Lau Lau pork was fantastic and I have leftovers that I will eat with rice. This was a wonderful meal to make in the summer time, even though yesterday was cold and rainy. It made me think of hot, tropical days in the sun, something definitely lacking in yesterday's weather.

I would highly recommend Lau Lau pork. It takes a bit of prep work, and a trip to an Asian grocery store for the proper ingredients, but once it's in the crockpot, the job is done. If you don't think you're brave enough to try poi, rice would be a perfect starch for this. The haupia, if done properly, would be a good dessert, but if you don't care about pre vs. post colonization ingredients, fresh pineapple would also be a lovely finish to the meal. In fact, I might have some tonight with my leftovers!



Haupia and Lau Lau Pork recipe

Kailua info

City pic

City Map

Lau LauPork-my recipe based on this one.

Haupia-my recipe based on this one.

City Info

Poi Recipe

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