Well, the beginning of every year is always filled with change. From simply hanging up that new calendar you purchased at Borders … whoops, that’s change in itself since there is no Borders, to crowning a new NCAA national champion in football via the convoluted BCS ranking system (I guess if LSU goes undefeated, it’s hard to argue against them). Then in February there’s a new NFL champion (it’ll definitely be a Happy New Year when Raider Nation rises to glory again) and so on and so forth. Of course, once every four years signals a possible change in the White House, and this is that year (whether you may like him or not, I’m hoping for continuity since he is a native son of the 50th and the Mrs. is his classmate). And of course, once every 144,000 days or 394.26 years, a Mayan baktun or Mayan Long Count Calendar ends (which occurs on Dec. 21, 2012) signaling the end of days, right?! Actually, most Mayan scholars would simply say Dec. 21, 2012 is the end of baktun 13, which heralds in baktun 14 — no end of days, just another cycle beginning. Since that day in question falls on a Friday, I already warned the boss that I’ll be holding a nice bottle of wine at work … just in case NASA hasn’t discovered that five-mile wide asteroid hurtling to earth at 5,000 miles per hour.
And then of course, there are changes we’d like to initiate or experience or those we want perpetuated. So here’s my humble list for 2012:
Since most of you reside in the massive 48 states (notice I didn’t phrase it as “greater,” since the 50th is just as great), you already may have experienced pop-up restaurants. As I mentioned in an earlier column (July 21-27, 2011), these pop-ups are usually run by up and coming chefs who don’t have the capital or financial backing to start their own restaurants so they “borrow” space from established restaurants or established kitchens. What do they offer that established restaurants don’t? For starters, the price point is usually better since they’re not encumbered by fixed lease payments and payroll. And more importantly, they usually offer changing menus and fresher ideas. Newer interpretations to food preparation and cooking “outside” of the box. Of course, just cooking outside of the box means nothing if the food doesn’t ultimately taste good, but in the case of recent pop ups in the 50th, great food with a twist and great prices.
I applaud this newer phenomena in the 50th and applaud the owners of established restaurants who allow these young gun chefs to flourish.
While farmer’s markets are nothing new in the 50th, there certainly are many more in virtually every neighborhood on a weekly basis. Just 10 years ago, the most notable market was in the parking lot of the Kapiolani Community College every Saturday. In fact, it was so popular many vendors ran out of produce within the first 30 minutes or so. Since vendors weren’t allowed to sell before the 7:30 a.m. horn, what they did was allow shoppers to pick out bags of produce and held them on the side before the horn. Therefore, once the horn sounded, many vendors immediately had 50 percent of their produce already sold. Now, there are markets weekly on the Windward side, in Honolulu and on the Leeward side of the island. But why cater to these markets? Aside from better prices (eliminating the middle man), the produce tends be fresher and in the case of veggies like tomatoes, riper, sweeter produce. You also help to support your immediate community as many vendors live in the same area where you hail. And believe me, you won’t have to worry about putting Birds Eye or Green Giant out of business. Everyone still needs bags of frozen peas or artichoke hearts in their freezers.
For lack of a better term (or maybe to simply make it sound palatable), I mean the whole animal or most of the animal. When we consume small reef fish, we eat the whole fish. Not just the pectoral muscle, the tail muscle or dorsal muscle. In fact, with salmon, we even eat the skin (salmon skin sushi is one of my favorites). However, when we consume terrestrial animals, we usually only consume the “good” parts. In fact, a vast majority of the poor animal simply goes to pet food or worse yet, fertilizer. But there’s good eats in those other “strange” parts. I mean after all, the poor animal was sacrificed specifically to feed you. The least you could do is not waste most of its carcass.
These “real” parts of the animal also test a chef’s true talents as they usually require longer cooking or creative flavoring and preparation. With a filet mignon it’s simple — just don’t overcook it! While tripe takes hours of cooking to tenderize, once it’s there … Mmm, mmm, good!
OK, for those who say that they consume more than duck breast and legs, but also the offals … like its liver. Foie gras doesn’t count. plus it’s going the way of the dinosaur in the Golden State in another six months. I’m talking about parts like heart and other organ meats like thymus, pancreas and kidney. Or even tongue — Korean style grilled beef tongue is a favorite or grilled lambs tongue with roasted beets. I even had smoked duck tongue that tasted like smoked shimeji mushrooms. Or even the nether regions starting with the stomach down to the … If you’ve had hot dogs or sausages in natural casing, well you’ve had what’s also known as chitterlings. I don’t expect you to start with tataki warthog butt like Tony Bourdain sampled in Namibia, but heart would be a good place to start. It is a muscle, after all, just like the “good” parts and Limon Restaurant’s Anticuchos de Res in San Francisco would be a good place to start. Or simply reserve a table at Incanto, also in San Francisco, or Poggio, in Sausalito, Calif., for their interpretation of “real” food.
Changes for the Year
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” So following that quotation, I will patronize my local farmers markets on a regular basis. I will patronize up and coming pop-up restaurants in the 50th … even if their preset dinners are only served on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. And I will eat “rea”… I actually already do, so perhaps I’ll even start cooking “real” (though tripe does need to be simmered outside, far from any windows and downwind).
Or as David Bowie said “Ch-ch-ch-changes … just gonna have to be a different man.” OK, maybe eating offal is a little too different for you. How about working on just number two? Or it doesn’t even have to be food related. Over the following year just find time to read more, relax more, enjoy more, eat more … whoops, most New Year’s resolutions are to eat less. OK, eat more … fresh fruits and vegetables … that you purchase at farmer’s markets. And though we can’t control what goes on in Washington or what goes on with management at work or even habits of the significant other, we can control (and change) our own personal time. So may the year of the dragon bring you health, peace of mind and happiness. Shinmen Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at email@example.com.