THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Honoring the ancestors

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I pen this column having just returned from our annual sojourn during Memorial Day weekend taking Mom to various cemeteries to place flowers at the resting places of dear relatives. Our trip always follows the same pattern, starting at Honolulu Memorial Park, moving on to Nu’uanu Memorial Park then the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl and ending with immediate family members at Hawaiian Memorial Park. Though Mom isn’t as mobile as she used to be, she still wants to make the trip, even if she often simply waits in the car watching me place the flower arrangements in the urn. It’s about on and giri (obligation) and honoring and remembering the ancestors.

But during this Obon season, I also remember restaurants and meals in the past, especially those which can never be repeated, with those establishments having long since shuttered their doors. And with the current COVID-19 pandemic, the permanent closing of dining establishments is a true reality, even for those restaurants that would have continued if not for the crisis.

Jon’s Coffee Shop
Located on the lower level of the central mauka (mountain side) area in Ala Moana Shopping Center, Jon’s Coffee Shop was usually the final stop for the Tatsumotos’ visit to the shopping center, which occurred just a few times a year. Because we resided in Windward O‘ahu, my parents didn’t like making frequent trips over the Ko‘olau mountains. But since Ala Moana Shopping Center was a one-stop destination with Longs Drug Store, Liberty House, Kramer’s, McInerny’s, Shirokiya and even Rada’s Piroschki, they made that trip on occasion. And once our shopping was done, we had lunch at Jon’s Coffee Shop.

The hole-in-the-wall eatery had a small dining area, though we usually ate lunch outside adjacent to a children’s play area with several stone and concrete sculptures that children could climb. However, we were never allowed in the sand, as Mom always said that felines do their nasty business in sand, and Mom T. was a major disinfection queen well before the COVID crisis. Of course, since I was the warubozu (mischievous) child, after finishing my lunch, I would touch the sand while Mom and Dad weren’t looking almost as my personal victory.

But as I grew older, and well after Jon’s shuttered their doors, I remembered the burgers we had for lunch. They had thin patties like those from the Golden Arches, but they were a lot paler in color, so I suspect there was either some pork (or all pork) in the patties. Plus, there was the distinct flavor of black pepper and a touch of curry powder. Other than a leaf of iceberg lettuce and yellow relish that is often served on hot dogs, the burger was plain. I’ve tried recreating those patties in my own kitchen, though my versions still aren’t close to the original. I’m sure part of the original experience captured the essence of “small kid time,” which can never be replicated. But if anyone out there knows the recipe, drop me a line!

King’s Bakery
What is now known as King’s Hawaiian Bakery and Restaurant in Torrance, Calif., used to be King’s Bakery in the 50th. The original O‘ahu bakery (the Taira family started the business in Hilo or on the Big Island) was located just off of King Street. While they sold bakery goods, they also had a pastry that had the pronounced flavor of almonds. They were dense pastries that were the size of your average croissant, but because of the richness, I could never finish a whole pastry in one sitting. Having sampled these as a child, I never knew the actual name of the pastry. In my college years, a classmate worked at a local pastry shop and he thinks they were either called Princess Rolls or Marzipan rolls. Marzipan rolls would make sense as marzipan is simply ground almonds and sugar. It would also explain why I couldn’t finish a simple pastry, as almonds or almond flour is a lot richer than wheat flour. I even wrote to a local newspaper food columnist (who is older than I am) but she didn’t remember any almond flavored pastry and gave me a recipe for almond rolls, which were more like simple dinner rolls with flaked almonds. But if anyone out there knows the recipe, drop me a line!

Masu’s Massive Plate Lunch
Starting originally as Livingston Food Services in 1974 primarily as a catering business with a small plate lunch business by the mother and son team of Yoshiko and Paul Masuoka, the plate lunch business proved to be more profitable so they renamed the business Masu’s Plate Lunch and after moving to their final location in the ‘90s, Paul offered local celebrity named plate lunch specials, which included steak and even lobster tails (not just one tail). During my college days, we frequented Masu’s Massive Plate Lunch (the “massive” was added to the name once the specials were created) on a regular basis, and even after I returned home from the Bay Area after completing graduate school, I continued regular trips to boost my cholesterol levels. And massive wasn’t just an advertising slogan, I remember their teriyaki chicken plate had six or seven chicken thighs and sauce ladled over the rice. It was sheer heaven!

But after Mom Masuoka retired and then passed in 2004, the strain of working long hours finally took their toll, and when the new building owners decided not to renew the lease, Paul Masuoka decided to retire two years early and Masu’s closed their doors for good in 2007. However, he gave the recipe for his teriyaki chicken to that same newspaper food columnist and I saved the recipe, but be forewarned. Part of that exquisite flavor comes from searing sauced dipped chicken in a cast iron frying pan that is so hot that if you’re doing it right, you’ll set off the smoke detector.

And Masuoka also stated that the flavor isn’t the same with small batches of chicken. The recipe I downloaded was for five pounds of chicken thighs, but Masuoka’s original recipe is for 150 pounds of chicken thighs. But if you want the recipe, drop me a line!

Closer to Your Home
I previously lamented about Bay Area restaurants like Patisserie Delanghe, P.J.’s Oyster Bed and Pacific Heights Bar & Grill that are no more. Because of the current pandemic, we fear that another one of our Bay Area faves may also shutter, The Grove on Fillmore. When in the Bay Area, we usually have our first meal at The Grove and often our last breakfast before heading back to the 50th. So, patronize your favorite establishment even if it’s just take-out before they also become distant food memories.

For Dad T
And as a closing to this Obon column, I would like to dedicate this column to my father-in-law, Toshisada Tamura. He was always a man of few words with me. We always celebrated his birthday at one of his favorite restaurants. While he was still working, he frequented the Columbia Inn for breakfast. My wife decided to join him one morning and when the server asked him if he’d have the usual, my wife asked him, “How often do you come here, Dad”? My in-laws were also regulars at the old Wisteria, but they closed and after my mother-in-law passed, my father-in-law’s last remaining favorite restaurant was the buffet at the Pagoda Floating Restaurant. And again, he was a man of few words. “How’s the sashimi?”

“Good.” “How’s the tempura?” “Good.” And though he just passed late last year, I know my wife is reassured that he’s no longer in chronic pain from multiple fractures and he is now back with my mother-in-law.
So, I honor all those who have passed before us that laid the foundation so that we may have better and enriched lives. Namu Amida Butsu. (Total reliance upon the compassion of Amida Buddha.)

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University 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 gochisogourmet@yahoo.com. Views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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