The mixed plate is a classic staple here in the 50th, one you’ll find at every local drive-in. It basically consists of two scoops of rice, one scoop of macaroni salad and your choice of mixed proteins, such as teriyaki beef, pork or chicken, fried tonkatsu or chicken katsu, beef stew or curry, chili or literally any main dish that’s created in the 50th.
Mixed plate is thought to have originated during the plantation days where workers, while separated by ethnic living areas or “camps” during the evenings, interacted during their lunch or dinner breaks, sharing each other’s food. So the Chinese and Filipino workers tasted Japanese musubi, while the Filipino and Japanese workers tasted Chinese stir fry and the Japanese and Chinese workers sampled Filipino pancit (noodles). This resulted in a mixture of foods from different cultures, all on one plate, which continues today.
This mixture of different cultural influences is also evident in that classic Hawaiian feast or luau. Traditionally, a baby’s first birthday is cause for a large celebration, whether you identify as Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese or any mixtures of ethnic groups.
Classic luau cuisine is usually served at these celebrations, including kalua pig (underground steamed/smoked whole roasted pig), lau lau (steamed pork wrapped in taro and ti leaves), poi (steamed then mashed taro root) and haupia (coconut cream custard). But you’ll also find chicken long rice, which I’m sure is either Chinese or Japanese in origin and lomi salmon (salted, minced salmon with minced raw white onions, green onions and tomatoes, which aren’t Hawaiian in origin).
Apparently, the traditional Hawaiian dish of cubed, raw fish mixed with salt and chopped seaweed has been adopted into many cultures, even here in the 50th. Poké (pronounced as po-keh, not po-kee, which is Gumby’s orange buddy) can often be found with raw yellow onions or green onions, which likely wasn’t in the original rendition, shoyu and tobiko (flying fish roe), which likely came from Asian immigrants and even mayonnaise, which is definitely a Western influence. I’ve even seen stateside versions with corn, cooked grains, guacamole and salad greens. Since poké simply means to slice or cut, whatever accoutrements you add that float your boat is fine with me. However, I take issue when people try to copyright the word poké along with other Hawaiian words, when they and their product aren’t even based in the 50th. Two years ago, attorneys for the Chicago-based Aloha Poke Co. restaurant chain sent cease-and-desist letters to poké shops in Hawai’i and other states over their use of “aloha” and “poke” together, claiming they were infringing upon its trademarked name.
One of my favorite versions of the original poké is when it’s mixed with natto (Japanese fermented soybeans) and fukuzinzuke (Japanese pickled daikon) over vinegared rice for a natto poké bowl. I also enjoy a relatively new addition to raw seafood, whether served as poké or sashimi (Japanese fresh raw fish), chopped Salicornia maritima, more commonly known as sea beans, or sea asparagus. It gives a refreshing crunch and salinity that perfectly complements raw seafood the same way Gracillaria seaweed (ogo) or sweet raw onions does.
Cultural Mash-Up on a Pie
I’m talking about America’s favorite pie, the pizza pie. CPK created an empire placing American barbecue chicken on the traditional Italian staple and hasn’t looked back since then. I’ve seen many renditions substituting barbecue sauce in place of the traditional red sauce covered in smoked proteins like pulled pork, brisket and sausage. Sometimes, I eschew any tomato-based sauce, instead covering the dough with ginger and green onion pesto. Then, I add proteins like char siu chicken or pork and drizzle it with diluted hoisin sauce and add just enough cheese to hold the toppings in place. This definitely isn’t a pie you would find in Naples.
I’ve also created a thick ragu of ground lamb with warm, savory spices like cinnamon, coriander and cumin, using it as both the sauce and topping then sprinkling it with sumac and lemon juice like the traditional lahmajun or Turkish or Armenian version of pizza. I once created a pizza that would make Beantown proud, spreading a thickened “sauce” of clam juice, then topping it with roasted potatoes, chopped clams, minced smoked onions and chopped celery for a clam chowder pizza. I was so proud of it, I thought of approaching CPK to offer them licensing rights …
My next food project will involve using the traditional Chinese bao, but stuffing it with a variety of fillings, from Hawaiian kalua pig and cabbage to shredded Filipino chicken or pork adobo to chopped Korean bulgogi and banchan to Middle Eastern chicken tagine. I even plan on flavoring the bao with various spices and have already ordered a bag of powdered malunggay to give the bao a vivid green color for the adobo filling. Or I might add the classic Middle Eastern spice blend Ras El Hanout in the dough that envelops the chicken tagine filling.
Another potential food project involves taking that classic Italian creation pasta, but adding various ethnic influences to the mix. I previously mentioned using the Barilla Protein + in place of somen in the traditional somen salad or mixing it with cilantro pesto and garlic chili sauce and shrimp for an Asian twist on pasta. For the past century, Macedonian immigrants who settled in Cincinnati have been combining chili and spaghetti with an array of customary toppings such as minced onions, cheese, beans and jalapeno, though I recall the local Zippy’s restaurants have been offering chili spaghetti since I was a child.
However, I wouldn’t be the first home chef to create ethnic mash-ups of that classic Italian staple, as two local restauranteurs have been offering their versions of Italian-Japanese-Filipino-Hawaiian pasta for several years now at Adela’s Country Eatery.
Adela’s Country Eatery
Tucked into a mini, mini strip mall in the sleepy town of Kane‘ohe, Hawai‘i, Adela’s Country Eatery is the partnership of Millie Chan who, along with her husband Richard Chan, own the I Love Country Café eateries and Adela Visitacion who creates the baked goods at I Love Country Cafe. While being interviewed by a Hokkaido radio station in Waikiki, the interviewer was so impressed with Visitacion’s mac nut shortbread that he invited Millie Chan and Visitacion for a trip to Hokkaido. While there, they spent five days learning the craft of making ramen noodles and eventually purchased a ramen machine and shipped it back to the 50th. Once back in Hawai‘i, they decided to make ramen noodles with indigenous products such as malunggay, taro, breadfruit, Okinawan sweet potatoes and avocado. However, instead of simply creating ramen broth for these locally inspired noodles, they created pasta sauces like shrimp, mushrooms, luau (taro) leaf and coconut cream on taro noodles or garlic, chili pepper and lechon (crispy pork belly) on vivid green malunggay noodles or charred portobello mushrooms topping garlic breadfruit noodles. Like a mixture Japanese and Hawaiian noodles meets Filipino and Italian sauces. If you decide to travel to the 50th, I highly recommend sampling these cultural mash-up noodles that Adela’s Country Eatery serves up.
Adela’s Country Eatery
45-1151 Kamehameha Highway, Kane‘ohe HI 96744
Open Mondays through Saturdays 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.