Multiethnic cuisine

Two Hawaiian dishes are in a bowl, kalua pig, which is comprised of pork and other ingredients, and lomi salmon, which is comprised of salmon, tomatoes, salt and other ingredients.

Kalua Pig and Lomi Salmon Bowl photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

The mix of various ethnic cuisines started well before a group of 12 chefs from Hawai‘i pioneered what became known as Regional Hawaiian Cuisine back in 1991.

It started in Hawai‘i’s plantations at least a century earlier when contracted plantation workers from China, Japan, the Philippines and beyond sat down for their midday meal. Outside of the plantation, various ethnic groups were separated into “camps” based on their ethnicity, likely to follow the plantations’ “Divide and Rule” philosophy. However, during mealtime, these indentured servants were exposed to foods of other cultures and often shared their meals.

For instance, at your classic luau or traditional Hawaiian meal, while you’ll encounter Hawaiian dishes such as kalua pig or whole pig cooked in an underground oven or imu as well as lau lau, which are chunks of fatty pork spiced with sea salt or salted fish wrapped in luau or taro leaves and often cooked alongside the kalua pig. These are served with poi or steamed then mashed corm of the taro plant. However, you’ll also find lomi lomi salmon or salted cubes of salmon tossed with chopped tomatoes and sweet white onions as well as sliced green onions. I’m pretty sure that salted salmon, tomatoes and both round and green onions arrived well after the Hawaiians settled here. Another luau staple is chicken long rice. While the Hawaiians brought chickens and likely ginger with them, I’m sure it was the Chinese who brought the long rice and maybe even the green onions. Therefore, even classic Hawaiian dishes have bits of multiethnic origins.

The Wartime Mashup
During and after the Korean War, people created budae jjigae, a classic comfort dish — out of necessity, due to a food shortage — that younger generations of Koreans still enjoy to this day. The army stew is a traditional Korean broth of gochugaru (powdered chili), gochujang (chili paste), shoyu, garlic, sugar and sweetened rice wine fortified with kimchi, rice cakes, mushrooms and tofu, but the main proteins are purely American: Spam, hot dogs or sausages and sometimes even pork and beans.

These American canned meats were a welcomed protein source by the Korean population during the food shortages and likely happily given by American soldiers who grew tired of K-rations and other canned meals.

Closer to the Motherland, another classic Amer-Asian dish is the Okinawan Taco Rice. It basically has all the traditional fillings for a taco, but they are placed on a bed of hot rice. Although I’ve never been to Okinawa or served in the U.S. Marines, I still enjoy a modified version of this Okinawan classic, using multi whole grain rice in place of white rice, Jennie-O lean taco seasoned ground turkey in place of ground beef and reduced fat cheese for a healthier version. But stick with the traditional toppings of chopped tomatoes and onions, sliced lettuce and cilantro.

The Food Truck Epiphany
Back in 2008, Mark Manguera and Chef Roy Choi launched the Kogi Korean BBQ trucks, which revolutionized the food truck industry, and also created one of the first mash-ups of Korean and Mexican flavors with their Korean BBQ tacos. These days, cooking and serving patrons from a food truck is almost as prestigious as owning a brick-and-mortar sit-down restaurant. And since that first combination of traditional Mexican and Korean flavors, many Asian and non-Asian restaurateurs now serve their own interpretation of traditional Korean flavors mixed with western flavors, including adding kimchi to virtually any dish.

Bulgogi Jicama Kimchi Taco. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

The Japanese Hawaiian Bowl
In the 50th, our local supermarket, Foodland, offers a Kalua Pork Bowl at their deli counter every Friday for $7.99. It’s a simple dish with a base of steamed white rice topped with kalua pork and lomi lomi salmon. Locals who don’t want to shell out that $7.99 can easily create it at home as both kalua pork and lomi lomi salmon are readily available pre-packed at any supermarket.

However, I know these aren’t readily available in the Bay Area, but you can create reasonable facsimiles in your own kitchens. Homemade lomi lomi salmon usually doesn’t require additional salt as salt salmon brings enough salt to the dish but you can add sea salt if you desire. Traditional kalua pig isn’t as smoky as southern smoked pork butt, as one uses banana stalks for the moisture, so there’s usually just a hint of smoke flavor. Adding a little liquid smoke to the cooking liquid as well as smoked salt is a good substitute. If you do have access to banana leaves, the pork can be wrapped in a banana leaf before placing it in the pressure cooker. I also used a leaner cut of pork as a healthier version. Finally, I’m pretty sure you don’t have access to luau or taro leaves, and while some may say spinach is a good substitute for luau leaves, I think slow braised collards are a better substitute. So this bowl is actually Japanese Hawaiian with a touch of Southern…

Lomi lomi salmon

Salt Salmon
One 4-to-5-ounce piece of fresh salmon with skin removed
Coarse sea salt

Sprinkle the salmon liberally with coarse salt then wrap in a paper towel and place in a zip top bag. Refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. After 24 to 36 hours, remove from the refrigerator and rinse off the excess salt then pat dry. Cut into cubes about 1/4 inch.

Three ripe tomatoes chopped a little larger than salt salmon
One-half medium sweet round onion chopped slightly smaller than the salt salmon
Three stalks of green onion, finely sliced

Mix the cubed salt salmon, tomatoes, round onion and green onion and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Kalua Pig
One 3-to-4-pound piece of pork sirloin roast
Equal parts of coarse sea salt, garlic powder and onion powder
Chicken broth (enough for the minimum pressure-cooking level)
1 tbsp liquid smoke

Lightly season the pork butt with the salt/garlic/onion mixture. Place in a pressure cooker with the chicken broth and liquid smoke. Cook under pressure for 90 minutes. After letting the pressure cooker cool naturally, remove the pork and shred the meat discarding the excess fat.

Pseudo Luau Leaf
3 large bunches of collard greens, roughly chopped and braised in water or chicken stock for one hour.

In an individual serving bowl, place a layer of rice on the bottom; furikake can be sprinkled over the rice as an option. Place a scoop of lomi lomi salmon over a third of the rice, a scoop of kalua pig over another third of the rice then finally a scoop of collard greens over the last third of the rice. To mimic the luau experience, enjoy your Japanese-Hawaiian-Southern bowl while sipping on a Maui Brewing Co Bikini Blonde lager which is actually brewed in the 50th…

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 recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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