Icons of the Lifestyle
Here in Our Stuff, treasures that tell the tale of Island-style.
ʻAohe pilo uku. – No reward is a trifle. (Even a small gift is appreciated.)
The two-year wait for a Kamaka ukulele is meant to have you appreciate the sense of time that is built into these instruments. Here at the shop, time is an old friend–not some harrying, production-driven pain-in-the-wrinkle. Time is piled high in the woodshed out back, in the pyramid of koa logs felled by Father Time and brought out of the cloud forests atop Mauna Kea, and which must then air-dry for years on end before they can be cut. At last the rare hardwood is rendered on the 1940s-vintage bandsaw into boards that are then soaked and steam-bent into the signature Ohta-san bell shape or antique pineapple motif. The polished rosewood stringboard is attached, and the gleaming German-crafted keys are fastened and tuned. What has emerged from amidst the buzzing and the sawdust is a Hawaiian classic, an instrument that since 1916 has given voice to aloha as no other can.
Dave’s Ice Cream
Where to begin? There’s kulolo, with its mild tang of taro in counterpoint to coconut cream, is deliciously faithful to the traditional Hawaiian delicacy sold road-side in Hauula or thereabouts. Li Hing Mui, with all of the ecstasy with none of the puckery agony of its crack seed counterpart; herein is the quintessential appeal of sweet-and-sour, brimming with tiny tart strips of crack seed enrobed in a sumptuous plum sherbet. Did some of you came to the azuki bean late in life, perhaps as a curious but reluctant nod to one of Haleiwa’s open secrets? With your first experience of the succulent red bean, you came to the realization that life’s best secrets were not necessarily illicit. And then, a swarm of tiny orange bits of upcountry poha engages you with a mellow brightness whose cheerful qualities go beyond mere citrus. Mild-mannered ube, a sweet potato of Philippine provenance, plays host to your rollick in a dollop of the most sensuous color you can imagine: the glowing gem-like hue of African violets. Drop-dead gorgeous.
Aunty Soon’s Whole Pickled Jalapenos
Determined that the right thing be done, Aunty Soon grimly presided over the shotgun wedding of yet another hot pepper (a jalapeno) that got mixed up in some saucy Oriental dip–in this case, that secret sauce known as shoyu, so beloved to insiders here (shhh!). But whadda ya know—they hit it off splendidly! The fruit of their union, the shoyu-pickled jalapeno, combines (in the fashion of Island progeny everywhere) the best of both lineages. As certain to bring a smile to your face as any bright-eyed button bouncing in your lap, the heat of the now-tawny jalapeno has been tempered by the charms of its mysterious marinade. It may not have been planned, but what the hell, the best things in life seldom are.
kukui nut oil
The people who understood it best, the ancient Hawaiians, are gone, leaving its unaccountable effects to laboratory analysis and anecdotal evidence. Testimonials from customers, cancer centers, and cosmetologists all speak to the remarkable efficacy of kukui nut oil in healing intractable skin disorders and radiation burns, and in fending off the touch of Old Man Time. This much we know: nothing else works quite like it. But science may serve us only so well in these matters, and perhaps some allowance should be made for tradition. There are many who still see the kukui as a taproot into the wellsprings of our Island legacy, and its balm a benediction of aloha. Therein may lie the nut of the issue.
Catfish n’ Pies
If girth is any indication of good, the good old boys are clearly onto something. Catfish n’ Pies lets us in on the secret. Ain’t no corporate madman’s idea of Southern-themed franchise grinds here. This is your mother cookin’– or what you always imagined that your mother should have cooked. Here in this breezy corner, beneath ceiling fans that lazily stir country curtains, Miz Clara summons Heaven itself from scratch. Which is to say… whatever’s on offer at the produce stands, be it green tomatoes or okra for frying in bread crumbs, yams to be candied, Maui cabbages for hand-cut slaw, collard greens sauced with homemade chili vinegar, black-eyed peas in their own gravy to be soaked up with cornbread, or fresh peaches for cobbler. Mere napkins won’t help you contend with savory slow-cooked ribs by the slab—only paper towels by the roll. And when the Cajun-blackened catfish is wont to have you howling beneath a bayou moon, there is the nectar of southern-style ice tea to bank the fires. At last, there is sweet potato pie, fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, and lemon chess pie flecked with cornmeal that rises in the baking to form a thin dark crust. Oh Lawd.
There were dread rumors and dark mutterings about trouble on the Esket production line. Supply of these oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip mac nut-pecan dainties lay in grave doubt, and for Esket lovers, the future of civilization as they understood it hung in the balance. Soon, counterfeit Eskets began turning up, as consoling mothers (notorious for their presumptuousness in matters of baking) offered their own misguided take on these things to despairing loved ones. But the crisis has abated, and they’re back now. In telling you as much, I’m sure to be called on the carpet for hastening demand for their already tentative supply. True Believers have come to realize that Eskets are there when they’re there, and for not necessarily a single moment more. For an Esket lover, life these days is lived one precarious day at a time.
Hawai’i Golden Orange Marmalade
Nature is known to accord the most effective camouflage to the most sought-after, toothsome prey. So when it comes to Ka’u oranges, I go out of my way to select the most butt-ugly specimens I can find, appreciating their profound homeliness as a deterrent to the uninitiated. Regrettably perhaps, their blessed anonymity has been compromised. In clear glass jars of their marmalade incarnation, their golden virtues are immediately discernible. Blended with our own glorious Haden mangoes (no spurious Mexican pretenders here), Hawaii Golden Orange Marmalade is as ebulliently delicious as the oranges themselves are ugly. ‘Nuff said– of higher praise I cannot conceive.
Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Cornbread
The truth is quite different from what you thought you had learned in American History. The real reason the South lost the war is simply that Hawaii, a southern state albeit, did not join ranks with Dixie and enter into the fray. Had we done so, we might have lent our improving touch to things, and the supreme comfort of southern cooking Hawaiian-style might soon have insinuated itself into hateful hearts all around and conquered all. Imagine: macadamia nut cornbread, infused with the delicate sweetness and soft crunch of the noble nut. Irresistible! The boys from up north would surely have hastened to throw down their rifles to join in the repast, with the outcome of the war altogether different. There simply cannot exist a difference of opinion that cannot be resolved through the good offices of good eating like this.
Li Hing Ume
And you thought that ume were just those hard little red things lurking in the middle of your rice bento, just waiting there to break your jaw? Well, what is Hawaii if not forever inventive? Consider all that pizza, for example, might never have become had we left it to the Italians—a simple tomato-smeared crust strewn with shreds of cheese. Weary of its mean-spirited, manini rap, the ume Japanese plum has soaked up the piquant essence of honeyed li hing and now waxes exuberant, full-figured, and luscious in its new incarnation. Having renounced her crab-appley ancestors and their bento venues, Miss Ume has betaken herself to the Big Time. Check out her new act, opening soon.
If beer is liquid bread, Kauai Gold is the artisanal French loaf, piping hot from the oven. An Island-style pilsner, Kauai Gold’s hoppy savor retains its light maltiness throughout extended swirling upon the palate. As with the elemental goodness of the best French loaf, the secret is immediate freshness and an all-natural emphasis.
The lanai of the Lodge opened onto a fairyland of tree ferns and steaming fumaroles. In the cool forest and rain shadow of the great mountain, the only sound was the hypnotic dripping of mists. Contemplating this prospect through the warm vapors of morning tea, I felt a cat’s claw of urban anxieties come gently undone.
Kaanapali Moka Coffee
From the stony soil of Araby to Maui’s fertile fields, the delicate cherries of Yemen Moka seem to have weathered the journey well. (Who– or what– after all, is not improved by a change of venue to Maui?) The coffee’s broad, velvety character and smoky nuance evokes the guttering lamps of a Yemeni souk, and may have you casting about for your hookah as such pipe dreams play in your mind’s eye. In the knowing hands of those who know coffee best, the pride of Yemen has become Kaanapali Moka– ambrosia itself by any other name.
Ancient apothegms are inscribed into sterling bangles that seem polished like the disk of the sun itself: “All is peaceful,” we are assured. “A beloved child is a lei never forgotten,” we are reminded. “Love gives life within.” A garden of Island botanicals flourishes in gold and silver, with fingers of lau’ae extending their benediction, graceful trumpets of calla lillies, and Maui roses unfolding in painstaking intricacy. Petroglyph immortals wield paddles and rainbows in golden amulets, while processions of sea turtles and the gentle flow of ocean waves grace necklaces and bracelets. The timeless wisdom and motifs of our Island legacy are accorded their due in precious metals and priceless artistry.
Hawaiians knew it to be the richest fish of all. Great slabs of aku would slowly redden over beach fires, juices dripping and hissing and popping in the embers. Some things don’t change, nor should they. In an age of ever more artful renditions of poke, dry aku poke derives its inspiration from timeless simplicity. Hand-rubbed in sesame oil, so simple yet so savory… because the fish itself is so damned good. Always has been. If you work in Kalihi, you do not—I repeat, do not– deserve this place! Downtown, where you have to put up with parking and legions of corporate dweebs, there are compensations, such as fine dining. But Kalihi, where parking is ample and people go easy, does not deserve an uptown benefit like this. No matter that Monarch Seafoods has cleverly disguised itself as a fish marketword is still leaking out, and the lines are quickly growing. Plate lunches of nori-wrapped crabmeat-stuffed ahi rolls baked in a pesto crust over a bed of gourmet Nalo greens– or homemade crab cakes with roasted garlic dressing, for that matter— inevitably take a bit longer to assemble than hamburger curry with gravy over everything. My lunch hour does not permit of the extra wait in line. So beat it.
Na Hana Lima
There’s a guy that lives out back of beyond in Makaha somewheres: scavenges koa beams from old pallets used once upon a time to ship stuff from the Big Island (imagine—there was a time they used koa for pallets– that’s old wood!) Assembling these cuts into vanity pieces takes a knowing eye and a practiced hand. This is not the usual polyurethaned, prettyfied piece, but wood with age and distinction, wrought with dedication to eliciting the sublime qualities of vintage koa. Forget trying to find anything like it in town– if you want the genuine article, you gotta go Waianae, and ask nice.
Natsunoya Tea House
Statues of good luck cats with paws upraised, jolly ceramic buddhas, and an array of signed photographs of sternly-visaged sumotori framing an enormous wall-mounted Kona crab all extend their welcome to honored guests of the Natsunoya Tea House, an Island classic since 1921. Thusly felicitated, you are led to the second floor landing, where shoji doors slide open to admit you into a straw-scented tatami room strewn with zabuton cushions. Beneath rafters carved into black pine motifs, and walls hung with prints of ornate bridges and birds on snowy boughs, you peer out through a grove of nipa palms and acacia boughs to behold the wartime spy’s prospect of Pearl Harbor.
Out back, a flagstone walkway winds along an antique bamboo column fence to a classic garden with stands of ginger and crotons beneath an over-arching monkeypod. At the foot of a lichenpatinaed boulder with the elongated forehead of a Confucian sage, a lotus pond flashes gold and silver with koi. Luncheons proceed with lacquered bento boxes of chicken katsu and grilled miso butterfish, as bamboo chimes clatter in the mountain breeze. Then at night, the serenity of the Floating World gives way to lantern glow and the bonhomie of Ginza-style karaoke parties and general jollification. Tall bottles of Japanese beer wash down delicately-latticed tempura and flagons of sake tilt over bubbling pots of sukiyaki. Old Edo awaits you in this oasis of exquisite repose.
What manner of legend lies encoded in the black-stained geometry of rings, pennants, triangles, and diamonds incised in their hard ochre shells? In weaving the dream fabric of tradition, ipu serve as storyboards for the recounting of myths and chants, and served as well for purposes more profane, such as fermenting poi or packing fishing gear. Most of all, their softly burnished shells call to mind the bowls of spirit light that each child, in the legend of these islands, brought to humanity. In bringing these ipu before you, No’eau’s faithful re-creation of ancient artistry touches deftly upon that sense of the sacred that lies hidden away in contemporary Island hearts.
Hawaiian Chili Pepper Jelly
You envy people whose yards have them– a blessing and a bounty second only to an exuberant mango tree. But no vegetation permitted by law promises so much cheer as the backyard bush adorned with a bumper crop of Hawaiian chilies. With heat just shy of the baleful habanero, the Hawaiian chili exclaims “ono!” with its pointed red exclamation marks. Its dancing fire has been captured in a sparkling jelly that, as condiment or upon a cracker, nips the palate and quickens the pulse, precipitating a gleeful wince and spreading a hearth-like glow in its wake. Were it a woman, my man, you’d be on your knees, begging her hand in marriage.
Macadamia Nut Oil
Banks of charcoal-colored clouds shot through with sunbeams wreath the towering volcanic precipice above. On gentle trades that issue from the marble-blue expanse of ocean, the aroma of bins of Big Island macadamia nuts drifts throughout the emerald cane country. Cold-pressed then piped through ducts of charcoal filters, the golden oil of the Good Nut emerges, infused with Hawaiian chilies, or garlic, or Italian herbs. Did you really need to be told this is good… and good for you?
That’s us, all right—neither cutting edge nor terribly uptown, just charmingly re-creative with Old World elements. Ono Manju combines fillings justly honored by our ancestors, aunties, and Yankee forebears in porcelain-like glazed pastries well-suited as little sacraments for the Altar of Ono. As your mother repeatedly tried to impress upon you, your veggies are good for you–and never better than what we have here, be it azuki bean or Okinawan sweet potato, coconut or tart apple. If you still refuse your veggies, you must answer, then, to the Ruler: Cocoa-Dipped Coconut Manju, brimming with coconut cream and dressed up in a vest of vanilla-scented chocolate liquor. You should have listened to your mother, you know.
Deterred, no doubt, by its grotesque appearance and malodorous cachet, Eve foolishly passed up the noni in favor of the apple of the Tree of Eden. Had she not done so, the innocence and well-being of mankind might have remained uncorrupted, and contagions without number might have remained forever locked away in Pandora’s Box. Polynesians, however, not having to contend with serpents and their sly blandishments, have long since come to know what legions of testimonials are now saying: that Pandora’s Box holds little that cannot be held in abeyance by the noni.
Whether of bone or mother-of-pearl, Byron Cooper’s astonishing replicas of ancient Hawaiian fishhooks are graced with a geometry of Euclidean elegance. Some are melded to polished hardwood shanks and tips, and fastened with a fiber cord that might require days of hours to replicate the 36-ply braids of its Bishop Museum original.
The squid lure is singular. In olden days when the sugar cane tasseled, the octopus came into the bay in great numbers, shy creatures that harbored a misguided infatuation with the red cowry and-stone lures that fishermen dragged along the sandy, sun-lit bottom. The choicest cowry was the deep red of a shade-ripened mountain apple, a color coaxed into fullness by steaming over a low fire of cane husks. When let down into the sea, the cowry and its companion stone swayed in a joyful dance that aroused the octopus to leap and fatally embrace them. Whether the squid lure elicits the same response from contemporary admirers, this extraordinary collection bespeaks a level of acumen and authenticity far removed from the commercial standard.
Fried Ahi Poke
Here is the Altar of Ono itself, an atavistic tower of skewers embedded in a frisson of radish and root vegetable shavings. Its morsels of yellowfin tuna, soaked in shoyu and quickly seared, await the prayerful supplicant. Worship proceeds, then, at the Altar, as the skewers impart a delicacy whose buttery softness yields to the tooth and reveals what seems like a cross-section of rare-cooked steak. Its appearance misleads, for its savor far exceeds any such thing. The gods are pleased, the palate ecstatic.
Crack Seed Store
Not since the dark warrens of medieval alchemy has there been such Weird Science employed in rendering unmentionable odds and ends into gold… and goodies. The old-time candy store has been refashioned into a kapakahi emporium of the offbeat. On offer here are items that Merlin himself would have coveted for his kinky craft: loco moco seed mix, shapely red ika legs and smoke file fish, cashew iso peanuts and furikake puff rice cakes, teriyaki marlin jerky and tamarind drops from Java … along with all manner of variations on the theme of li hing in the likes of li hing sour swedish fish, sour soda bottles, and sour dog bones. So just how weird do you wanna get? Would not wasabi chocolate-covered mochi crunch satisfy your most dire craving for depravity? No? Then soothe your fevered imagination with a draft that looms larger these days in the popular esteem than Pokemon itself: mochi pearl coolers in a black tea ambrosia of jasmine, honeydew, taro, or of course, li hing. But this place is too good for just the neighborhood gremlins. Kids and other denizens of the Dark Side will soon demand franchises worldwide…ala Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock Café.
The moonlit luster of the black pearl beguiles like a nocturne. From settings of hand-wrought gold, it shimmers with the colors of the Night Rainbow: dark silver, magenta, midnight blue, and more. Exceedingly sensitive to the imprint of man on its environment, the black-lipped oyster may one day be lost to its South Pacific habitats. ‘Til then, and for nevermore thereafter, its treasure awaits you.
Li Hing Mui Ice Cake
To think they dared looked down their noses at us, sneering at our quaint, low-tech, low-brow Island ways. Well, little did they suspect that a local upstart would one day threaten to dethrone that veritable pillar of White Bread culture, the Popsicle! The new Ice Age dawned suddenly, in a bold leap from neighborhood crack seed store to sleek, state-of-the-art facility. The Conquering Hero that emerged therefrom, the Li Hing Mui Ice Cake, has ensured that all those oh-so-worldly whiz kids– weaned on the likes of orange and strawberry– will forevermore be looking over their shoulders for what’s coming next from this quarter. This is ice with attitude, not some prom date ice cream parlor confection. As a delivery system, it excels… numbing the gullet for a dead-on dose of this ought-to-be-illegal licorice-prune powder. For all those little li hing fiends among you– trust me on this– you simply won’t want it any other way.
Untold treasures await you in The Great Hawaiian Bazaar!
If you have a taste for history, we invite you to WisdomMaps: The Future of the Past!