Archive for the ‘Hawaiian Food’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Bucket Lo’i Growing Big

Same three buckets a couple of chilly weeks later. When it warms up, the taro's growth will accelerate significantly.

Same three buckets a couple of chilly weeks later. When it warms up, the taro's growth will accelerate significantly.

It’s been a couple of months since I last posted about my little bucket-lo’i project. I have several 25 gallon molasses tubs re-purposed to be used as pots to grow my taro in. Since these particular taro plants prefer semi-aquatic conditions, I opted to not drill a drain hole in these tubs and to flood them several inches above the soil line. Since I have had problems with compost rotting immersed corms, I opted for plain ol’ top-soil dug from under my large oak trees. A very black and healthy soil. I used similar to grow my lotus, Chinese water-chestnuts and cattail with very good results, as well as smaller buckets of taro I immersed in larger tubs of water down in the pit-greenhouse. So I followed success and planted my new taro tubs the same way.

Taro two months since the previous picture - significant progress in growth.

Taro two months since the previous picture – significant progress in growth.

It was nice to get the taro planted directly in the larger tubs. The 3-gallon buckets I have immersed down in the greenhouse are okay when the taro is young keiki, but they grow big fast. Interestingly, the Pi’iali’i I have planted in a 3-gallon immersed bucket down in the pit-greenhouse have divided, going from two to 13 plants in that little bucket. I’m about to get another tub filled with top-soil to transfer them as soon as they get a little larger. It is very gratifying seeing this progress after struggling for so many years to make some headway in this project of mine. Taro and upland containers just don’t like each other for long. As they get big they also suck those containers dry in a day or two so they’re a LOT of work unless you use really large containers – which I didn’t have at the time. I did have a Xanthosoma sagittifolium growing in a 25-gallon tub of compost and it actually did pretty well – I’ll do similar with my surviving upland taro later on, get them potted up from their 3-gallon pots to the much larger 25-gallon containers and treat those as raised beds.

Brand new planting from freshly obtained huli. Next time I'll try keiki and see if they do better.

Brand new planting from freshly obtained huli. Next time I'll try keiki and see if they do better.

In any case, the largest success I’ve had with taro to date is the bucket-lo’i and this bucket-lo’i upgrade is a significant step forward for me, finally. I’ve lost a lot of varieties of taro along this road of discovery and hope to finally start rebuilding my collection soon, now that I know I can keep them alive and that they an actually thrive under my care. I am absolutely ecstatic at their abundant growth. They got a bit of a slow start with the cool Spring but are making up for lost time. And they have a few more months of active growth to go before they go into corm-making mode.

Porter's Kai Kea.

Porter's Kai Kea.

I’m sure they’d prefer moving water tho. The lo’i of Hawaii typically route river-water thru them so that the water is always fresh and often cooler. Of course some of today’s commercial flooded lo’i are vast affairs that may or may not have actively flowing water. But of particular inspiration to me are the smaller lo’i like those at Kipahulu. In any case, even without moving water, my taro is doing great. I do have several tubs down in the pit-greenhouse that are set up to recirculate water so eventually those will be put to use to mimic the river flow – but that’s a project for later.



In any case, when I planted out the young taro they were tiny things. Some of them had survived a year of neglect hidden behind other pots and half grown-over by sweet-potatoes in the pit-greenhouse and where actually sprouting again this Spring. That would be the Bun Long and Porter’s Kai Kea that I dug up from the beds and put down in the greenhouse as backups. I was pleasantly surprised to see them sprouting again so they became candidates for the bucket-lo’i upgrade. I also had some Pi’iali’i that I experimented with over the winter in an aquaponics setup in my grow-room. They survived – which is a Good Thing ™. But they didn’t thrive. I figure they’d have done better if I had them outside in the full sun in a larger aquaponics setup and that’s yet another project for the future too. However, I decided to put them in a system that I knew would work since my other immersed bucket of Pi’iali’i was doing so well.

Bun Long

Bun Long

The Pi’iali’i is still a bit smaller than the other two. They took a little longer to wake up and get into gear. Of course, that variety doesn’t get as big as the Bun Long so that could explain some of the size issues. The Bun Long can get as tall as me when it’s mature while the Pi’iali’i will remain around three feet tall. How big they’ll get in their tubs I’m not sure. Down in the pit-greenhouse the Pi’iali’i grew pretty tall but then they were partially shaded so they may have been reaching for light. Where these tubs are they get full sun until about two in the afternoon then bright shade until the evening so they’re growing a bit more compact.

Happy leopard frog making my bucket-lo'i its home.

Happy leopard frog making my bucket-lo'i its home.

In any case, these will hopefully become the parents of much larger beds. I plan on getting liners and sinking beds into the ground and actually producing a tidy little crop of taro. Until then, these tubs will have to do. But I’m glad that they are working out as expected – better than expected even.

And nature approves too. In both the new tubs and the tubs down in the greenhouse as well as my lotus tubs, I’ve found a leopard frog in each. If a frog makes your pond or tub a home then something is going right. Frogs are typically early indicators of environmental stresses – similar to a canary in the coal-mine. So seeing these frogs taking up residence in my tubs is very promising. I’ve also seen dragon-fly larvae skins hanging onto the stems of my lotus, as well as water-striders and water-bugs in my tubs too. Life is returning and thriving. And where life is happy, so is my taro and other aquatic plants.

Taro & Ti Home

PostHeaderIcon First Byte: Jollibee in Waipahu

With a large part of the demographic in this old plantation town on Oahu’s west side being made-up of folks originally from the Philippines, it’s no wonder Waipahu has been appropriately labeled “Little Manila”.  Waipahu is certainly an ideal town for a national chain restaurant originating from the .P.I. “motherland” to set-up shop, with Max’s of Manila in recent years also first setting foot here. While not from P.I., another Filipino chain originating from California who also set-up shop here in Waipahu is Valerio’s Bakery, famous for their Pan De Sal rolls.

Now, adding to that list of Filipino chains in “Wai’pa-HOOO!” is Jollibee, who recently opened for business in the same shopping center where anchor tenant Pacific Market is located.

Jollibee is the equivalent to the collective mind in the Philippines as McDonald’s is in the U.S.. While like McDonald’s, who have expanded their menu far beyond just burgers and fries, Jollibee is also well known for their “Chicken Joy” fried chicken and sweet “Filipino style” Spaghetti, amongst other new menu favorites to suit the current trend.

Here’s Jollibee’s whimsical mascot standing near the doorway in front of the restaurant…

Also in front, “Crispy Bangus,”, along with some of their breakfast dishes are promoted on this poster stand…

Upon entering Jollibee Waipa-HOO! on this peak Aloha Friday noon lunch hour visit this past week, I soon learned this place still has plenty of novelty, hype and popularity with the Waipahu locals, as was evidenced by the LONG LINE of folks waiting to order…

Thankfully Jollibee lives up to the “fast” in fast food, and the line moved very quickly, where from standing in back of the line to arrival at the front counter took what seemed like no longer than five minutes. Helping that efficiency, there’s a worker who checks off an order ticket for each person in line and hands it to you…

I don’t recall seeing him calling in my order to the kitchen through his headset. Instead, all his function seemed was to speed the ordering process by checking off a menu ticket that he then hands to you, which you in turn hand to the cashier. Regardless of this effort in efficiency, I still had to wait on the side at the counter for a few minutes for my order to be completed as they hurriedly rushed more customers at checkout.

You a fan of Jollibee’s famous sweet Filipino style Spaghetti? Then make it a party platter!..

Where there’s burgers, there must be dogs..

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I swear their “Signature Dressing” is essentially Banana Ketchup.

Here’s the takeout menu from the Waipahu location…

I wanted to dine there, yet every table was taken…

In the photo above, if you look towards the front service counter, there’s a “party room” in the right corner (just past the soda fountains) where you can hold private parties, including “Jollibee” themed party favors and even an appearance by the Jollibee mascot, similar to Chuck E. Cheese. I’m SO there for that on my next BD! lol

Since all the tables were taken inside, and there were no tables outside in the shopping plaza, I decided to take my Jollibee grindz back to the office.

On this “First Byte” visit, I decided to try Jollibee’s Spaghetti & Chicken Joy Combo’, along with a Cheeseburger on the side, which pretty much covers their most popular signature menu items…

Packaging looks fun and well-presented. Let’s check out the Spaghetti and Chicken Joy combo…

As you see, the “Chicken Joy” on the left includes a side of gravy that you pour on it, dip it, or not use at all, up to you.

Being a fast food fried chicken, naturally us folks who grew up in the U.S. are going to compare it with absolute top-of-mind, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), along with Popeye’s or Church’s or other regional favorite, depending which chain you like best in your neck of the woods. Upon taking a first bite, I immediately notice the batter is nice and crispy, even after my 30 minute drive back to the office. The meat inside was also quite juicy and tender, albeit not really packing much as far as seasoning (salt) within the fibers.

The batter also didn’t have much in the seasoning department, tasting like there wasn’t much going on besides flour mixed with some salt ‘n pepper, and that’s about it. At least that’s all I could detect. Overall, “dry” without the gravy, it was just a basic fried chicken done right, no more, no less. Note this was the “Classic” Chicken Joy, not the “Spicy” version.

Now let’s REALLY add some “joy” to this fried chicken by pourin’ some gravy on it…

Aaahhhh…oooohhhh…aaaaahhhh. Now THAT looks more like it! Upon a bite of “Chicken Joy” all smothered in gravy, I found the gravy’s texture fairly gelatinous, thanks to what seemed more like a cornstarch thickener than roux (flour and butter) or a flour slurry. Flavor-wise, the gravy tasted pretty much like your typical “McPackaged” poultry or even turkey gravy, where I’d say the “McPackaged” stuff is actually better, as far as depth and overall savoriness. Go figure.

Like the chicken’s batter, the gravy’s seasoning tasted like there wasn’t much going on besides salt n’ pepper basics, with perhaps just a small hint of sage or bay leaf, if any. I suppose the rather basic-tasting gravy did indeed bring some added “joy” to the fried chicken, which was good in and of itself, yet not by much, and I probably wouldn’t have missed it had they, say, forgot to pack the gravy in the box.

With that, I give Jollibee’s Classic recipe Chicken Joy 3 SPAM Musubi and the accompanying gravy 1, where in this sector of the fast food industry, Colonel Sanders’ “original recipe” is still is the benchmark by which all others are judged.

Now let’s try Jollibee’s sweet Filipino style Spaghetti…

That yellow “slick” is the grated cheese, which has already melted over the course of my 30 minute drive. OK, let’s mix it up and do this…

And? Well, um. Well, um. All I can say is, if you’re a purist when it comes to authentic Italian cuisine, stay CLEAR AWAY from this dish, because Jollibee’s Spaghetti has clearly abandoned all rules in that regard.

Honestly, the first thing that came to my mind upon tasting it was Chef Boyardee, at least for the sauce. The chunks of  what looks like hot dogs in it  actuality tasted more like a sausage of some sort, and was actually quite delicious, with an almost “chunky” texture in its filling, having me wish there was more sausage pieces mixed in with the sauce.

Just like I assume their “Signature Sauce” is Banana Ketchup-based, I also think this Spaghetti “sauce” (God it’s painful to say that) is also Banana-Ketchup-based. There’s just this “fruity” twang about it (“twang” is my new favorite word for “twist”) that’s hard to pinpoint.

I must say, the Spaghetti noodles were cooked perfectly al dente, so thumbs-up there.

Overall, Jollibee’s Spaghetti is something probably most appreciated by those who grew up eating this sweet style. If not, you’ll either hate it, or scratch your head and wonder “What the heck did I just eat?”. I’m in the last camp, still scratching my head in retrospect. I’ll have to go refresh my memory and get a can of Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs, then I’ll get back to you on that thought. lol

So as it stands, as for a SPAM Musubi rating on Jollibee’s Spaghetti, all I can say at this time is “No comment”. lol

Finally, let’s sample Jollibee’s Cheeseburger…

Note, like McDonald’s basic burger, Jollibee’s “standard” Cheeseburger’s bun are plain, whereas their premium models get a sesame bun.

Let’s get the cutaway view…

I certainly appreciate the crispy, fresh Iceberg lettuce topping is kept in whole pieces and not shredded, as I’m not a fan of shredded Iceberg Lettuce on burgers (like they do at Micky D’s).

Let’s really take it apart (done after I took several bites)…

Notice they also toast the inside of the bun, so thumbs-up for that. Notice there’s their “Signature Sauce”slathered lightly on the inside part of the top bun, which I tasted by itself (without the burger) and am almost POSITIVE now (almost) this is essentially banana ketchup.

So how is it? Eh, OK. Eh. Meh.

The highly processed burger patty (common’ now, this is corporate fast food, what do you expect?) seems to be made up of plenty of filler, and was obviously cooked on a flat top griddle (fried), and not an open flame grill, which you know how I feel about that.

It also tasted like someone on the line missed putting salt and pepper on it, as, well, there wasn’t much taste to the patty at all. As if I was eating a Cheese, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich, where the predominant flavor component came from the the slightly acidic sweetness of the sauce, while the burger patty itself was an underseasoned, overprocessed afterthought. Ouch.

Summing it up, I give Jollibee’s Cheeseburger 1 SPAM Musubi on this “First Byte” visit, with 1 barely making the grade, thanks to the freshness of the bun and veggies, as well as the “interesting twang” from their Signature sauce.

I’ve been told their “Big Yum” Premium Burger is “the one” to get, but if that 1/3 pound burger patty is essentially a larger version of the one here, I’ll pass.

A Jollibee regular standing in line in front of me highly recommended I try their Halo-Halo and Peach Mango Pie, so if (if) I return, that’s what I’m gettin’. Not sure about anything else. The hot dog looks kinda’ interesting with the grated cheese and signature (banana ketchup) sauce.

A coworker who grew up in P.I. noted the food served at this new Jollibee is pretty much authentic and the same as the one he remembers from back home. And it’s exactly that demographic who will enjoy this place most. Surely young children will enjoy Jollibee for its whimsical appeal, along with a menu to match.

Chicken & Burgers
94-300 Farrington Highway (in the Waipahu Shopping Plaza)
Waipahu, Hawaii  96797

Tel. 671-7448

The Tasty Island rating:

(1) Average.

P.S. Adjacent to the new Jollibee (and neigbhoring Golden Coin) is Pacific Market , the anchor tenant of Waipahu Shopping Plaza, where I swear, EVERYONE MUST experience this market at least once. EVERYONE. This place is AMAZING! It truly is like taking a tour with Anthony Bourdain through the open markets  throughout the entirety of asia, all wrapped up in one convenient store right here on Oahu.

You think Whole Foods has interesting and unusual stuff? Well, wait until you check Pacific Market out! There’s so many fascinating imported food products from all over asia. While the focus are products from the Philippines, there’s also many items from the likes of Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, China and Korea. I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of imported asian food products that, if you can’t find in Honolulu Chinatown, you’ll find it here. In fact, I recently checked downtown Chinatown for Fried Dace, and couldn’t find any. And guess what? Pacific Market had it!

The prices here also seem very reasonable, no doubt due to the exchange rate with the countries they come from.

I’ve seen never a larger selection of Patis, not to mention Longanisa, both packaged and freshly-made. There’s also all these interesting canned fruits imported from Thailand that I’ve never heard of, nor would I have a CLUE how to use in a dish. I’d love to learn, though!

I’ll admit, when it comes to browsing in the store, I have this fetish for sauces, and spend plenty of time in the grocery aisles just reading the labels of exotic imported and new, locally produced bottled sauces. Well, here at Pacific Market, it would probably take me an entire DAY just to go over the HUGE SELECTION of imported asian sauces alone.

As far as retail, I also haven’t seen as much variety and quantity of rice than I have in this store, including 50 lb. and 100 lb. bulk sizes. Whoah!

Then there’s the meat and fish department, which is the part that may make you want to put on a respirator mask, as it SMELLS STRONG in there, being there’s chest after chest after chest of fresh-caught whole fish on ice on display throughout the area. Like Chinatown, you can buy pretty much EVERY PART of the pig here, and I must warn, if you’re squeamish about looking at animal “guts” on display in food cases, you best stay clear of the meat department at Pacific Market. They even had goat (Kalding). Didn’t see any live frogs though, which Chinatown does have.

Finally, the produce department has lots of unusual, exotic greens and fruits you definitely won’t be able find at your neighborhood Foodland or Safeway, including Malungay and Saluyot leaves, just to name a few. They also sell cartons of cooked and uncooked balut duck eggs, which were going at for 6.

The front checkout area also has this interesting novelty shop, as well as a takeout deli.

If you ever are entertaining visitors (tourists) and driving them around the island, make it a point to stop by Waipahu and take them on a “tour” of Pacific Market. It truly is one of the most fascinating shopping experiences to be discovered here!

Finally, while we’re talking about fast food chains, the very first McDonald’s to open in Hawaii was in Aina Haina in 1968, where they’ve recently knocked that original structure down and built a modern McDonald’s right next to it.

Here’s the original McDonald’s Aina Haina (first McDonald’s in Hawaii) back in its glory days (photo taken 2007) …

Here it is in the process of being demolished (photo taken last month)….

Out with the old, and in with the new (located about 50 yards to the right of the old McDonald’s Aina Haina shown above)…

The original McDonald’s building in Aina Haina Shopping Center has since been razed (demolished).

RIP Aina Haina McDonald’s circa 1968 building.

The Tasty Island

PostHeaderIcon Grindz of the Day: Tatsuo’s, Chef Hardy’s Veal Burger, McD’s Saimin & Filipino Faves

Tatsuo’s Hamburger Steak & Smoked Chicken combo’ plate

We begin today’s “Grindz of the Day” with a spread we enjoyed several “Aloha Friday’s” ago at Tatsuo’s, which is pretty much your typical plate lunch joint, albeit, kicked up notches unknown to mankind, of course, located in the heart of the industrial Sand Island area of scenic Kalihi Kai.

Here at Tatsuo’s on this visit, I ordered a combination Beef Stew and Harm Ha Pork plate…

Tastuo’s Beef Stew & Harm Ha Pork combo’ plate

What is “Harm Ha Pork”, you might ask? Well, Harm Ha is a Chinese fermented shrimp paste that has a VERY pungent odor akin to Filipino Bagaong, along with a flavor profile that must be acquired in order to be appreciated. My mother LOVES Chinese food, and with that, I grew up eating stuff like this. Like Tripe (stew), Harm Ha smells pretty nasty to the uninitiated as it’s being heated in the pan. Yet, once you TASTE the final result in a dish such as this Harm Ha Pork, you quickly >>>at least should<<< appreciate it, if not LOVE IT! I know I do!

Tastuo’s Beef Stew & Harm Ha Pork combo’ plate

In this version made by Tatsuo’s, they used ground pork, which was the only thing I didn’t care for, as I’m used to this dish using whole pieces of pork, not ground-up. Aside of that, the Ung Choy (Chinese Water Spinach) was  cooked perfectly al dente if you will, while the balance of salty “shrimpiness” from the Harm Ha was pretty much spot-on.

Tastuo’s Beef Stew & Harm Ha Pork combo’ plate

As for the Beef Stew, pretty standard fare, with a basic tomato-based taste, yet I think could have used either beef stock or simmering longer to extract more savory goodness from the cuts of actual beef cuts in it. The celery, carrots and potatoes still had al dente integrity and weren’t rendered to “mush”, so thumbs-up on that.

Rice was cooked perfectly of course. Greens were crispy-fresh, served with an also standard fare Thousand Island’s Dressing.

Off to a good start, I give Tatsuo’s Harm Ha Pork & Beef Stew Plate Lunch combo 2-SPAM Musubi.

Next up we have Diner E’s Hamburger Steak “Gauge Plate”, by which he uses to measure every joint in this genre for their “Plate Lunch Savvy”…

Tatsuo’s Hamburger Steak mini plate

Sauteed onions? Check. Deep (and I mean DEEP), rich ‘n savory brown gravy? Check. Two char-grilled hand-formed beef patties? Check. Rice? Check. Game on!

Notice for the salad, for the most part, we all choose the tossed salad nowadays, as, well, we’re not getting any younger, and Mac’ Sal’ isn’t so kind in maintaining our “girlish” figure. Not that a heaping helping of hamburger smothered in gravy over white rice is so kind to that either, but hey, we gotta’ make some concessions somewhere. lol

And how is Tatsuo’s Hamburger Steak? Diner “Saimin Kaukau” E gives it a solid 3 SPAM Musubi, which to you and me would be FIVE!!!

Finally from Tastsuo’s on this visit, we have a combination Hamburger Steak and Smoked Chicken (yes, SMOKED CHICKEN) combo’ plate…

Tastuo’s Hamburger Steak & Smoked Chicken combo’ plate

O.M.G. That smoked chicken is AWESOME! Broke da’ mout’! I was skeptical about it before tasting it, because it was an item that had been sitting in a warmer on the deli line, yet one bite and I was absolutely HOOKED! Smoked meats (whether pork, beef, poultry or seafoods) can either be on or off-putting, depending how well the smoke-infused flavor comes across on your palate. In this case, the chicken is extremely tender and juicy inside, with the just the right balance of smokiness and seasoning on the skin, while being permeated just a little within the meat fibers.

Tatsuo’s Smoked Chicken

I’m most DEFINITELY going to have to try smoking some chicken on my next “run”. While I didn’t ask, I’m guessing the “secret” is in the brine.

I also got to try a taste of the gravy from the Hamburger Steak, and WOW. Also AMAZING, and most definitely one of the best Hamburger Steak gravy I’ve had in my most recent collective memory..

That said, Diner A gives his Smoked Chicken and Hamburger Steak combo’ plate from Tatsuo’s an “I’ll be back for more!” 5 SPAM Musubi!

Next up, from KCC Farmers’ Market, we have a Gourmet Veal Burger by Michel’s Executive Chef Hardy…

Chef Hardy’s Gourmet Veal Burger

Awwwe, ain’t them Hibiscus’ adorning the display model “purdy”?! lol

Here’s mine…

Chef Hardy’s Gourmet Veal Burger

Witness the beautifully grill-toasted Onion Roll Bun…

Chef Hardy’s Gourmet Veal Burger

Let’s do this…

Chef Hardy’s Gourmet Veal Burger

The finely-chopped red peppers laced within the veal certainly had an impact on the flavor profile, giving it a sort of south-western appeal if you will. It was surprisingly juicy, considering how lean veal is, yet can’t compare with good ole beef.

Chef Hardy’s Gourmet Veal Burger

There was also a distinct seasoning either coating or mixed within the veal patty, yet ironically, I couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly what the parts of its sum were. The cucumber was certainly a welcome and refreshing, crispy touch, and something I’d certainly try doing in a home burger-making project. Winner!

Summing it up, I give Chef Hardy’s Gourmet Veal Burger 2 SPAM Musubi.

Michel’s Chef Hardy cooks up gourmet Veal Burgers at the Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market

Learn more about Hawaiian Ranchers free range grass-fed Veal here…

Next, we stop by McDonald’s Waikiki location on Kalakaua avenue, right across Duke’s Statue, where I attempted to confirm whether their Saimin recipe truly needs help or not…

McDonald’s (Waikiki) Saimin. .85

That’s a cool ‘Hawaiianized” logo design with the polynesian canoe, although I think they should add the name “Saimin” in a script font going across the yellow double arches to boldly identify what exactly this is.

Let’s see what’s in the “bowl”…

McDonald’s (Waikiki) Saimin. .85

All the right stuff’s in there, including Kamaboko, Charsiu, Sliced Egg Omelet and Nori, except for one other standard garnish that must noted as absent is Green Onion. Ack!

Now, before I take a bite of this bowl from the Waikiki Kalakaua avenue location, you may remember about a year ago I reviewed McDonald’s Saimin from their Hawaii Kai Shopping Center location, which I was sadly disappointed by.

So let’s see if that was just a blunder, or an ongoing problem that needs fixing. Let’s do this…

McDonald’s (Waikiki) Saimin. .85

Meh. Still the same extremely BLAND broth, as if I’m eating “Hot Saimin Water”.  Like SERIOUSLY. The noodles are also “pasty”, while not entirely soggy, leaning more towards that end of the cooked doneness spectrum.

McDonald’s (Waikiki) Saimin. .85

The best part about this saimin was the single slice of Charsiu, which was very tender and packed with authentic Charsiu flavor on the edge.

Summing it up, I give McDonald’s Saimin on this second try -1 SPAM Musubi, which is a first on this blog. Bottom line, FIX the BROTH! Go visit Palace Saimin in Kalihi for the REAL SAIMIN DEAL!

Finally, hot on the heels of my previous review of Jollibee in Waipahu, we have some REAL Filipino grindz from an “unknown” vendor in the Maunakea Marketplace Food Court in Honolulu Chinatown…

(clockwise from top left) Dinuguan, Tinola, Pork Adobo and Pinakbet

A closer look, starting with the Pork Adobo (Pork simmered in Shoyu, Vinegar, Peppercorns and Bayleaf)…

Pinakbet (Bitter Melon, Eggplant, String Beans, Tomato, Pork and Shrimp)…

Dinuguan (Pig’s Blood Stew)…

Tinola (Chicken, Green Papaya, Malungay and Ginger soup)…

The Tinola could use more Malungay leaves IMO, but still, the broth ROCKED. Laced heavily with ginger, while throwing out a subtle-yet-distinguishable “chicken-ee” punch. Rounding it out, the green papaya chunks were cooked perfectly al dente, along with the malungay leaves adding that added dimension of texture and flavor to this soup that it could never do without.

The Dinuguan, Pinakbet and Pork Adobo were also all AWESOME, and as good as I’ve had from anywhere else, giving this “no name” filipino food vendor in Chinatown Honolulu’s food court a “Masarap-sarap” (really delicious) 5-SPAM Musubi!

Speaking of favorite Filipino dishes, for today’s BONUS ‘Grindz of the Day’ feature, I also recently made Chicken Tinola using my handy-dandy new Pressure Cooker, where here’s how it turned out…

Pomai’s pressure-cooked Tinola

Diner C got me the Malungay leaves from Pu’uhale Market, located in that little blue building on the corner of Pu’uhale Road and Dillingham Boulevard, where Wild Bean Espresso was located, across the street from OCCC.

Malungay from Pu’uhale Market. .50/bunch

I got the green Papaya from Don Quijote, which ran .49/lb., while for the chicken I used drumsticks that I carefully deboned and cut into chunks (Diner C recommends using a whole roasting chicken for this dish). For the broth, I first made a basic chicken stock using a miripoix (onion, celery and carrots), along with the chicken drumsticks bones. This took 45 minutes in the pressure cooker, which yielded FANTASTIC results, and tasted as if I had been simmering it for HOURS. Of course I could have just as easily used canned chicken stock, but I wanted to test my new pressure cooker out, so decided to make the entire dish from scratch.

Then to make the Tinola, to the strained chicken stock, I simply added CHOKE (plenty) ginger, along with the chicken, cubed green papaya and malungay leaves and let it cook under pressure for a speedy 5 minutes, finishing it off using the natural pressure release, after which yielded the final result you see here…

Pomai’s pressure-cooked Tinola

It turned out FANTASTIC. The chicken pieces were tender and cooked all the way through, while the green papaya was cooked perfectly al dente, leaning a little towards the firm side, which is good, as when I heat it up for leftovers, it will still have some firmness. But what REALLY separates this from any other chicken soup are the malungay leaves, which really do impart a flavor that’s difficult to describe, but you know it’s there, and it would certainly be lacking that “somethin’-somethin’ without it.

I LOVE Tinola! It’s so comforting, medicinal (think Chicken Noodle Soup), delicious, and best of all, so easy to make! Chicken, Ginger, Green Papaya, Chicken Stock and Malungay leaves and that’s it. Try it!

The Tasty Island

PostHeaderIcon 3rd Annual ‘Up in Smoke Challenge’

The 3rd Annual “Up in Smoke Challenge” is an all-out “bong-fest” produced and hosted by Cheech and Chong, where folks compete for who grows the best “buds”, who can smoke the most Pakalolo (weed) without passing out, and last but not least, who can eat the most doughnuts from “da’ munchies”.

Nah, just kidding. lol

This is the third year for this very successful event, which took place this past Father’s Day Sunday, June 19th, 2011 at Aloha Stadium’s makai-side auxiliary parking lot. Brought to you by the good folks at Fresh Catch, with owner and chef Reno Henriquez at the helm here, the talents of home and pro cooks from all over the state of Hawaii compete for the BEST SMOKED MEAT, while adding to the attraction is a car show, vendor booths, a HUGE “bouncie” for the keiki, live entertainment, and of course ONO KINE GRINDZ, particularly of the smoked variety.

It must be noted that, due to “Hawaiian Sunday time contraints”, I arrived towards the end of the “People’s Choice” tasting segment, which took place from 11:30am to 1pm, so some of the smoked meat samples were nearly wiped out, yet thankfully all the competitors’ booths still had something to sample. I also left before they announced the winners, so I don’t currently have the results, yet I’ll contact the organizers to get the scoops and retro-post it here later.

In the mean time, what I DO have is the list of this year’s “Up in Smoke” contestants and the categories they competed in. Here they are:

UP IN SMOKE 2011 Contestants
Booth #3) VRM Pit Crew – chicken, pork, beef, anything goes
Booth #4) Dee Dee’s – fish
Booth #5) Always Smok’n - chicken, pork, beef, anything goes
Booth #6) Moana – pork, fish, anything goes
Booth #7) Guava Smoked – pork
Booth #8) All Game – pork
Booth #9) B&A Smokers – pork
Booth#10) Koa Alii – beef, fish
Booth #11) Maui Wowie – pork, anything goes
Booth #12) Black Velvet – chicken, pork
Booth #13) Flamin 7′s – pork
Booth #14) Big Boyz – pork, fish, anything goes
Booth #15) Gemini – pork
Booth #16) Buck Wild – beef
Booth #18) BK Smokers – pork
Booth #19) Hard to Beat – pork
Booth #20) Kealoha – chicken, pork, fish
Booth #21) Transplanted – pork
Booth #22) All Stock Meats – pork

The general public are given a ballot slip with a list of all the contestants, along with a checkbox for each category of meat — chicken, pork, beef, fish and anything goes –  where you circle to vote either OKAY (1), GOOD (2) or BEST (3). Now if I were the organizer, the event would be using The Tasty Island 1-5 SPAM Musubi voting (rating) system. Ha ha!

What’s great about the “People’s Choice” segment, is that the general public gets to sample all the competitors’ wares for FREE, where many of whom are more than eager to practically SHOVE their smoked meat entries down your throat in an effort to win your approval and “People’s Choice” vote. I tell ‘ya, when I left the place, I was absolutely STUFFED from smoked meat samples!

It must be noted that since I arrived “Hawaiian time”, I was in a rush to get as many photos as possible in a narrow time frame. Therefore, for the most part, I was unable to make notes of whose dish was whose. So the following photo coverage is a walkthrough with no team identification or other specifics on many of the entries. Also note, I didn’t have my high end camera on me, but just a bare bones point ‘n shoot model that I wasn’t familiar with the proper exposure settings for the best shot. Yet at least, you get a generalized visual idea of what this event is all about.


“Q’d” Pork Spare Ribs

“Q’d” Pork Spare Ribs

Smoked Chicken Thighs (meticulously trimmed!)

VRM Pit Crew Chief and BBQ Master Chef “Crash” (

VRM Pit Crew has won numerous awards at BBQ competitions across the United States. Cool (well, actually smokin’ hot) trophy!

What was most impressive is that many contestants really went “all out” and brought their “A Game” to this competition, including having professional banners with their own custom team logo, along with matching team logo t-shirt uniforms for their entire crew!…

Team “Guava Smoked”

Team “Dee Dee’s” (she’s on the right with the pink visor)

Speaking of which, I LOVE smoked fish, whether it’s marlin, salmon or whatevahz. Bagel Locks? Hook. Me. Up. Here at Dee Dee’s booth, her daughter “Sassy” (shown in photo above on the left) had her own special Smoked Salmon that Dee Dee deemed “Sassy Smoked Salmon”…

Team “Dee Dee’s” – Sassy Smoked Salmon

Sassy Smoked Salmon being cut up for People’s Choice service

Smoked salmon from Team “Big Boyz”…

Team “Big Boyz Smoked Salmon

Team “Big Boyz” Smoked Halibut

Smoked fish?

Smoked Marlin

Smoked Marlin

Smoked Marlin

Smoked Marlin

Smoked Lomi Tako (smoked octopus with diced tomato)

Smoked Lomi Tako (smoked octopus with diced tomato)

Time to head back to shore and up the mountains with this “Anything Goes” entry, smoked venison (deer)…

Smoked Venison (deer)

Of all the entries at this year’s event, I find it somewhat ironic that probably my favorite dish in overall flavor and texture was this Smoked Sausage…

Smoked Sausage

Bacon-wrapped turkey legs in the smoker

Bacon-wrapped Smoked Turkey Drumsticks

Beef Brisket

Beef Brisket wrapped in lettuce

Beef Brisket wrapped up in lettuce. This one is being presented to the judges.

Beef brisket

Beef Brisket

Smoked Pork, presented on a Ti Leaf and a traditional Hawaiian Poi Pounder

My question is: WHEAH DA’ POI? Da’ bes’ way fo’ eat smoke meat is wit’ poi!!!

Smoked whole Pork shoulder, cut into cubes

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork with Sauteed Onions

Smoked Pork

(left to right) Smoked Marlin, Smoked Lomi Tako and Smoked Pork

That’s pretty much the gist of the “People’s Choice” tasting segment of this event. I should have gone to the judges table and got photos of the entries in their most presentable form, but I got caught up “wala ‘au’ing” (talking story) with folks at each booth, I couldn’t make it.

At least I got a group photo of the judges…

2011 3rd Annual “Up in Smoke Challenge Judging panel

While I can’t name everyone, I do know standing in the center in black is Fresh Catch owner and chef Reno Henriquez, who is the event producer. Second from the left looks like it could be Russell Yamanoha of KHNL News’ “Cheap Eats” segment.

Another rather fascinating highlight of the event was the arrival of a team of local wild pig hunters, with 5 pigs that had just been hunted earlier the same day, with the heaviest weighing in at 105 lbs…

Oahu Wild Pig Hunting Crew winners

The OTHER main attraction at this event is the The ‘Nobody Cares’ Car show, which also had a “People’s Choice” voting slip, where you write down your favorite “ride” under HUNTER TRUCK, CLASSIC CAR, STREET ROOD, DRAGSTER, MOTORCYCLE, MUSCLE CAR and IMPORT categories.

There was also a few vendor booths, such as Fresh Catch, who was selling their new Signature sauces…

Other vendors also had t-shirts, car collector memorabia and a few other goodies.

Plus a giant “Bouncie” for the keiki…

I was asked by Reno’s mom last year if I’d like to judge last year’s competition, which I just didn’t have the time for and turned the offer down. Admittedly, I have to “humbly” say, I think MY smoked meat tastes better than any of the offerings here. lol Therefore I should seriously consider ENTERING the competition next year. I have a few “tricks” up my sleeve that I think will make mine stand out. He he.

Rounding it up, this year’s 3rd Annual “Up in Smoke Challenge” was lotsa’ fun, with plenty sights, sounds and, most importantly, ono kine smoked meat grindz! See you there next year!

For more information about this event, visit:

The Tasty Island related links:
First Annual Smoked Meat Competition a Big Hit
Big Island Style Smoked Pork
Big Island Eats: Roy’s Smoked Marlin and Smoked Ahi
Backyard Kiawe-smoked Pastrami
Kiawe-smoked Pastrami Ba-Le Banh Mi
Whole Foods Eats: Taro Delight Smoked Taro Dip
Kalua Pig roasted in a Barbecue Grill

P.S. Happy 4th of July everyone. Be safe and enjoy the fireworks!

The Tasty Island

PostHeaderIcon Kalihi Eats: Palace Saimin

We continue here with part 2 of 3 in our “saimin series”, hot off the heals of the last stop at The Old Saimin House, where now we’re here at Palace Saimin, which is literally right across the street. King Street that is, in the heart of historic and scenic Kalihi, or as we like to say here at The Tasty Island, “The Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe”, a.k.a. “God’s Country”.

Reading over the numerous positive Yelp reviews, the bottom line appears to be unanimous that if you’re looking for truly “Old School Saimin” done the way it should be, Palace Saimin is where it’s at. Shoots. Hook. Me. Up.

Palace Saimin is located at 1256 North King Street on the mauka side, not far down the street Daimond Head-bound of the Kapalama (Kalihi) Post Office (if you don’t understand those Oahu-kine directions, Google it). It’s on the ground floor of a walk-up nondescript apartment building, making it truly a hidden gem that you could easily pass by if you weren’t looking for it.

There’s very limited parking in the front of the building, and this place tends to pack a lunch hour crowd, so if you plan to eat here, it’s highly recommended to arrive early, lest you there not be parking (there’s also very limited parking along King Street during the work week). Arrive in the heat of the noon-time lunch hour rush, and chances are you’ll also have to wait in line outside, where notice they have stools in front, which indicates just how busy they get! Seriously.

Once inside, Like The Old Saimin House — or any hole-in-the-wall gem for that matter — you’ll find a very small dining room that can seat I’d estimate no more than 30 people at a time…

Kinda’ like Hamura’s on Kauai, Palace Saimin has at least one communal table in the center that you share with anyone and everyone who’s there, which I think is great, as you get to meet the Palace Saimin “regulars” (and really nice local folks) as I did on my visit.

You notice whenever I review restaurants,  along with the food, I also I like to showcase the artwork they decorate with, which truly reflects the owners’ background and interests that they want to share with their customers, family and friends…

Speaking of owners, the history of Palace Saimin goes like this


Palace Saimin was the vision of Kame Ige, who immigrated from Okinawa in 1924. Mrs. Ige named the restaurant “Palace Saimin” after the Palace Theater on Beretania Street. The shop was opened in 1946 near the theater and the Palace Saimin experience began.

In 1950 Palace Saimin moved next to Tamashiro Market on King Street and again in 1960 to the existing location. In 1975 Mrs. Ige decided to offer the stand to one of her trusted waitresses Felice “Setsuko” Arakaki (“Mama”).

Mrs. Arakaki has been working hard with Mrs. Yoshiko “Aunty Yoshi” Takahashi, (waitress for over 40 years) and the rest of the friendly staff to serve the customers and keep the tradition alive. In 2010 Mrs. Arakaki’s son-in-law agreed to support the business and put forth his best effort to keep the tradition alive. We look forward to keeping Palace Saimin around for the generations of the past to enjoy, and the future generations to experience.

Keeping the tradition alive for generations to come, indeed. In fact, “Aunty Bobo”, a Palace Saimin regular who I met and sat next to on that communal table on one recent visit, told me she’s been coming here regularly for over 47 years (her whole life), and pointed out the baby chair they have there, is the same chair her daughter sat in when she was just a baby…

Her daughter is now 30 years old, and now HER daughter (Aunty Bobo’s grandaughter) sits in this same baby chair at Palace Saimin. Is THAT AWESOME and heartwarming or what?!!! Generation to generation to generation of saimin tradition, fo’ real ‘kine!

Oh, do you enjoy central air conditioning? Of course you do. Well, Palace Saimin has that, albeit done the old school way…

Classic! Cool, too, as it almost feels like there’s this tradewind effect swirling around in what would otherwise be a very arid and muggy, closed room environment (no A/C).

Now that we have the history and place covered, let’s check out Palace Saimin’s menu…

That’s pretty darned GREAT prices. Most of which are much cheaper than The Old Saimin House which was already very good, save for the BBQ Stick, which is 35 cents more here at .25 each vs. The Old Saimin House which are .90 each. BUT, at least here they really GRILL it! More on that later.

Now you might be asking yourself , “What the heck is “Saidon”?” Well, it’s pretty easy to figure out: SAI(min)+(u)DON=SAIDON. Then what’s the mathematical formula for the “Combination” you may ask? Easy: SAI(min)+(u)DON+WONTON=COMBINATION. In other words, EVERYTHING they have to offer, all in one bowl, sans the BBQ Stick. Shoots, they should just throw that in there too! lol

And that’s pretty much it. No plate lunches, nor burgers, nor candies ‘n snack ‘n shave ice on the side, and God forbit, no “fru fru” stuffs. This is a Saimin Stand through and through and to the core. Hardcore. All you’ll find on the other half of the menu are their business hours, phone number and customer appreciation message…

You have to love this place already without even haven eaten yet.

Before we get da’ grindz, let’s see what have for table condiments here at Palace…

Same as The Old Saimin House, where I must note here they use my favorite shoyu brand, Yamasa, as I find Y amasa strikes a good balance between the more milder taste of Aloha and the salty, bold flavor of Kikkoman.

But does Palace Saimin’s broth NEED condiments to kick it up? Or is it fine just the way it is, OEM? We shall soon find out!

Hai, itadakimasu (let’s eat)!

First to arrive at the table are the standard saimin stand “tools of the trade”, a set of hashi (chopsticks), renge (soup spoon) and (Coleman’s) mustard, which you of course add shoyu and stir thoroughly for use to dip your noodles, charsiu garnish and/or wontons into.

And here it is in all its glory, my Palace Saimin’ Saimin (small order) and (Teri’ Beef) BBQ Stick…

Palace Saimin – small Saimin and BBQ Stick (with Coleman’s mustard and shoyu dipping sauce)

Tell me you wouldn’t want to be sitting where I’m sitting at this moment in time, with this staring at you, just seconds away from devouring it? Good LORD, there is a heaven.

Let’s zoom in…

Palace Saimin – small Saimin, .75

I immediately notice the broth here at Palace has a richer, more colorful tone than the light-looking broth at The Old Saimin House. Come to find out from 47-year regular “Aunty Bobo”, they use shrimp AND pork in the broth here. Ex. Cel. Lent! Surely there’s other secret “ingrediments”, but if that’s the gist of it, I’m already a happy camper.

As for garnish, there seems to be a trend that Kamaboko and sliced egg omelet is out of the picture at both Old Saimin House and here at Palace. That’s the only thing I scratch my head at, as I think those two are important ingredients that truly complete the dish. What’s even more perplexing about that is the fact that Okuhara Kamaboko factory is right down the street! Wassup’ wit’ ‘dat?!!! Next time I going come here da’ kine “BYOK” (bring your own Kamaboko). I bet da’ waitress and guests would trip out. lol!

Oh, before I continue, here’s Aunty Bobo’s Wonton Min…

Palace Saimin – large Wonton Min, .25

Getting back to my Saimin, note I took this shot after already having eaten the saimin, but can surely attest, based on broth alone, I have definitely found THE BENCHMARK OLD SCHOOL SAIMIN right here at Palace!…

There’s certainly a background hint of shrimp, while the pork bones “umamifies” it, or in other words, gives it an added dimension of “meaty-ness”. Yet it’s all still subtle and not as much a predominant element like it is in Japanese Ramen, where the broth is the central focus. Here, the broth more like gently carries the noodles and garnish than it does take it along for the ride, if you know where I’m getting at.  It definitely DOES NOT need any of those table condiments unless you’re really starved for more salt and spices. It’s pretty much perfect just the way it straight outta’ the kitchen. I’m not saying you shouldn’t add anything else, just that you really don’t need to. Broth=”CHERRY”. lol

Rewind back now, and let’s slurp some saimin noodles done “Palace style”…

Like The Old Saimin House, Palace Saimin also sources their noodles from Eagle Noodle Factory.  And the noodles here are indeed cooked a little more (softer) than the more firm doneness at OSH. It’s still acceptable, but if I had a choice, I’d take I’d prefer it cooked like OSH does it. Flavor-wise, Also like OSH, Palace’ noodles are somewhat neutral in flavor, without any of that egg-like undertone from the potassium and sodium carbonate (Kansui) that Sun Noodle uses.

Oh well, no egg, as mentioned earlier, since there’s no kamaboko or sliced egg to be had here, all’s left to try is the sliced Charsiu pork and green onions…

Spot on in flavor, moist ‘n tender Charsiu. She go. I must note they also are a little more generous in portion compared to OSH in that regard.

Summing up Palace Saimin’s Saimin, solid 4 SPAM Musubi, with a broth that taste just how “old school” Hawaii saimin broth should taste. If it had Kamaboko and slice egg omelet, I’d give it a 5.

I enjoyed it so much that I “polished’ the bowl….

Moving along, let’s try the BBQ Stick…

Palace Saimin – (teriyaki beef) BBQ Stick, .25

Of course I didn’t eat the BBQ Stick AFTER the saimin, but along with it, as you should.

Come to find out from Palace Saimin regular Aunty Bobo, you can request to have your BBQ Stick “Koge” or burnt on the edges, a.k.a. “Papa’a”…

Palace Saimin – BBQ Stick done “Koge” style (seared edges, free service upon request)

What I also found out is that the way they “Koge” their Teri Beef BBQ Sticks is by searing it with a handheld propane torch, an old trick chefs use to make Crème brûlée. Hey, whatever works! All I know is next time I’m gettin’ mine BBQ Stick “Koge’d” like Aunty’s are.

Let’s have a bite…

Oishii (delicious). It’s not heavily marinaded in Teriyaki sauce, which I like, as I want to taste the beef. The medium-cooked beef itself is a little tough, but tolerable. While I didn’t ask, my guess is this is cut is no better than your average top round choice. Huge thumbs-up for serving it on a plate in a puddle of the (thin) Teriyaki sauce, which also has little bits of burnt beef in it, as that helps to add moisture to the medium-cooked beef, so every bite is tasty, moist ‘n juicy from start to finish. Nice.

3 SPAM Musubi for Palace Saimin’s BBQ Stick.

I enjoyed my lunch so much at Palace Saimin, that I returned a week later with Diner A and C to join me! This time around, Diner A ordered the Large Saimin and BBQ Stick, where both he and I requested some “Koge action” for our “sticks”…

Palace Saimin – “Koge” BBQ Sticks and large Saimin

A closer look at his large Saimin…

Palace Saimin – large Saimin, .50

Deciding to try something a little different, Diner E ordered Wonton Udon…

Palace Saimin – small Wonton Udon, .00

And yours truly went for the Combination (Saimin, Udon and Wonton)…

Palace Saimin – large Combination (Saimin, Udon & Wonton), .25

Zoom in on my Combo’…

Here I dug up all the three different types of noodles so you can see it better…

Talk about carbo’ load. Makes you wanna’ run the 26k just looking it. lol

This time around I added some black pepper, as that’s what I usually add to my saimin when not in taste-testing mode…

Very, very consistent. The broth tasted EXACTLY the same as on my previous visit, save for my personalized addition of black pepper.

Let’s try the Wonton (notice the spelling, where as OSH spells it “Wun Tun”)…

Like the softer-cooked saimin noodles, the wonton are also cooked on the soft side. Which one diner who was waiting outside told me he prefers The Old Saimin House’s Wun Tun better because it’s firmer and has a better filling. Although he prefers the broth here at Palace. Sounds about right. The pork filling was kinda’ “manini” (skimpy), but I suppose adequate enough to validate it. It was also pretty basic, tasting simply like ground pork and that’s it. No green onions, onions or other veggies in it. Good though. I have no complaints. I definitely need to try OSH’s Wun Tun Min so I can compare the two, but that’s a different story for another day.

Let’s go for the dunk in the hot mustard shoyu…

Oh yeah, ‘das da’ winnah’ right deah’ ( that’s the winner there lol)! So funny how no matter what, once the food hits that Coleman’s Mustard and Shoyu, you get immediately transported to a Chinese restaurant.

Let’s try the Udon now (this next shot is actually shot Diner E’s bowl, but I had Udon in mine too)…

Diner E agrees with me that the Udon, while good in and of its fat, fat noodle self, doesn’t quite work as a substitute for traditional Saimin noodles. I think because the mild nature of Saimin broth doesn’t quite cling or absorb well into the fat, slick Udon noodles. So when you eat the Udon, that’s all you taste is noodle, as the broth just slips on back into the bowl, barely clinging any of its flavor on the Udon. That’s pretty much the best way I can describe it.

The finer, more absorbent nature of traditional Saimin noodles holds onto the broth like glue in comparison when you slurp it up.

You can hear “SLURP, SLURP, SLURP” just looking at that.

Overall, the combination of textures between the thin Saimin noodles, fat Udon noodles and slippery-soft wontons made for unique “noodle soup” eating experience and certainly an option other saimin stands should follow.

Let’s try some Saimin noodles and Charsiu in the Coleman’s…

Winnahz. Dig that “clear-your-sinuses” effect that hits you first, then you taste the noodles and Charsiu soaked in Shoyu that immediately follow and it’s like POW!

Moving along to our “Koge” BBQ Sticks, you see how much more seared they are then on my previous visit…

Here you can see on this visit they’re also cooked to medium doneness…

Personally I would have liked it even more “koge” then that,, where it looked more like the ones Aunty Bobo had on my previous visit. So if you like REALLY “koge”, tell them so. I know I will. Still, those seared edges added a whole lot more flavor and but the BOLD in BBQ. Winnahz.

Summing it up, I give my Combination Saimin/Udon/Wonton Min at Palace Saimin a very solid 4 SPAM Musubi, and once again would give it a 5 if had Kamaboko and sliced egg omelet. Diner E gave his Udon 2 SPAM Musubi, while I must note, he and I ate here a few weeks prior where he ordered the saimin, to which he gives a very solid 3, which to you and I would be either a 4 or 5.

Diner E gave his Saimin a 4, and surprisingly, the BBQ Stick a 3, which I think is because both and Diner A prefer their Teri Beef SOAKED DEEP with Teriyaki marinade, which I’m opposite in that regard.

As for service, very, very friendly and quick, where on all three recent visits, my/our order landed on the table within a 4 to 10 minute window.

So the benchmark of what old school Hawaii saimin should taste like has been found right here in beautiful downtown Kalihi at Palace Saimin!

Now with my taste buds educated on “Saimin 101″, next up, a review on Sun Noodle’s new S&S “Old Time Island Style” Saimin featuring “traditional shrimp soup base”.

Palace Saimin
1256 North King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. (808) 841-9983

The Tasty Island rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)








The Tasty Island

PostHeaderIcon Kalihi Eats: The Old Saimin House

We’re back again at the “Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe” in and historic and scenic Kalihi, this time sampling some truly “old school” saimin at The Old Saimin House.

This is actually part 1 of a 3 part series, leading up to a review on S&S Saimin’s new “Old Time Island Style Saimin”, which makes it seem even more apparent that just like cars, retro is the new cool in the food industry as well.

Reason this is a series, is that I needed to refresh my palate on the benchmark representation of Hawaii’s truly classic saimin taste in order to compare with S&S’s (under parent company Sun Noodle) latest attempt to replicate that. Therefore I chose two old school saimin stands as my benchmark source: The Old Saimin House and Palace Saimin, both almost within a stone’s throw of each other in Kalihi.

How “old school” is The Old Saimin House? Well, they were established by Okinawan nisei (second generation) in 1962. Whereas Palace Saimin right across the street on King was also established by Okinawans in 1946.

Not to forgot the many other classic saimin stands around the island, including Forty Niner Restaurant out in Aiea, who was established around the late 40′s. Then there’s Boulevard Saimin, which has since changed to “Dillingham Saimin”, who got their start in 1955, while over on the Garden Isle of Kauai, Hamura Saimin set up shop in 1952. Not to leave out a few more places still in business that feature saimin as their signature dish, including Shiro’s, Shige’s and Zippy’s.

So we’re here today at The Old Saimin House, which is located at 1311 North King Street (nearby the Kalihi Post Office), in a tiny strip mall next to New Diner’s Drive Drive-In, with another notable neighbor being Kiawe Grill.

Without further ado, let’s check out The Old Saimin House tableside menu…

The Old Saimin House menu (current as of June 2011)

As is “standard” on the menu at most old school Hawaii saimin stands, The Old Saimin House has the requisite basic option of either Saimin or Wun Tun Min (the latter often spelled in various ways), along with a (teriyaki beef) BBQ Stick to go along with it. Think of the BBQ Stick to Saimin as what Gyoza is to Japanese Ramen. From there, the menu can vary quite a bit at each place.

The table condiments often say a lot about what type of cuisine is being offered. Where like most local style food restaurants in Hawaii, The Old School has the usual Shoyu, Tobasco, Salt ‘n Pepper. While indicating their Japanese/Okinawan influence, there’s also a shaker bottle of Shichimi Togarashi, which is a ground mixture of chili pepper and several other unique ingredients that make its spicy flavor unique…

One thing you hardly see anymore at local eateries on Oahu is Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water, whom Hamura Saimin on Kauai still includes on the tables in their condiments set.

The Old Saimin House was founded by Okinawan nisei Tomizo and Mitsue Ikei in 1962, where today you see their “Uchinanchu Pride” up in the form of a painting of what I’m assuming is their family’s home town of Henza Island in Okinawa…

As for the restaurant space, like most saimin stands, The Old Saimin is rather small, while being very clean, with a rather newly renovated look to it…

There’s a decent amount of designated free parking in the front of this tiny strip mall, although of course it does become tight during peak dining hours.

Getting to my order, on this solo mission, I stuck with the bare bones basic Saimin, this one being the large…

A closer look…

Now this truly is your bare bones basic Saimin, with just sliced Charsiu pork and green onions garnish, and that’s it. Not even Kamaboko nor sliced egg omelet is to be had here, making this a far cry from the “everything, including the kitchen sink” approach at Shiro’s Saimin Haven.

The reason I didn’t order the more popular Wun Tun Min, which is essentially the same dish with the addition of ground pork-filled wun tuns in it, is because I didn’t want the wun tun to muddle or change the flavor of the basic broth.

As for not ordering the usual BBQ (Teriyaki Beef) Stick as an accompaniment, upon asking how they were cooked, my server told they were griddled on a flat top, so I passed. No probs, as this large bowl of saimin by itself was plenty enough to fill me up on this lunch hour visit.

Hai, itadakimasu. Let’s begin with a taste of  what appears to be rather clear-toned, mild looking broth…

And? Definitely yet another shrimp shell based broth, albeit not particular “shrimpy”, along with salt, and that’s about it. I don’t think there’s any katsuoboshi stock enhancement or dashinomoto in it, nor pork or chicken bones in the stock-making process.

As long as you arrive with your palate in a neutral state (like you didn’t just get done snacking on some chips or anything salty), the broth should be acceptably seasoned without any further enhancements. Yet it is still on the very low key end as far as saimin broths are concerned, leaving the broth door wide open to add that shoyu and/or tobasco and/or Togarashi and/or Salt ‘n Pepper condiments provided on the table to suite your personal taste.

Let’s slurp some saimin noodles…

As others on Yelp have mentioned, the noodles here are on the firmer side of al dente doneness, which I actually prefer over softer-cooked noodles, whether it be for saimin, ramen or pasta.  Come to find out, unlike many other noodle houses around the island who source their noodles from Sun Noodle Factory, The Old Saimin House sources theirs from Eagle Noodle Factory. The latter of which I’ve been told doesn’t use chemicals in their noodles. With that, they’re somewhat neutral in flavor, without any of that egg-like undertone from the potassium and sodium carbonate (Kansui) that Sun Noodle uses.

Only thing left to try here is the rather sparse sliced Charsiu pork and green onion garnish…

The Charsiu was spot-on in sweetness and overall authentic flavor profile, while being very moist and tender. Thumbs-up, except for all that saimin noodles in the large bowl, they need more charsiu to accompany it. I suppose at .25 for the large, an additional 50 cents is worth the additional garnish needed to fully complete the dish in and of itself. Or of course order the BBQ Stick to offset the carbo load.

But yeah, this broth is certainly on the low-key side, and it had room for some shoyu to kick it up…

Ah, perfect! The (Aloha) shoyu really enhanced and “umami-fied” the subtle shellfish base of the broth’s flavor profile.

I also tried dipping the noodles and charsiu in the included (Coleman’s) mustard (and shoyu) sauce, which totally makes it taste Chinese.

The large saimin by itself was the perfect portion to sate my lunchtime hunger, while the addition of just a drizzle of shoyu was all it needed to make The Old Saimin House a good choice at the right price. So much so, that I had no problem polishing my bowl…

This was a good refresher start to get a benchmark taste of what true “old school” saimin should taste like. Next stop, right across the street over at Palace Saimin!

The Old Saimin House
1311 North King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. (808) 842-7697

Business hours:
Lunch: 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
Tuesday to Saturday

Dinner: 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

Dinner: 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Friday, Saturday

Sunday & Monday

The Tasty Island rating:

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)

The Tasty Island

PostHeaderIcon Li Hing Pickle Mango

Drooling yet?

We’ll keep today’s post short and sweet. Well, and kinda’ tangy, too, along with plenty of “zippity-zip-zap POW”!!!

I recently got a couple good sized green Haden-Pirie hybrid mangoes from my coworker’s yard, who noted this season hasn’t yielded much mature fruit on his tree worth harvesting. As you know, summer is mango season in Hawaii nei, which according to a news report, this year is expected to be  “junk” for mangoes (and lychee) due to “unusual weather” conditions. Kinda’ unnerving, actually.

So anyway, with those two still-green mangoes, I decided to make Pickle Mango, this time with a major Li Hing twist.

My recipe for this here absolutlely “supah onolicious, broke da’ mout’ winnahz!” Li Hing Pickled Mango is as followed (an adaptation from Sam Choy). Note this recipe doesn’t have the star anise and Chinese 5-Spice like I’ve used in the past, as the Li Hing powder makes up for that.

Li Hing Pickle Mango

2 or more large green mangoes (whatevah kine you get), peeled and sliced into long, skinny and thick bite-sized pieced
1 cup rice vinegar
2 cups water
2½ cups light brown sugar
3 tbsp. Hawaiian salt
2 tbsp. Li Hing powder (I used Jade brand, which is my favorite)
Red food coloring (optional, yet highly recommended for that drool-inducing appearance)
1 small package Sweet Li Hing Mui (I also used Jade brand, which is my favorite)

In a small pot boil 2 cups water, turn off heat, then add the 2½ cups light brown sugar and salt and stir to to dissolve it. Add more water if needed to loosen it up. Remove from heat and add Rice vinegar, Li Hing Powder, and just a few drops of the red food coloring, to the point where it has a “dramatic” red color to it. For the Li Hing powder, go by taste.

In fact, go by your own taste with EVERYTHING. If you want it more sweet, add more sugar. More acidic, add more vinegar. Use that recipe as a basic guideline and go from there.

Once the finished Li Hing Pickle Mango “juice” is completely stirred and incorporated, let it cool in the fridge (or quickly in the freezer). Place peeled and sliced pickled mango in an appropriate sized jar and tightly pack it in to displace as much volume in the jar as possible, then pour cooled Li Hing Pickle Mango “sauce” into jar with green mango and fill to top and cover tightly. Let it sit in refrigerator for at least 3 days to fully soak up the Li Hing pickling “juice”.

Whack ‘em ‘n enjoy.

Related Tasty Island links:
Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Mango
There’s Pickled, Then There’s Shoyu Mango
Mayo’ Mango Madness
Mango Bruschetta

The Tasty Island

PostHeaderIcon Grindz of the Day: Arirang, Monarch Seafoods & Chocolate-covered Bacon

Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Quisine – Fish Jun

Repeat visits are an obvious indicator we really dig the place, which brings us back once again to several spots.

We begin today’s “Grindz of the Day” with lunch at Arirang, where this past Aloha Friday Diner A and yours truly visited as we BOTH had da’ “ono’s” (craving) for Fish Jun.

Before I continue, I must note that there’s an ongoing “debate” on where exactly “Jun” originated. Namely “Meat Jun”.  Many folks on the mainland think it must be a “Hawaii thing”, because the Korean restaurants in their neck of the woods don’t have such a dish.

I found this interesting discussion over at on the subject, where lots of comments have helped to dispel the “Meat Jun Mystery”. One comment reads, “So I discovered this watching this korean show and the Kwangju region in Korea is known for the dish we call “meat jeon.” In korean it’s yukjeon (??), yuk meaning ‘meat.’ So it’s not a local Hawaiian invention, but maybe some Korean from that region brought it over and revised it.” Plus many other insightful comments you should click on over and read if you’re interested.

Apparently the “myth” part is due to how differently the name is SPELLED, as based on the common denominator of that discussion, the PROPER way to spell “Meat Jun” is “Meat Jeon”. or more properly than that, “Gogi Jeon” or “Yukjeon”.

To make it even more confusing, the various Korean restaurants around Oahu each have a slightly different way of spelling it. Arirang and Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant spells it “Meat Jun”, Soon’s Kal-Bi Drive-In spells it “Meat Jhun”, while Jin Joo Korean Restaurant spells it “Meat Chun”. ACK!!

Anyhow, if you have more information on Meat Jun or variation of the dish that you’ve encountered, I’d love to hear about it.

Not to confuse you any more, but another popular version of this flour and egg-battered Korean favorite is what we have here today in the form of Fish Jun…

Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Quisine – Fish Jun. .95 (lunch price)

Or should I spell that Fish Jhun? Or Fish Junn? Or Fish Chun? Or Fish Jeon? Or Fish Joon? Or how about Fish June? lol

That was Diner A’s plate. Here’s mine, where in this shot I’ve broken a piece in half to reveal the super-moist and flaky Mahimahi within…

Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Quisine – Fish Jun. .95 (lunch price)

The key here being they use Mahimahi, which makes for an EXCELLENT Fish Jun, as in my experience over the years, Mahimahi has always been the best type of fish for this dish. Reason being, Mahi has a good amount of oil in the flesh, offering a savory-yet-tame, sort of “buttery” white meat flavor that’s not “fishy” at all, while having a super moist, tender and flaky texture that just melts in your mouth. Awesome.

Rest assured, Mahimahi is what you’ll get in your Fish Jun at Arirang, as it specifically says that right on the menu. Whereas, many places don’t specify, so you never know what may be in it: could be (the cheaper) haddock, pollock or even talapia (not from the Ala Wai Canal of course). I’d love to sample how Ono, a.k.a. Wahoo tastes in Jun (or Junn or Jeon or June) form.

Notice how they cut the egg and flour-battered Mahimahi here, where they’re shaped like medalions that measure approximately 4″Lx3″Wx1/4″ thickness each, with four of them on this lunch-sized portion.

Most “Jun” dishes are served with a dipping sauce that’s pretty much like a simplified version of Japanese Ponzu;  in this case, made with soy sauce, vinegar and sugar…

That said, let’s hit it!..

First of all, as described above, the mahi has a buttery, mildy-savory flavor and is super moist ‘n tender. And it’s cooked to absolute PERFECTION. The flour and egg batter has a nice crunch going on, while being very lightly seasoned with what tastes like just salt, if even that. The egg flavor helps to amplify the wonderful taste of the Mahi within, underscoring the JUN in this Fish Jun.

If there’s one complaint, I’d just say the default “Jun” sauce they provide was too mild, as if the soy sauce (shoyu) they use was the low sodium variety, or something like that, as the sauce tasted like it was watered down.

Not to fret though, as we clearly remember the EXCELLENT house-made Gochujang sauce Arirang put on our table the last time we were here, so we requested that…

OK, let’s try again wit’ da’ Gochujang action…

I’ll put it to you this way: even though the default “ponzu style” Jun dipping sauce was on the mild side, it was still “MONEY”. Now with Arirang’s AWESOME house-made Gochujang sauce joining this Fish Jun party, it is “BANK”!!! Or so Guy Fieri would have said it. Serious “Bank”. Like 5 SPAM Musubi “Bank”. So, so delicious. I swear, if you’re looking for an EXCELLENT Fish Jun, you need to head on over to Arirang. High, HIGHLY recommended.

I’m gonna’ tease you with a few more bite-through shots so you can see just how moist and tender this broke da’ mout’ winnahz Mahimahi-based Fisch Jgeonng was…

Here I combined the default “Jun” Sauce with the Gochujang Sauce at about 3:1 ratio…

Oh yeah, now THAT’s rockin’!  You get a little tang, a little sweet, some heat, along with a savory “bottom” thanks to the miso they use in the Gochujang sauce, which really is its “secret”. In fact, I’m surprised our server admitted that they use that. Yet you can clearly taste there’s miso in the Gochujang sauce. All I know is you could pour that stuff on anything and it would taste good.

Not that this it needs a sauce, as just like the Angry Korean Lady’s Meat Jun and Chive Jun, this Fish Jun is SCUMPTIOUS just by itself, and the sauces are really just icing on an already fantastic cake.

Summing it up, “Bank” 5 SPAM for Arirang’s Fish Jun (jeon, jeong, june, jhun, junn, joon, whatevahz…)

Speaking of “Bank”, also winning top honors is Arirang’s EXCELLENT Banchan side dishes…

Arirang’s Kim Chee is certainly “Money”, while their Korean style Shoyu Potatoes are “BANK”!!! As Diner A noted, they almost “Taste like Shoyu Chicken”, where you could just as well order a plate of this stuff as the main entree along with rice and call it a day. It’s that “meaty”.

Look at how that deep ‘n savory, sweetened shoyu “goodness” penetrates the outer layer of the fork-tender red potatoes…

Rewinding to the beginning of our Fish Jun “experience” on this visit, we enjoyed the included house seaweed soup…

I asked our server if they had the Korean Stainless Steel Chopsticks to accompany the Korean Stainless Steel Spoon, but they didn’t have them.

As Diner A described it, “It’s like sipping on a hot bowl of the ocean”, is the best way to describe it. Seriously, as simple as this Kombu-based soup is, it’s LOVELY. Next time I come here, I’m going to ask them how to make it, so I can do it at home before EVERY meal. Heart-warming, soul-soothing good stuff!


Moving on to our next “Grindz of the Day”, we go back a week to the previous Aloha Friday, where Diner A and yours truly returned yet again to Monarch Seafoods. This time around where Diner A “hanahou’d” their AWESOME Fried Poke, making that his single entree choice, while I decided to try their Spicy Calamari…

Monarch Seafoods – Spicy Thai Calamari Steak (left) and Fried Poke (right) plates

Let’s zoom in…

Monarch Seafoods – Deep Fried Poke. .95

All I can say is, in the battered ‘n fried fish category, next to the Fish Jun featured previously in this post, Monarch Seafood’s Fired Poke is as GOOD AS IT GETS!

Especially when it’s coated in Monarch’s KILLER house dressing…

It tastes like they marinade the ahi — which tastes VERY FRESH (not old stuff) — in some sort of shoyu-based marinade, then they coat it katsu style, taking a dredge in flour, egg and panko, then hitting the deep fryer to give it that “GBD” doneness, with no more and no less. So the Ahi within remains SUPER moist and succulent, especially when combined with that very tasty marinade it’s SOAKED with. FREAKIN’ AWESOME STUFF. PERIOD.

Another “Bank” 5 SPAM Musubi for Monarch Seafood’s Fried Poke. Make sure if you order this to ask for extra house dressing. Liquid Gold I tell ya’, Liquid Gold.

Now let’s check out Monarch’s Spicy Calamari…

Monarch Seafoods – Spicy Thai Calamari Steak. .95

These Panko-crusted Calamari (squid) “steaks” are some “tik” (thick) buggahz (suckers)…

As for the “Spicy” factor”, it both appears and tastes like, before hitting the panko and flour batter station, they basically coat the calamari steaks with the same Mae Ploy Sweet Thai Chili Sauce that’s used for dipping after the fact.

As you know, Calamari (squid) is very mild in flavor, as this was, while it was also notably tender, as you know how Calamari can be rubbery if over or undercooked. So “props” to Monarch on that. The panko and thick flour batter didn’t stick well to the Calamari within, yet for what it’s worth, added a nice flavor and texture contrast to it. While the Mae Ploy Sweet Thai Chili Sauce works for Wonton-wrapped stuff, I don’t think it works quite as well with pank0-battered stuff, as was the case here. By far, Monarch’s AWESOME house creamy dressing (the yellow-greenish stuff) is THE ONE to dip the “Spicy Calamari” into.

Spice-wise, it wasn’t hot at all, as Mae Ploy Sweet Thai Chili Sauce is very mild by default (at least to my palate).

Summing it up, I give Monarch Seafood’s Spicy Calamari 3 SPAM Musubi. Which really is saying a lot for someone who isn’t particularly a Calamari fan. If you are, you definitely need to try this.


Last but never least, we round up today’s “Grindz of the Day” with two of just about everyone’s FAVORITE foods: BACON and CHOCOLATE.

If you’re a Food Network and Travel Channel “Foodie Junkie” like I am, you probably already at least seen it. Yet so far on Oahu, it’s not that commonly found on restaurant menus. Yet recently I was at Eat Cafe, where I noticed they had it sort of “scribbled” on their chalkboard menu as kind of an afterthought. And I thought, “Hmmmmmmm, I wonder?”

Since I had two huge SLABS of Costo-issue sliced Maple flavored smoked bacon in my fridge, I immediately went online to find out how to make the stuff.

As advertised, it’s literally Chocolate-covered Bacon, no more, no less. With Valentine’s Day right behind us, we naturally had a surplus of chocolates hangin’ around – most notably a bunch of Dark Chocolate, as that’s my girlfriend’s favorite.

So I began my Chocolate-covered Bacon quest by first baking half a slab of thick-cut Maple flavored smoked bacon in the oven until it reached a slight “rubberyness”, and not to the point of being “crunchy-crispy”, as I personally don’t like my bacon (over) done that way.

Then I took about 1 cup’s worth of Giradelli brand dark chocolate squares and “nuked” it on low heat in the microwave until it melted. I was a little disappointed that it came out kinda’ clumpy, so I looked online what the base of chocolate is, and it said oil. So I turned around and “tempered” the chocolate by adding a pat of butter to thin it into a usable viscosity.

After the cooked bacon cooled to room temperature, I then proceeded to coat each slice on all surfaces with the butter-tempered dark Giradelli chocolate. Then I stuck it in the refrigerator to “set” the chocolate, where out it came a few hours later looking like this…

The lighting exposure in that shot makes it look like milk chocolate. Here’s another angle that’s more color-accurate…

I SO can’t wait to try this.

Here’s a macro cross-cut shot of one of these Dark Chocolate-covered Bacon slices…

How is it? CRAZY. TASTY indeed, yet simply NUTS. The combination of the sweet, deep and robust dark chocolate, along with the salty, smokey, savory goodness of the bacon WORKS, yet your brain is like “WTH is this?!!!”. That’s the best way I can describe it upon first bite.

Yet, after about the third bite, it becomes pretty addictive. Mainly out of denial that this actually does taste good. But it does! Genius.

If there’s anything I’d improve on, it would be to cook the bacon more crispy, as the congealed fat at the doneness I baked the bacon (ha ha) was a little strange on the palate. I also need to work on my chocolate tempering skills to get it where it’s like “candy”, whereas on this first take, it was kinda’ “messy”. But those are just “minah ‘kine stuffs” (nothing serious).

All I can say is if you like bacon and if you like chocolate, chances are pretty likely you’ll LOVE Chocolate-covered Bacon. I’m personally not a chocolate person, so I can’t really appreciate that element, yet I’ll vouch for the sweet, robust ‘n savory thing going on with this unique hybrid “invention”. 3 SPAM Musubi.

The Tasty Island

PostHeaderIcon Waipahu Eats: Sato’s Okazuya “Famous” Fried Noodles

Sato’s Okazuya “Famous” Fried Noodles

Fans of this popular genre of local style eatery know that each Okazuya has their own claim-to-fame dish. Well, enter Sato’s Okazuya in Waipahu, where their Fried Noodles reign supreme. Where, “Best Fried Noodles in town” is pretty much the common description given by reviewers on Yelp. Where, if this is true (as we shall soon find out), then this adds yet another reason to head out to Waipa-HU for some seriously ono ‘kine grindz. Where in this old plantation town on Oahu’s west side you can also get a mighty fine Fish Patty at Tanioka’s, some “wow, das’ some winnahz! ” Laulau at Highway Inn, “Triple-D certified” Poke at Elmer Guzman’s Poke Stop and definitely some “masarap-sarap” Spanish Rolls at Nanding’s Bakery… just to name a few!

Sato’s Okazuya is tucked away amongst a row of small businesses in the Y-H building, located on Hanawai Circle, right up the street around the corner of Bank of Hawaii on Farrington Highway in Waipahu. As you enter the parking lot from Hanawai Circle, to the right will be the Waipahu Festival Marketplace…

Notice in the background the old Oahu Sugar Mill smoke stack still stands to this day.

Across the lot you’ll find Sato’s Okazuya in the Y-H Building…

As hole-in-the-wall as it gets.

Typical of this type of eatery, Sato’s Okazuya is made up minimal seating accommodations (two 4-place tables and one 2-place table) with the center of attention being the service counter that doubles as a window-faced food display featuring what’s (hopefully still) available for the day…

I’ve heard the wait here for their famous Fried Noodles can be long, where it’s better to call ahead for your order. Yet I took a chance and walked in, where around my noon-time arrival (considered LATE by most Okazuya standards), thankfully there was plenty of Fried Noodles that had just been cooked sitting in a pan awaiting me and a few other fellow patrons who were there for the same thing…

Right above the noodles on the display counter, they have three sizes of takeout containers marked with the prices to help you quickly make your choice…

Check out that extra-large (XL) takeout container on da’ left… sheesh, da’ buggah is MASSIVE! Never seen that sized “plate” before, and thankfully so, as the last thing we need are local plate lunch joints offering “super-sized” plate lunches. Not that many don’t already do so, except they just pile da’ grindz VERTICALLY. lol.

To the left and right of the Fried Noodles pan, you can sort of see the other warmer pans next to it are already “Elvis” (gone), as were most of the musubi and other prepared Okazu selections in this part of the display case….

Speaking of selection, here’s Sato Okazuya’ main menu boards (sorry, they didn’t have any printed handout takeout menus)…

Apparently the Pork Chops & Fried Noodles is one of their most popular combos, yet I came here specifically just to try their “famous” Fried Noodles so I could savor it in all its own glory, which really, as is, can be considered an all-in-one meal.

The very first thing I asked the server was “where do you get your noodles from?”, to which she immediately revealed Sato’s sources their noodles from Okahara Saimin Factory. Well I’ll be darned, finally a place that doesn’t get their noodles from Sun Noodle Factory. I actually was surprised they outsource their noodles, as I thought a place with such a reputation as theirs would still be making their own in-house (if they ever did do that).

Spock da’ bottles of what looks like some kinda’ “secret sauce” by the Fried Noodles prep area. half-shoyu/half-oyster sauce, perhaps?

So here now I FINALLY get to taste for myself what everyone is raving about…

Sato’s Okazuya – Fried Noodles (large).

Let me start by saying that, while I certainly enjoy eating it occasionally, I’m not particularly a Fried Noodles enthusiast myself. So I don’t have many other places to compare this to, with the only other Fried Noodles consumed in recent memory being from none other than Zippy’s. I certainly much prefer this “local style” saimin-influenced version of the dish, as I’ve never been a fan of Chinese style Fried Noodles, mainly because of the flavorings in the sauce, and also because it’s often kinda’ greasy (at least in my experiences). Especially if they use Hoisin (uggh) or too much Oyster Sauce.

Zippy’s – Fried Noodles (notice they put SPAM in theirs)

Being this is an Okazuya and saimin stand, I’d say Sato’s Fried Noodles is essentially a bowl of  Saimin (same noodles), sans the liquid broth, thrown into a wok and fried along with an ever-slight addition of julienned carrots and cabbage, then like the typical “standard” Saimin you’ll find at most stands, it’s topped finely chopped charsiu, ham and green onions.

Sam Sato’s – Dry Noodle, a.k.a. “Dry Mein”

In fact, speaking of the Sato name, this reminds me a lot of the also very popular Dry Noodle, a.k.a. “Dry Mein” offered at Sam Sato’s in Wailuku, Maui. Except with Sam Sato’s Dry Mein, they kick it up a notch by also providing a small bowl of broth on the side so you can “wet” your noodles. Because you know, we all like “wetting our noodle”. lol

OK, let’s do this…

Right off the bat, EXCELLENT texture. Kinda’ rubbery ‘n chewy in a VERY GOOD WAY, and certainly not “pasty”. I think that firm yet tender chewiness is what makes it stand out the most and is its greatest virtue. There’s an ever-so-slight oily coating, yet certainly not greasy whatsoever, with just enough of a slick surface coating all the noodles to prevent them from sticking together into one clumpy mess. These Fried Noodles remain in individual strands, so more props on that, and also once again for having just the right amount of oil coating.

Flavor-wise, just like Sam Sato’s “Dry Mein”, Sato’s Fried Noodles (don’t confuse the two!), it’s kinda tough to really tell exactly what’s going on (in) here. It’s kinda “dashi-ish”, yet there may also be if just a TAD of Oyster Sauce, but not much. There’s definitely some “shoyu action”. They may also be using chicken broth in there somehow as it’s being fried up. The juliienned carrots and cabbage added some “earth tones” to the flavor and texture profile, yet there’s very, very little in it, as obviously Sato’s theory on Fried Noodles is that it should be kept as SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE, which I too firmly believe is THE way to go with most “local style” noodle dishes, whether it be Mac’ Salad, Chow Fun, Saimin or this.

Speaking of which, what underscores this tasting essentially like Saimin in fried form is the chopped Charsiu, ham and green onions. Both the Charsiu and ham were very moist, tender and flavorful, while the Charsiu was particularly OUTSTANDING here. I really noticed that, even with what sparse bits and pieces were mixed throughout my generously portioned large plate of Fried Noodles.

At for the large Fried No0dles, it’s easily enough to fill you up, or would also be an adequate portion if you were to split it among 2-4 people along with another entree, such as, oh say, their pork chops. In fact I shared 2 small bowls from my plate with my coworkers so they could try it and still had enough to leave me carbo-loaded ‘n STUFFED after all was said and done.

Summing it up, I give Sato’s Okazuya “Famous” Fried Noodles a “Simple is always best!” 5 SPAM Musubi, and definitely “in it to win it” for Oahu’s BEST local style Fried Noodles. Looks like we’re going to have to hold a “Best Fried Noodles on the Island” SHOOTOUT some time in the future!

Sato’s Okazuya
94-235 Hanawai Circle (turn off Farrington Highway at the corner of Bank of Hawaii)
Waipahu, Hawaii  96797

Tel. (808) 677-5503

Business Hours:
Tuesday – Friday: 7:30am to 2:00pm
Saturday: 7″30am to 1:00pm
Sunday & Monday: Closed

The Tasty Island rating:

(5) Superb. Worthy of repeat visits or purchases. (Broke Da’ Mout’!)

P.S. At least in my opinion, most of the best okazuya delis (and many other types of restaurants) on Oahu are owned and operated by local Okinawan families (Sato’s is the exception, as they’re originally from Sapporo, Japan). Where back on the Ryukyu islands motherland, SPAM (and other competing luncheon meat brands) remain very popular, and is often incorporated into some of Okinawa’s most traditional dishes.

You regular readers of this blog may recall my recent post featuring my entry for Hormel’s contest to pick a winning design for their new, soon-to-hit the shelves SPAM’ Hawaii collector’s edition can label. In a comment by regular reader “Debbie-chan”, she  pointed out the special 70th Year Anniversary of SPAM in Okinawa collector’s can, to which she so kindly eMailed me a few EXCELLENT photos she took of her own copy.

Well, here it is!…

Photo courtesy of Debbie-chan

Photo courtesy of Debbie-chan

That is pretty. darned. COOL! I Especially like the masked Japanese “kimono” style artwork that makes up the “70″ font. If you can read Japanese, I’d really appreciate if you could translate the entire backside of the label for us in a comment, onegaishimasu.

Debbie-chan noted that the artwork has a similar style to the one that graces this “Yonaha Toru presents Kachashii a go-go” CD cover…

Photo courtesy of Debbie-chan

It also reminds me of the illustrated character designs in the Crayon Shinchan anime series, which by-the-way is a RIOT! I sure miss that show, which KIKU-TV used to air here with GREAT subtitle work. Unfortately, KIKU had to give the reels back to the producer, as Asahi TV in Japan bought the rights to the show. Boo! Anyhow, look up “Crayon Shinchan” on YouTube and watch a few episodes… funny (and often naughty) stuff!

While on the subject of SPAM, Debbie-chan also sent me this photo of an “Okinawa Burger”, which was (or still is?) available at MOS BURGER locations in Naha, Okinawa…

MOS BURGER’s (Naha, Okinawa locations) “Okinawa Burger”. Photo courtesy of Debbie-chan

Get the heck outta’ here… a slice of fried SPAM and egg on a “bed” of Nori encased by a rice “bun”? Simply BRILLIANT! I SO need to try making this! My guess is that rice “bun” is made by pressing a tightly compacted small ball of white rice onto a saute pan on about medium heat and browning it ever so slightly. I dig how the Nori acts as the “lettuce”. Genius.

I tell you, when it comes to cookin’, dem’ Uchinanchu folks know how it’s done RIGHT!

Mahalo Debbie-chan for all the fun ‘n cool pics!

The Tasty Island

PostHeaderIcon Kaka’ako Eats: Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant

‘Tis the season for birthdays, as hot off the heels of our celebration for honored guest Diner C at Bella Mia Pizzeria just a few weeks ago, not long after that it was my turn. Where on this occasion, the gang threw me an intimate birthday party luncheon at Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant.

Now believe me when I say, this isn’t like any other restaurant you’ve ever been to before, whether Korean or whatever it may be. See, Ah-Lang is known as much for its, should I say, “firecracker” of an owner, as it is for its AMAZING food. So much of a “firecracker”, that she’s been dubbed the “Angry Korean Lady”, a.k.a. Won Lam, where notice I “a.k.a.’d” her real name, and not her nick name .

In fact, the printed menu in the restaurant, as well as on their website is versed the same way, while even the domain name for said website is registered under that. Which you gotta’ admit, is a very catchy and powerful marketing tag line!

Now there’s probably all kinds of ways you might picture what an “Angry Korean Lady” might look like by just the sound of it. Perhaps it could be what you remember of that “Mama San” that kicked you out of the local “KB” (Korean Bar) 20 years ago when you were cash broke, falling down drunk and sloppily hitting on her barmaid cousin. Or maybe she could resemble your Korean neighbor who brings you fresh batches of homemade Kim Chee every time she makes some (we really have a neighbor that does that).

Well upon seeing her for the first time, you just might be perplexed by her famous nickname, as she really doesn’t look that menacing, and at least to me anyway, underneath that hardened and jaded sneer she wears, she’s quite an attractive woman!…

“I’m already angry. Don’t make me more angry.” ~ Angry Korean Lady

Yet she certainly keeps her “Medusa” hat on while at the restaurant, crackin’ a whip while at it. And with that, she’s established a set of RULES (yes, rules) patrons must follow if they want to be fed by her. Because “Angry Korean Lady” isn’t merely serving you, she’s lovingly cooking for and feeding you like only your own mother would.

Like any good parent, she nurtures and provides for you through “tough love”, where you have to earn your keep, as she’s not just going to hand everything to you on a silver spoon and platter. When you’re in HER HOUSE, you and your guest(s) become more her CHILDREN or good friend, than her CUSTOMER, which would be the best way to describe it.

Won, the “Angry Korean Lady” is a one-woman band, where she does all the cooking, cleaning, serving and cashiering herself. Which wouldn’t you be angry if you had to do all that? lol Hence, because (as her tag line goes) she’s “already angry” and you don’t want to make her “more angry”, it would be wise to abide by her rules so you can enjoy the FANTASTIC Korean specialty dishes she prepares…

Just in case you can’t read that, for your convenience I’ll transcribe her rules here:

“I’m already angry. Don’t make me more angry.” ~ Angry Korean Lady
1. Write down your order and bring it to me in the kitchen. If you don’t write down your order, I won’t bring you your food. First order in, first served.
2. Food first, then water — unless you serve yourself.
3. No outside food or soda allowed.
4. You break it, you bought it — please be careful with the glass table covers. (Big glass = 0/small glass = 0)
5. If you BYOB, bring me some too, or there’s a corkage fee.
a.) Don’t bring me Coors Light — it gives me a headache.
b.) Don’t give me Yellowtail — it gives me a stomachache.
6. If you BYOB, bring your own cups and supplies. DO NOT use mine.
7. The kitchen closes 15 minutes before closing. I’ll let you know when I’m closing.
8. Don’t attach hooks/anything to the table — don’t break the glass.
9. For dishes indicated as spicy, choose your own spice level between 0-8, and write on your order as: “Spicy #_____”.

I didn’t get around to asking her, but looking at a few of the rules, it appears she’s had incidents in the past where patrons have abused, wrecked or broken her furniture and/or dishware. Going along with that territory, notice there’s BOOZE involved in her rules. Namely, Won highly appreciates when you SHARE some with her, and is one of the surest ways to win her heart, or at the very least, grant you acceptance into “her house”. While she notes not to bring her Coors Light or (cheap) Yellowtail Wine for said reasons, what she doesn’t note on her rules is that her FAVORITE beer is Michelob Ultra, and of course Korean Shoju, although I didn’t get around to asking her which particular Shoju brand. If you ask, she’ll probably just tell you to get the most expensive one. lol While I wasn’t about to lug around a 12-pack of Michelob Ultra (that’s the only size I could find at the store), I did manage to stop bring her a “Bombucha” bottle of the the new Primo Beer, which I’m personally quite fond of their new brew formula.

Enough about “AKL” for now. TIme to check out the restaurant — or more appropriately as previously said, “HER HOUSE”….

That’s it. Just six 4-place tables, which yields Ah-Lang a 24-seat capacity. And judging by the numerous reviews on Yelp, if you’re on the tail end of the first-come, first-served ordering list, you WILL wait for quite a while, as Won is very particular about how her food comes out of the kitchen. Meaning, she’d rather have each table have all the necessary dishes that compliment each other, then to serve a table here or a table there, leaving each party’s order as an incomplete meal.

One of the first house rules you’ll realize you must follow upon seating yourself at Ah-Lang (because “Angry Korean Lady” certainly isn’t going to do that for you, let alone even greet you), is to get your own water glasses…

All Won will do is bring out a plastic jug filled with ice water. Then she’ll look at everyone and analyze whether she even likes you based on how you talk to her, what you ask of her, and maybe even how you look! I’ll put it you this way: 2 groups of people walked in and sat down. After looking over the menu and asking a few questions to Won, they walked right out, and Won didn’t care one single bit. lol

Fortunately the five of us in our party were “accepted” by her, where we would soon experience — because that’s really what it’s all about here, is the “Angry Korean Lady Experience” — what would turn out to be one of most memorable and enjoyable meals we’ve ever had. Period. Whether that bottle of beer we gave her got us “in”, doesn’t matter. Main thing is we walked out with very happy, and “Angry Korean Lady”, well, she stayed angry (which is a good thing). lol

I’m not sure what the reason is (other than the obvious), but this is yet another Korean restaurant popping up around Honolulu that touts not using MSG…

Also note that with or more of purchase, there’s FREE validated parking in the Imperial Plaza building on Cooke Street, where Ah-Lang is located at the ground floor of.

Restaurant owners often throw in their personal keepsakes ‘n stuff as decorations, where here Won has this interesting good luck charm mounted above the door entrance…

We asked her what it signified (see that link for one suggestion), and all she said was that her mother told her put it there.

If I didn’t know where this photo was taken, I’d think it was at a place that had Portuguese ties…

What appears to keep “Angry Korean Lady” happiest is cooking (and then booze), where here she is tending to a pot of vegetable-based soup stock for her highly acclaimed Soon Dubu, as well as finishing up our order of steamed Mandoo, Meat Jun and Chive Jun, all using very, very, VERY well seasoned, seriously “old school” vintage cast iron cookware…

Being we arrived right at the 11am sharp opening time, not only was our party of five the first ones there, but we were also the ONLY ones there on this beginning-of-the-work-week lunch hour visit. Which it pretty much stayed that way throughout our entire meal, where only after about noon time rush did more people start to arrive. With that, our order came out fairly quickly, with a wide assortment of Banchan first to land on the table…

Of course, there’s Kim Chee, with Won’s take on it tasting rather “rustic” and a bit different than any store-bought brands I’ve tried…

Another Banchan standard, the usual marinaded Bean Sprouts…

One of my favorites in this spread were these marinaded strips of Fried Fishcake…

My other fave’ were these marinaded slices of Gobo…

Reason the Gobo and Fishcake were my two favorite Banchan here, is that they were both well-saturated with a nice blend of salty, sweet, acidic and savory flavor profile, with the Gobo especially having a pronounced “crunch” in texture, which complimented the main dishes really nicely.

Marinaded Choy Sum…

These sauce-smothered cucumbers may look spicy-hot, but they actually tasted fairly tame…

Rounding up our Banchan dishes was this mixture of marinaded smashed Tofu and Watercress…

Take a little of each, and I’ll be ready for some good accompanying eats when the main dishes arrive…

Being we were the only ones in the restaurant at the time, “Angry Korean Lady” had the time to take the individual Banchan dishes off the massive serving tray and set them on the table as shown. Otherwise if its busy, I hear she’ll just drop the order on the table, tray and all, and expect YOU to remove each dish and place it on your table, then YOU take the empty tray and give it back to her in the kitchen.

Immediately following the Banchan, Won returned from the kitchen with a plate full of piping hot steamed Mandoo…

Now for the BEST PART, which is something I’ve NEVER, EVER experienced before: someone on our table mentioned to Won that it was my birthday, when to our absolute astonishment, she introduced her incredible cooking to us by personally cutting a steamed mandoo piece using just her stainless steel Korean chopsticks. Then, using her chopsticks, proceeded to personally HAND-FEED me a piece!…

We missed snapping a photo of her doing that, yet I was at least able to capture this one of her just as she finished cutting the mandoo apart. But, WOW, so much for all this “angry this ‘n that” jazz… Won really should be nicknamed the “Sweet Korean Lady” or “Super Awesome Korean Lady”! I mean, how cool is that?! When was the last time you can remember an owner and/or chef of a restaurant coming to your table and hand-feeding you your very first bite of their cooking? Well, it was certainly the first time for me, making it one of the most memorable and endearing dining experiences I’ve EVER had. Of course part of the charm was the very notion that this gesture of good will and “motherlyness” completely caught me by surprise. I swear, it was literally a “love at first bite” initiation, in a mother-son bonding kinda’ way (with all due respect to my REAL mother of course!).

As for the Steamed Mandoo, each piece was larger than your typical Mandoo, making up the size of approximately the fingers part of an adult-sized man’s clenched fist. The wrapper was steamed to perfect al dente doneness, with plenty of moisture content goin’ on. While the filling medley of ground pork and various veggies had nice balance, yet otherwise subtle, flavor-wise.

The Mandoo dipping sauce tasted like the usual Korean style combination of shoyu, sugar, vinegar, sesame, chili paste and green onions, helping to punch out the subtle flavor of the pork ‘n veggie mandoo filling.

Summing it up, we’re off to a mighty Mandoo of a good start, where we unanimously gave Ah-Lang’s take on the dish 4 SPAM Musubi.

Next to arrive on the table was Ah-Lang’s famous signature Chive Jun, which was what I was looking forward to trying the most…

Serve ‘em up…

The Chive Jun is sorta’ like a Quiche, sans the dough crust, while having just enough egg to bind the chives, which also forms a very thin egg batter “crust” of its own on the top and bottom surface area, like every typical Jun dish should have. There’s also a noticeable flavor accent, as perhaps Won adds Shoyu, Vinegar, Sugar and/or other spices into the egg binder for added dimension.

What’s interesting is that, even though it’s made almost entirely with fresh chives (which I understand she has her own farming space somewhere in Manoa), it’s not overpowering with a “chive-ee” or “green onion-ee” flavor, but tastes just “vegetable-ish” in a green, earthy kinda’ way. How’s that for descriptions. lol It tastes AWESOME on its own, yet it does come with the same dipping sauce she serves with the Mandoo for some added “kick”.

All I can say quite frankly, is that the Chive Jun is OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD DELICIOUS and a MUST-ORDER dish at Ah-Lang, where upon the first bite, 3 out of the 5 of us immediately badged it with the highest 5-SPAM Musubi award.

Soon following, Angry Korean Lady returned with a piping hot plate of her Fried Specialty Wings…

Another angle (not that it’s much different)…

Ding-ding-ding, we have another winner! I’d say these are kinda’ like the Korean version of Japanese style Karaage Chicken, yet with all “kinda’ stuffs” going on in its flavor profile. The batter was nice ‘n crispy, while being post-soaked with what tasted almost like the same sauce used for dipping the Mandoo, with perhaps a lot more garlic and chili paste added into it.

Biting through that kicked-up Korean flavored batter, the tongue is wonderfully greeted with juicy, fall-off-the-bones, super-tender chicken wing meat. I might also add, overall it just had this “homemade, comfort food” edge to it that set it apart. Personally, I give Won’s Specialty Wings another glorious 5-SPAM Musubi! And that’s a lot coming from someone usually not so hot for chicken.

On to the next dish, this SERIOUSLY sizzling platter of Ah Lang’s Barbecue Chicken soon followed suit…

Da’ odda’ side (the other side)…

This tasted a lot like Japanese Yakitori, sans the skewers. With that, like the Specialty Wings, the sliced, bite-size grilled Korean style BBQ chicken strips here were juicy ‘n tender, with pronounced “kogi” seared edges sealing the BBQ deal. Awesome. That’s now 5 sizzlin’ SPAM Musubi dish number three.

Last yet absolutely not least to land on our celebratory Birthday Table was Ah-Lang’s also-famous Meat Jun…

Angle B…

Reading over the numerous Yelp reviews on this place, you’ll often come across the expression of “BEST I’VE EVER HAD” attached to folks’ description of Ah-Lang’s Meat Jun, which all of us in our group agreed after DEVOURING the plate, is SO TRUE. This is arguably THE BEST MEAT JUN in HAWAII. Probably the only people who wouldn’t agree with that are assessment, are those who don’t like meat that’s too sweet, as these are certainly on the sweeter side.

“Angry Korean Lady” makes it a point when she brings her very special Meat Jun to your table to try it first WITHOUT the dipping sauce, as she swears it DOES NOT need it..

And you know what? NO NEED SAUCE! Like any dish that’s prepared with utmost attention to preparation detail and quality of ingredients, this Meat Jun speaks VOLUMES on its own terms, not needing any dipping or basting sauce to “compensate” for dryness, toughness or lack of flavor.

I don’t know how Won does it (nor did we ask), but the super-thin sliced beef is so moist and tender, I swear you could practically suck an entire piece of this Meat Jun through a drinking straw, I kid you not. It’s like buttah’ (butter), I tell ya’, like BUTTAH!

It’s also entirely penetrated with what tastes like a mild, toned-down marinade of shoyu, sugar and sesame oil. Key is, the mildness of the well-penetrated marinade is what makes it so good, in that you can still taste the BEEF, without being overpowered by the shoyu. Yet that thoroughly-penetrated marinade also aids in bringing out the natural moisture your palate expects of the beef.

The egg batter had a slight crunch, yet was mostly on the soft and pliable side, apparently taking on plenty of the moisture from the thinly-sliced marinaded beef underneath it.

We had to try at least a few Meat Jun pieces dipped in the accompanying sauce, which tasted pretty much like Ponzu, a “citrus” flavored Soy sauce, albeit in this case made with vinegar. To which the acidic tang provided a nice and complimentary opposing contrast to the inherent sweetness of the beef marinade. That was pretty good, but seriously, once again, this Meat Jun DOES NOT NEED SAUCE, as it’s THAT GOOD “plain” as is. So AWESOME is it, that we unanimously give  the Angry Korean Lady’s Meat Jun a far above-and-beyond SUPERB 10 SPAM Musubi. Woo hoo!

Our entire meal was so incredible delicious, that amongst the five of us, we pretty much “polished” everything Won fed us…

Of course, just as wonderful is the authentic Korean food at Ah-Lang, is the genuine spirit and heart of Won the “Angry Korean Lady”, who, just like many other reviewers  have noted in their experiences here, she came out and chatted with us after we were finished eating….

Hell hath no fury…

Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant is absolutely a MUST DO on your Honolulu dining itinerary, and gets the highest Tasty Island recommendation and praise.

Kamsahamnida “Angry Korean Lady”!

Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant
725 Kapiolani Blvd
Ste C119
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813

Tel. (808) 596-0600

The Tasty Island rating:


Related links:
Anger is good for the menu at Ah-Lang – Honolulu Star Advertiser
Ah-Lang Restaurant – Yelp user reviews

The Tasty Island