The one on Hawaiian-local-fusion-ish food
I’m going to say this and it might break your soul: There’s no such thing as Hawaiian pizza. It’s true. It’s just a pizza with pineapple from somewhere else in the world other than Hawai’i. We still ok? Ok cool. Being born & raised in Hawai’i and being raised on Hawaiian and local food most of my life, it's interesting for me to see all the recent culinary exports from my home that have taken on new life here on the mainland, especially with the whole Hawaiian-local-fusion-ish food craze.
I usually break them into 4 categories:
Hawaiian Food - laulau, squid luau, lomi salmon, kalua pork
Local Food - plate lunches, Hawaiian mac salad, SPAM musubi, malasadas
New Hawaiian-Local-Fusion Food - modern plate lunches, kalua pork french fries, guava based cocktails, pork belly musubi, etc…
Fakey Hawaiian - “hawaiian-style” pizza, “hawaiian style” burgers, “hawaiian style” anything because YOU JUST ADDED PINEAPPLE OR TERIYAKI TO IT and/or cooked it over a fire which doesn't make it ANYTHING.
The third being the one currently proliferated around the mainland US and booming, although I’m positive the 4th one is proliferating as well. I’m sure you’ve seen them across Portland and Seattle or scattered about the west coast. Often times, I frequent these places and wonder if this is what Chinese people feel when they come to America and eat Chinese food here.
I’d like to believe that Hawaiian local fusion food has always been around, but only recently has it become really really good because it’s being taken seriously and innovated seriously. I mean, SPAM has been around for decades, but just recently people have been raising the bar on how it’s incorporated into dishes and/or eaten. It’s great stuff. We’re at a major inflection point where the modern interpretation of a culture’s cuisine is literally up for grabs at being presented to the minds and palates of the masses. That’s heavy stuff.
Lots of people go out looking for local food, but they have no clue what to look for in a great musubi, mac salad, or other local eats, so I feel the need to let people know what I personally look for while eating a SPAM musubi or mac salad.
Whenever I encounter a SPAM musubi:
I seek out the texture of the rice and the thickness of the SPAM. To this day, I haven’t found a SPAM musubi in the Pacific Northwest other than 808 Grinds in Portland, OR that rivals the famed 7-Eleven SPAM musubi at home on O’ahu. Now, you may be laughing, but that 7-Eleven SPAM musubi is fucking amazing. To make a great musubi, you need a great SPAM to rice ratio, and the rice needs to be sticky enough to keep together. Protip: The plastic wrap. The secret is in the damn plastic wrap. Once you make the musubi with your sticky rice, spam, sauce, and nori, wrap it in plastic wrap to continue to steam the rice while also fusing those flavors together into one awesome bite. Serious.
Whenever I encounter Hawaiian mac salad:
You can always judge a place by how good their mac salad is. Period. Most people get it wrong. Protip: Always overcook the macaroni. You NEED the macaroni to be cooked way past al dente so it’s nice and fatty which makes it able to soak up all that sauce. Most places NEVER overcook the macaroni so when you get the mac salad, it tastes stale and hard. The second component to a great Hawaiian mac salad is in the sauce. It cant be overpoweringly sweet, but at the same time it can’t be bland. A great Hawaiian mac salad will find that balance in flavors. Put that flavor together with a great macaroni texture, and you’ve got perfection.
I’ll be writing more about the local food scene as it progresses and offering more tips on what to look for in great local food, or even great Hawaiian food. It's a new booming scene out there, so educate those palates and know how to separate the good stuff from the not so good stuff. Cheers!