BY J. ARTHUR RATH III – Americans react quickly to fads and will gorge happily on “different food”—once they find the way. Hawaii may offer more varieties per Waikiki block than visitors discover in their hometowns (or, otherwise, maybe their lifetimes!).
True enjoyment comes from knowing it—just as it does with American regional foods many of which make their way here (although Pig Snoots and Scrapple my be latent–unlike Buffalo Chicken Wings).
Growing up in Hawaii whets one’s epicurean taste buds and willingness to try most anything. Old timers remember the after-a-movie treat of snacking on noodles and meat broiled over a little cooker that an enterprising Poppa San might set up in an alley.
Others’ taste buds are weaned on Hawaiian “raw fish and poi” and Chinese See Moi (along with crack seed, ling hing mui, and salt plum).
Developing eclectic Hawaii tastes made me an early fan of Pizza—when it was sometimes hard to find anywhere but in New York’s Italian Section. (An art director pal’s parents had their restaurant on Bleecker Street, Al Capone liked it so much that he offered to go in partnership with his parents. “No thanks, Sir, we want to keep it small.”) Hawaiian taste buds made me interested in trying barbecued “Pig’s Snoots” in Georgia (they’re
not just the nose, but jaw parts, too). Couldn’t miss out on Philadelphia Scrapple (country-style pork sausage mixed with corn mush, crispy on the outside, soft inside). Scrapple is lovely with a plate of friend eggs. Worked in Buffalo–our Governor’s hometown–when, allegedly, a Chinese employee in a bar, said “I have an idea how to make money at those chicken wings you discard,” now “Buffalo Wings” are ubiquitous. Regional foods can fit many moods…
Until fairly recently, visiting the orient, or Hawaii helped to spread the fame of Japanese cuisine to the Mainland. Now people everywhere realize that “raw is beautiful.”
Wasn’t always this way, a case in point: A few years ago, after a productive day, I took an executive to one of Detroit’s fanciest restaurants. Steak tartar was on the menu! When it was presented to me in all its uncooked beauty, my guest gasped: “It’s not cooked.”
My dish frightened away his appetite. At another time, an information processing consultant (computers), joined me at a Japanese restaurant in New York City. “Never been in a place like this,” he confided. He ordered deep-fried shrimp, I had sashimi—“That’s raw,” he said with astonishment. He was able to eat his cooked shrimp.
Mainlanders may be more adventuresome about food these days. The traditional Japanese diet is said to be one of the healthiest in the world, allegedly, it contributes to long life. Blog and see: It can protect against many disease that might come from too much Westernized food.
Does imbibing in a Japanese Restaurant help one stay on Earth a little longer?
Don’t know, but it sure puts me in a better mood. The Yoshitsune on Kalakaua Avenue reminds me of growing up in Hawaii. (Servers are like Mama Sans I knew; middle-aged, wearing kimono and obi. I feel looked after once I enter the place.) Yoshitsune is in the
Park Shore Hotel, see some curtains with Japanese symbols wafting in the lobby breeze and you enter in. “Ohi-o” (a greeting) Mama San says with a grin.
This place is rated five star, ala carte is what I choose. My Japanese is limited, so I read the English words on the menu, point my finger on an item, and receive a bow. The happy guy behind the sushi bar looks over, sends me “Ohi-o”, and is ready to go. What he serves is gussied up with decorative matter—shredded horseradish, some leaves. Every bit of food is arranged so prettily. You feast your eyes; don’t come here to
gulp and run.
They have several rooms, one’s for traditional parties where folks sit on the floor. The rooms are arranged for quiet talk, you may not be aware there are other seating (or squatting) chambers.
Food comes quickly, but you are encouraged to linger. Sometimes I order some sake and think of old times—of something I wrote when a young man:
You are the geisha girl meant for me
Here’s a glass of rice wine,
So mellow and so sweet,
Come drink it and give me a smile,
Let’s say “Kampai” for our future bright:
Ne tonko, tonko.
(From “The Nightingale,” a prize-winning play by Rath produced at Hamilton College, five years after VJ day, very adventuresome for that time. Growing up in Hawaii you learn to appreciate ethnicity.)