‘Kau Kau’ tells tale of Hawaii’s mixed plate

December 24th, 2009

arnold book
Nadine Kam photos
Arnold Hiura spent years of research to write “Kau Kau: Cuisine & Culture in the Hawaiian Islands.” His book launch took place Dec. 16 in one of the most local of hangouts, Zippy’s Vineyard.

Friends from the literary and culinary worlds came together Dec. 16 at Charlie’s Bar at Zippy’s Vineyard to celebrate the debut of Arnold Hiura’s book, “Kau Kau: Cuisine & Culture in the Hawaiian Islands.” (Watermark Publishing, $32.95)

The hardcover book offers a study of the roots of Hawaii’s chop suey cuisine, a stew of the many ethnic groups who contributed to today’s culinary diversity. Many dishes are presented in color on heavy coated stock, along with recipes. These include such classics as Portuguese bean soup, Kahua Ranch beef stew, and chicken or pork adobo.

Hiura is a respected writer, a longtime editor of the Hawaii Herald and curator  for the Japanese American National Museum, who is currently a partner in MBFT Media.

Included in the book is Hiura’s essential guide to 100 ethnic foods comprising his “Kau Kau 100 Ethnic Potluck Primer,” foods like hekka, pipikaula, kalbi, pao doce, kochu jang, etc., that anyone who considers him/herself local, should know.

Hiura’s wife Eloise was tasked with testing the 70 or so recipes included in the book, and told me the story (page 41 in the book) of trying to learn to cook from her father, Larry Nakama, who she considered to be a good cook. She said it was hard to keep up with him because he moved so fast and never used formal measurements. He made his all-purpose teriyaki sauce in a gallon jar, from which he would draw what he needed over time to cook all kinds of dishes, from beef tomato to hekkas, the latter required watering down the basic sauce. He adjusted the sauce to fit the dishes, adding sherry, sugar, more soy sauce or garlic as needed.

That is not typically the way people cook today as many grew up learning to follow written recipes culled from newspapers, magazines, books and Web sites.


Hiura with Dawn Sakamoto of Watermark Publishing, and photographer Shuzo Uemoto, whose work graces the jacket for Hiura’s book.

Some of the folkway practices might also seem unsanitary by today’s squeamish standards. I remember my mom used to preserve lemons in that familiar gallon jar, filling it up with water and salt, and leaving it soaking, heating and dehydrating in the sun for days. I always thought that was kind of gross, but the dried lemon is what she gave us with hot tea and honey when we had sore throats. I might have to try that someday. I’d have to do more research, but I think that a similar preserved lemon is the basis for Algerian lemon chicken that the late Toufik Hacid used to make at Ghita’s, before moving downtown and opening the smaller Mediterranean Cafe. I miss both the man and his special dish.

Meet Hiura during signings for the book as follows:

Dec. 29: KTA SuperStores Puainako location (50 E. Puainako St., Hilo), 4 to 6 p.m.
Jan. 9: Borders Ward Centre, , 2 to 3 p.m.
Jan. 16: Barnes & Noble, Kahala Mall, , 1 to 2 p.m.


Hiura and his wife Eloise, pictured above, led a trivia game that called for guests—including chefs like Alan Wong and  Kevin Chong—to provide their answers for the following categories:

Hawaiian food trivia
1.”Numbah 1″ local dish: Loco moco/Spam musubi (tie)
2. First place to eat after being away: Zippy’s
3. Omiyage for mainland friends: Big Island Candies
4. Most “exotic” dish: Squid luau
5. Favorite way to eat Saloon Pilots: Butter and guava jelly (together, not a tie)
6. Least fave canned food: Deviled ham
7. White rice, brown rice or hapa? White
8. Fave thing in egg omelet? Portuguese sausage
9. Fave comfort food: Chazuke/malassadas/natto (tie, not together)

One Response to “‘Kau Kau’ tells tale of Hawaii’s mixed plate”

  1. Arnold Hiura:

    Hi, Nadine. It was great seeing you at the launch event. It was a lot of fun. Thanks so much for coming and for sharing your thoughts and photos via your blog!

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