Hawai’ian Hot Pockets

In food on 04/02/2009 at 4:32 pm

When people think of Hawai’i, they think of palm trees, hula girls, beaches and piña coladas by the mouth of a volcano. When I think of Hawai’i, I envision lau laus at a dive, mixed with luau pit-roasted pigs…ono! That touristy junk in Waikiki really turns me off to Hawai’i, but the island redeems itself in terms of the laid-back culture, local moco, obsession with Spam and Lilikoi passion fruit juice. The real residents of Hawai’i love to eat.

The first time I chugged Hawaiian Sun Lilikoi Passion Fruit juice was from a rusty food truck parked by the endless beach in Oahu. During the day, I was building houses for spring break with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program. Did you know if you’re not a native, you are not allowed to own land in Hawai’i? On my time off, I scoured the southern shore for authentic local cuisine. I discovered Ono Hawaiian Foods and a new carb: pounded taro root – poi. It is a beautiful lavender mash, and you scoop it up with spears of chopped white onion sprinkled with salt. I’ve never felt such euphoria eating raw onion and dipping it with various stews. That and the ramen bar off the beach, those were some good foodie days.

Today I was watching Sunny Anderson’s show, Cooking for Real, and she said the magic word: lau lau. This is the quintessential Hawai’ian dumpling, meats wrapped in taro leaves, something not readily available on the mainland. The leaves have a distinct herbal flavor that melts in your mouth. I was instantly transported to my time in Hawai’i when I ate them for the first time at a local deli, along with a side of lomi lomi. Fast forward to trying a horrible version at L&L Hawai’ian BBQ on Fulton Street that was mushy and oversalted. Then fast forward again to two summers ago when my Hawai’i obsessed Singaporean friend (who considers wearing Hawai’ian shirts ‘dressing up’ and who recently bought a Tiki bar) corraled us into an afternoon of making lau laus from scratch.

Sunny was making a Far Eastern Europe meets island version, a kind of stuffed cabbage meatloaf. It wasn’t too enticing, without much texture. But what was brilliant was her use of collard greens as the wrapper. Lightbulb! What I like about Sunny is her outsider attitude toward cuisine, mixing techniques, cuisines and ingredients, making them accessible to the Bread Basket audience. Here is my version, inspired by Sunny.

collard greens whole leaves (trim stems)
beef chunks (stew type)
pork chunks (fatty streaked)
boneless chicken chunks
salt cod (whatever dried fish – this more for flavoring)
smoked ham hock (chop up to add more soul)
Liquid Smoke (sparingly)
soy sauce
fish sauce
salt & pepper

Marinate meats together with Liquid Smoke, soy sauce, fish sauce, ham hock and salt & pepper at least one hour.

Put one piece each of the meats in the middle of the collard and wrap into a neat package, like a flat burrito. Put seam side down in a steamer. Steam for 2 hours until tender.

Serve over rice or poi with chunks of white onion/salt garnish. Get lei’d.

da real thang baby

  1. wow. first, glad you caught the show and thanks for watching! glad my use of collards set off a light bulb in your head … i’m a foodie like you and on my recent trip to hawaii, i blogged about it. take a look at some photos and the actual story of where i had the lau lau and pics of the place as well … here is the link

    again, thanks and i hope you catch more shows. your lau lau looks yummy in it’s pre-fold status!!!

    sunny anderson

  2. your poi anecdote on your blog is hilarious sunny! amazing that a place that calls itself authentic is really the case. usually that’s enough to scare us off. good luck on your new show ; )

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