Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mixed Plate: A Wishful Wasabi Preserving the Past

So, perhaps an explanation beyond "Island Time" is in order for why I haven't done a proper post about the recent visit to Hawaii to visit Clan Wasabi. Firstly, there were a lot of photos to sort through -- nearly five hundy of 'em. Another big reason was the whirlwind of meeting, greeting and eating for networking events and appointments these last two weeks -- me = exhausted. But to be honest, the main reason why the Prime is a Scrooge McDuck with the food and cultural tour of Hilo Town is that I think it really is a good story. Good enough to try sending these tales of Aloha to any and all magazines in the hopes of getting it published, if this Wasabi may be so bold to dream of such lofty things.

Hilo-style Saimin - my reason for living! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

When I tell people I'm going to visit family in Hawaii, their responses immediately go towards the idea that I'll be sitting on a beach with a fruity, umbrella-staked drink in hand, waiting for the next luau. While picture-postcard perfect, this is not the heart of this place. The state relies heavily on the industry of tourism, and this will most likely never change, but a vivid heartbeat of integrated cultures exists. It's not something that necessarily fits the outside expectation of what a tropical paradise should be, yet it is no less engaging. I'm writing a couple of articles that focus on the strong survivor spirit behind the city of Hilo, and Hawaii's prevalent food culture, as shown through visits of local restaurant. Aside from the obvious desire to have something published, to achieve this milestone would have deeper personal meaning, as it all comes from well-loved childhood memories and a desire to preserve the things that I fear will someday be lost.

So why the heck should we care about your perspective on the Aloha State, Wasabi? What do you have to offer that's so freakin' awesome? No grass skirts. No drinks made in coconuts. My vivid sense memories of Hawaii are the sound of wind whistling through the tall grass in the fields of my mother's upcountry Maui, racing the passing rain showers that come down from the volcano, driving the loamy smell of the iron-oxidized red dirt into the air. There were misty mornings where neighbors' roosters crow at dawn to signal the day's start, and fresh sugar-dusted malasadas picked up from the local bakery waiting at the table in a pink string-tied box. My hands still recall the feeling of shucking sugary-sweet white corn for the night's dinner, and hoping there's no fat green caterpillar below the silken husks. I close my eyes and can still smell the wood burning mid afternoon, to stoke the fire that will heat the heavy wooden furo soaking tub my grandfather built with his carpenter-skilled hands. Age and use had seasoned the wood to an almost velveteen softness, and the fire-heated water drew away the day's worries and concerns.

The Palace Theater in downtown Hilo, opened in the 1930s and still running movies today - Photo by Wasabi Prime

From my father, I recall vintage, time-worn memories of his hometown Hilo, a working class city built up by the hands of plantation workers, passed down through many generations, with buildings still captured in a turn of the century bubble. Passing the afternoon time looking through dog-eared magazines and comics, I would sit on the back steps of the Sakaki Barbershop, with the sound of aunties chatting and cutting customers' hair. With my paternal grandfather, Ayato, there were daily visits to all the shops in the city to talk-story and trade gossip, and he indulged my every whim when we'd pass by a place for ice cream or candy, and then a stop at Cafe 100 for saimin. The evenings were lazy in the enclosed patio, snacking on boiled peanuts, watching my electrician grandpa's collection of old bar signs and colorful strings of lights come on with his obsessive use of timers. Everyone talking, eating and drinking late into the night, we watched samurai movies and listened to the intervals of nightly Hilo rain that would pound down on the metal roof.

Most of this exists only in memory, as many of the people are no longer with us and the houses have new lives and people within. But these recollections still feel incredibly vivid, and the measured pace of daily life that created those memories continues in cities like Hilo, where that life sustains itself amid threats of tsunamis and economic hard times. I went back to see family and being immersed in a memory-laden place really drove a strong need to preserve and reconcile the past -- the past of a city or an individual in emotional turmoil? Who the heck knows, most likely a bit of both. But it beats a writeup about a luau and a bunch of grass skirts, right?
So please forgive my vanity of wanting to get published. I can only hope you'll support and spread the word that Wasabi's in the market for anyone who will help get the stories of  island life and edibles in a small town out into the world. If you have any suggestions, tips or email addresses of editors that I may stalk mercilessly, please feel free to send them over with much Wasabi Thanks in advance. I'm still planning on posting many a homecooked dish that my mom cooked, so don't despair about the thought of a Wasabi world without Spam.

And if you're still dying for some tropical Aloha, you can see some Hilo Farmer's Market finds on my other non-foodie blog, the Jaunty Magpie:

Jewelry designer Keanalu Art Glass
Getting Clean with the Filthy Farmgirl

A few peeks at the sights of life in Hilo - Photos by Wasabi Prime
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  1. The last time I was there was about 20 years ago and I couldn't remember anything. I would love to go to Hawaii soon and rediscover the beauty of that State that is unique from other state.

  2. Three pieces of Kamaboko in the Saimin. Us Oahu peeps only get one piece. As long as the soup is made from Shrimp shells, it'll taste good (or "ono" as is commonly said in the local pidgin vernacular).

  3. mmm I'm from Hawaii, been in Seattle for 3.5 years now and I go back home almost once a year. After seeing your picture I SO want a bowl of saimin right now. mmmmm.

  4. Wonderful post! Your gift of writing is amazing! You have the ability to take that unfamiliar person back in time and walk them through downtown Hilo to visit all of the sights and sounds, and feel the Aloha of growing up in a small town! :D My grandpa used to have a furo too! Don't see those around anymore.

  5. Awesome blog! You took me back to several of my summers on the Big Island, and Maui... Man I gotta go back!

  6. Love this story and the photos. I can so relate, even though I grew up in Kailua, the one on Oahu!

  7. I enjoyed reading your post, I have never been to Hawaii..Hilo sounds like a really beautiful place..thanks for sharing! :)

  8. Your post made me want to visit YOUR Hawaii! I will search in my brain for contacts for you... Wanting to bet published is a very good thing my dear.

  9. You made me hungry. This looks delicioso.

  10. Great photos! I would love to go back to Hawaii someday, and spend most of my time exploring the restaurants and markets of the area.

  11. Um, you not only deserve to have your articles published, you need a book deal! You're such a great writer. *Sigh* And it doesn't hurt that you're writing about such an interesting place, too. When we go to Kauai we ALWAYS stop at Hamura Saimin in Lihue right after we get off the plane. You really made me wish I has some right now...

  12. Your photos are making me so hungry...and I've already been craving a plate lunch! Thanks for sharing Hilo with others...I'm born and raised there and would LOVE to read articles you write about it. Reading your blog here took me back to the days and I want to share your write up on your experiences in Hawaii with people from Seattle because they always think that I'm going home to sit on the beach, when it really is more than that. Your words are the Hilo I know too. :)

  13. You already know I am a huge fan of your writing, but I will say it again here ...
    You are quite talented, and everytime I visit here I am greeted with a story that takes me away to a place where I am either laughing alongside you, or learning about something new and trendy.
    Your perspective on Hawaii is something everyone would enjoy, and I'm sqeezing for you that something published will come your way soon (I'm sure it will).
    p.s. I thought about the historical side of Hawaii while reading your post, but now my mind is back on grass skirts and sandy beaches...It's been too long since my last visit.

  14. Yes Denise, I have to strongly agree with these posts. You have such a talent for writing. You're posts are so honest with a perfect mix of humor and informative reporting. I would be thrilled to see you published.


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