Sunday, August 8, 2010

FoodTrek: Wasabi's Journey to the Ninth Island

According to most geographical references, Hawaii is an archipelago of eight main islands, along with a few smaller surrounding islands. But the books don't realize there is an Ninth Island. Geographers and volcanologists' ears are perking up, wondering, "What's this?! Is there an underwater volcano creating an instant island as we speak?" Perhaps some mad scientist of James Bondian proportion, creating some nefarious hideout in the Pacific? Or perhaps we're still on Lost withdrawal and suspecting the Dharma Group is somehow involved. Not so much. The Ninth Island is, in fact, on the Mainland. And it's called Las Vegas.

Greetings from Bat Country - Photo by Wasabi Prime

OK, Wasabi, WTF? I pinky-swears, it's totally effin' true. I cross my heart and hope to die of eating too much Spam Musubi, Las Vegas is like a second home to many folks from Hawaii, where some folks (usually retired) will fly off to Nevada as often as once a month. You figure, when we of the Mainland-borne wish to escape our humdrum lives, we imagine the sandy beaches of Waikiki -- but what about the people in Hawaii? Don't they deserve a far off destination vacation that offers them a garden of earthly delights? And midnight oxtail soup?

Bright lights, big city... and buffets - Photos by Wasabi Prime

It's an odd combination of things that makes Las Vegas the unofficial "Ninth Island" of Hawaii, but the straight dope is, there is no Aloha spirit for gambling in the 50th state -- it's all illegal. There's not even a state lottery. But this doesn't change the fact that Hawaii people love to roll the bones. I don't know if it's the concentration of Asians and our obsession with luck and the money-lined Hand of Fate, but that's just how they roll in Hawaii, preferably with dice in-hand. Las Vegas has always been a playground for grown-ups, and it took the business-savvy thinking of fellows like the late Sam Boyd, who owned several downtown Vegas casinos, to make the connection between the love of gambling and enticing the vacationing Hawaii folks to his casinos by offering Island comfort foods and vacation packages customized for Hawaii travelers. For the most part, the Hawaii visitors tend to stay downtown and avoid the glitzier, more expensive Strip, plus the Boyd-owned casinos get people hooked into their comp systems and one tends to stay where one has freebies. Hawaii folks mean business -- they come to gamble, and more to the point, they come to win.

Hawaii or Vegas? Only the Fried Twinkies can say... - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Segway to the Wasabi mama and papa-san. They were in Sin City for my dad's college reunion; he went to an engineering school back in the swingin' sixties that attracted a lot of young men from Hawaii looking to conquer the world, armed with only a pocket protector and a slide rule. Funny thing is, the school was in California, not Hawaii, but since it was an unofficial reunion of mostly local guys from The Big Island, having it at the California Hotel is close enough... right? I decided to crash the reunion, since it offered up the opportunity to visit my good friend and partner in crime, the Angry Peanut, my best friend from college days who is now a Nevada resident. We spent one night visiting with the alumni of the Northop Institute of Technology and scamming on their buffet, which consisted of local favorites like kalua pork, macaroni salad, teriyaki beef, and plenty of rice. Plus one of the lovely wives of my dad's classmates brought homemade manju, which is a flaky pastry with a sweet bean filling. I know I'm supposed to be a food blogger/photographer, but this was also my vacation, so I didn't take as many food photos as I probably should have, mostly because I was too busy om-nomming it.

It really did feel like a mini vacation in Hawaii, as I could indulge in my favorite Island grindz, like saimin, Portuguese sausage with eggs for breakfast, Lappert's ice cream and a bottle of shoyu on every table. It was a reminder of how Vegas is a city of facsimile, with an uncanny ability to mimic so many places and regions of the world. I don't get drawn into the fake Venice or the fake Paris, but I do find an odd comfort when I stay at the more low-key downtown area of Las Vegas, hearing all the local Pidgin and eating familiar comfort foods that are cooked the way locals like it.

Welcome to the Hotel California, class of 2010 - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I'm not much of a gambler, so when I wasn't visiting with my parents, getting free drinks as they played video poker, I was hopping bingo parlors with Peanut or seeing movies to escape the insane summer heat. We spent minimal time on the Strip, visiting the summer garden display at the Bellagio, and seeing the light show on Fremont Street while avoiding getting pickpocketed, but the main purpose of the trip was to reconnect, with both friends and family, even if it was at a place where I'd giggle every time I saw "Loose Slots."

Much thanks to the Wasabi Parents who let us mooch off their comps, and clearly had The Force with them over the weekend as they both won jackpots. Much Wasabi Thanks to the reunion group for letting me crash their party. And many thanks to Angry Peanut, for showing her Wasabi Pal a rockin' good time in Bat Country.

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  1. I love the "Ninth Island" and I also mooch of my parent's comps. It's the only way to go....

    Lovely pics and good "story".

    Mmmm, mac shortbread cookies! Yes please. :)

  2. The "Ninth Island" is so true! Island style in the middle of the Nevada desert!

  3. A woman shouted at me in Vegas once. It wasn't pretty. Nice pictures, Wasabi.

  4. OMG you are so right! When you live in paradise (Hawaii), where do you go to vacation? Las Vegas baby! Funny article WP!


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