A Visit To Chinatown
by Rory Kealohi
One of my fondest memories growing up in Hawaii during the 60’s and 70’s was waking up early on Saturday morning, grabbing an empty cooler and heading to Chinatown for fresh fish, produce and other Asian, specialty ingredients and cuisines.
Our venture would typically start with a visit to Liliha Bakery or Dutch Girl Bakery, both on Liliha Street. Their freshly baked pastries were so buttery, flaky and ono. It was just enough to keep our stomachs filled during our shopping adventure.
Next stop, Chinatown, more specifically, Oahu Market. It was one of the very few places that opened at 6:00 am. Some of us went with dad and he headed down the seafood aisles checking out the day’s freshly caught fish which were often still in in the process of being offloaded and prepared for displaying. Nearby, the live crabs and lobsters would be scavenging around in knee-high aluminum fish tanks. This was also our go to spot if anyone of us got separated. In the meantime, the rest of us strolled with mom as she headed towards the meat section. It was apparent that they each had their favorite vendors to start with, barring anything that may have caught their eyes along the way.
Coupled with the fishing trips dad would take me on it was here, at a very young age, maybe 6 or 7 years old, I learned the steps on how to identify fresh fish. (More about that in another article.)
By now, the Chinese Roast Pork, Chinese BBQ pork, and/or Roast Duck (whole, half, or by the pound) would have been bought and paid for by mom. I always remembered her saying to the butcher “No fat! No burn!” and on very rare occasions, “No! Not dat one!” She knew what she wanted; the leanest and meatiest pieces and that’s exactly what she got. The transaction was never completed without accepting the free sample they provided. Soon she and the rest of my ohana would be joining us at the crab tanks.
Our attention would shift to fresh produce section where we would pick up Chinese parsley (cilantro), green onions, bean sprouts, Chinese mustard cabbage (Gai Choy) and Bok Choy, while dad focused on anything he needed to compliment the fish he just bought.
Now it was time to obtain the specialty sauces, spices and condiments that we would typically have stored in our pantry and anything else needed for the dishes dad planned on preparing that day such as dry mustard, fish sauce and dried shitake mushrooms and raw peanuts.
Our escapade was not complete unless we picked up some couple of custard pies from Lee’s Bakery on King St. and manapua (steamed pork buns) and pork hash from Char Hung Sut on N. Pauahi St. Although the custard pies were saved for dessert, the dim sum was enough to keep us tied over until dinner.
Once we got home, we unloaded the SUV and stayed out of the kitchen unless called upon, usually to empty the trash, wash some dishes or grab a couple of porcelain serving platters from the China cabinet. We all knew that dad was in charge of the kitchen.
Here’s one of the simplest, quickest and ono dish dad always prepared:
BOK CHOY & SPROUTS w/ AVOCADO SALAD
Serving Size: 6 – 8
2 TBS sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or grated, or more to taste
2 tsp fresh ginger root, minced or grated
1 tsp chili paste (optional)
10 heads baby bok choy, ends trimmed and leaves separated
2 c bean sprouts (or 1 pkg Taro Brand Mung Bean Sprouts)
2 TBS oyster sauce
1 medium size avocado, cubed
1/4 c green onions, chopped
3/4 cup Japanese Rice vinegar
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup sugar
1 TBS grated ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat.
Cook and stir garlic, ginger, and chili paste in hot oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir bok choy into garlic mixture, add water, cover the skillet, and cook until bok choy wilts and is desired texture, about 2 minutes.
Add bean sprouts and oyster sauce and toss for about 30 seconds. Cover and remove from heat.
Cool in the refrigerator for 30 mins – 1 hour
Prior to serving, add garnishes and shake dressing.
Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close the lid, and shake until well mixed and sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate.
Be creative and don’t hesitate in adding any or all of the following complimentary garnish ingredients.
Toasted Walnuts, Almonds or Cashews
Cubed or Sliced Meats such as Char Siu, Roasted Chicken or Chinese Roast Pork
Chinese Parsley (cilantro/coriander)