Grindz of the Day: Home-Cooked Oxtail Soup

I haven’t been feeling good (healthwise) this past week, hence my absence posting anything here the last few days. Under this condition, Mom’s timing couldn’t have been better, as she just made a big pot of Oxtail Soup the other day, giving me some (actually quite a bit!) to take home to hopefully help nurse me back to wellness.

The oxtail soup recipe she follows and swears by is from the fantastic ‘Best of the Best Hawaii Recipes’ cookbook by Jean Watanabe Hee. There’s tons of onolicious-sounding local style dishes in that cookbook that I want to try make in the future, and will share with you as time permits.

While for copyright reasons, I can’t divulge the recipe to this Oxtail Soup in its entirety, I will say it’s so EASY to make, only requiring bouillon cubes, star anise, peanuts, ginger, oxtails and water. So easy, yet da’ buggah so ono! I’ll even go as far as saying better than the one I had at Asahi Grill (Kapiolani Coffee Shop).

This particular bowl I heated up has just 2 MASSIVE oxtails in it…

Yet that’s plenty beef for me. I like to fill the rest of the volume remaining in the bowl of oxtail soup broth with plenty of Kai Choy (mustard cabbage), (Sumida Farms) Watercress and Chinese Parsley. No scade, choke ‘em. I don’t cook them down either. I prefer them crispy-green and fresh.

Here’ you can see how tender the oxtails meat is, just falling off the bone…

If there’s one thing undeniable is the unique character oxtails impart to this classic soup thanks to all that cartilage and marrow in and around the oxtail (steer) bone, which you can see in that photo above. It gives, the broth this deep, rich, slightly gelatinous and silky texture, having an almost medicinal quality to it. Especially when it’s piping hot.

Packing even more punch to this dish is when you dip the oxtail meat and veggies in the shoyu and grated ginger sauce…

I tell you, broke da’ mout.

Then what I like to do when I finish all the oxtails, is add plenty more watercress and chinese parsley to the remaining broth, for a refreshing and extra healthy, semi-vegetarian, quasi-oxtail soup…

Hmmm, yes, so refreshing and light, yet still rich and savory at the same time. I really love the peppery snap the watercress adds, rounding it out with the pungent character of the fresh sprigs of Cilantro leaves. Both of which really compliment the pieces of loose strands of beef remaining in there. The star anise adds an interesting licorice-like element to the broth’s flavor profile, yet not so much where it’s overpowering. Actually, I’d imagine this dish could easily be converted into and pass for as Pho if those types of ingredients were put into it.

In fact, I was given a tip to try Pho Bistro near Makaloa street, where they’re said to make a damned delicious Pho/Oxtail Soup dish. Will keep ya’ posted when I make it there.

Here’s another bowl of oxtail soup mom prepared the night I visited her…

You can see plenty Kai Choy (green mustard cabbage) in this one. She also put noodles in hers. Also notice the peanuts, which are cooked from raw in the soup. Good stuff.

Ah, mom’s/Jean Hee’s home-cooked Oxtail Soup hit da’ spot! I’m feeling better already.

Hawaiian Pride Charsiu Sauce

If you’ve ever made your own Charsiu (Chinese sweet roast pork; also spelled Char-Siu or Char Siu), chances are you either have your own traditional family recipe (an Ancient Chinese Secret®), or, you’ve used one of several ready-to-use store-bought marinade/sauce brands on the market.

While shopping at Kaheka Don Quijote (a.k.a. Daiei, a.k.a. Holiday Mart) last weekend, I spotted this new (at least to me) line of marinade/sauces in the asian sauces aisle made by a brand called Hawaiian Pride. Flavor varieties they offer include Kim Chee Fried Rice (featuring Halm’s brand), Shoyu Chicken, Stir-Fry, Hawaiian BBQ Sauce (basically Halm’s Kal Bi sauce/marinade), and this one we have showcased here today in the form of Charsiu sauce/marinade.

Here’s the back of the packet…

These packets were on sale at Don Quijote for an AIG executive bonus incentive-busting 67 cents each. Nice.

What’s interesting about this brand of sauce/marinade is that, being packaged in a packet, you might assume just by looking at it on the store shelf that it’s in dehydrated (just add water) powdered form like the NOH brand. Yet upon feeling it, you immediately realize it’s in liquid form. Here’s how it appears after I emptied its contents into a bowl…

Wow, that’s bloody red, alright. “Carmine Red” to be exact. It’s quite thick in viscosity, too. Much more than the Mid Pac brand. I’d say about as thick as a good oyster sauce.

You might recall a few posts ago I showcased an oven-roasted Kalua Pig (and cabbage) demo. Well what I didn’t mention then is that the pork butt I used to make the Kalua Pig also served double-duty, where I cut off two approximately 1 pound cuts of pork steaks from it to make this Charsiu.

This is one MASSIVE Boston Butt pork shoulder…

That beast weighed in at a Jenny Craig-bustin’ 8.72 pounds. Whoah! So instead of committing the entire pork butt to Kalua Pig, I cut off two massive pork steaks to make this Hawaiian Pride Charsiu with.

I didn’t weigh them, but I’d guess each pork “steak” here is a little over a pound, cut about 1-1/8″ thick evenly across. Remove the fat? Hell no!

Making Charsiu using these ready-to-use marinades is so easy to do. Simply pour the marinade/sauce into a Ziploc® (or other brand) zip-seal plastic bag, add the pork, then squeeze around to evenly coat the meat. After doing that, it looks like this…

If you don’t have Ziploc® bags, or are too “Pake” to use one for doing this (like I know some of the readers of this blog are – you know who you are LOL!), just pour the Charsiu marinade/sauce directly on the pork on dish or in a pan, and use your hand or a basting brush to evenly coat it. Then you place it in the refrigerator and let it marinade at least 4 hours, or overnight for best results (as it says on the package).

After the 4 hours to overnight marinade time is up and you’re ready to go-a-roastin’, remove them from the Ziploc® (or pan for all you “Pake” folks) and place them on roasting pan with a rack on it, like this…

Notice I lined the pan underneath with aluminum foil, which will make clean-up so much easier. Especially with that concentrated red food coloring that can be stubborn to wash off.

Also notice the pork has thoroughly absorbed that carmine red coloring, which will give the finished Charsiu that signature look on the outside when it’s done. There’s also a lot of sugar (it’s listed as the first ingredient), which will create a tasty (<—yay!) caramelized crust after going under the heat.

Before we get more into the flavor profile, let’s see how Hawaiian Pride’s take on Charsiu pork turns out after it’s done roasting…

This was roasted (again) in my compact countertop toaster oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour, as directed by the package instructions, to which – in my opinion – came out perfect as can be. The sugar in the marinade caramelized evenly, with just a hint of crispy goodness (we call that “small ‘kine papa’a”) on the edges, without being burnt and bitter. After 1 hour of roasting was up, I turned off the oven and let it cool down for about a half hour.

Nothing else to do but cut a few slices and sample some, cuz!…

Lookin’ “Charsiu good” to me! Lookin’ juicy, too! Notice in the center, the pork is right around medium in doneness, not well-done. That’s just how I like my pork. I despise well-done meat, no matter what it is, whether it’s beef, pork, chicken or fish. Of course, if you prefer your charsiu well-done, you could put it back in the oven and roast it another half-hour or so. Up to you. Go ahead and kill it.

Here’s another angle…

Now let’s talk flavor. It’s certainly very “Charsiu-ee” in the true Hawaii local style way. It’s not “Hoisin-like”, which I’m very grateful for. Sorry, I’m not a big hoisin fan. That’s actually a testament to its ingredients, which in fact does not include Hoisin sauce per se, unlike two of its competing brands.

If there’s anything I think this Hawaiian Pride marinade needs is perhaps more sugar and/or shoyu and/or ginger and garlic. Or maybe just a longer time marinading. The Charsiu flavor on the outside is certainly there, yet it’s just a little more subdued than I prefer it. I think it needs to pack more Charsiu flavor “punch”. Perhaps I should have basted it with the leftover marinade while it roasted. The package didn’t instruct me to do that, though. Oh well.

Still, it’s delicious and worth every bit in using for what my intention of making Charsiu for to begin with is. What intention might that be, you ask?

To garnish SAIMIN, of course!…

See, in Japan – the great land of Ramen – they have what’s affectionately called “Chashumen“, which translates to “Pork Noodle”. My ichiban favorite of the genre. Well, in Hawaii we have what I’ll term as “Charsiu Min“. Well, OK, I don’t know if there’s any restaurants or other folks here that use that term, but I use it. That what you see right there is a perfect example of Charsiu Min. Five big slices of Charsiu covering the bowl. Oh yeah. Of course gotta’ throw in a few token slices of Kamaboko as a bonus. Don’t forget the negi (green onion) to finish it off.

How is my Charsiu Min? Winnah-winnah saimin dinnah, of course! As good as, if not better than most store-bought charsiu I’ve used for saimin in the past.

Or, instead of serving it that way, you can julienne the charsiu for your saimin as a garnish like many saimin shops do, this way…

Of course Charsiu isn’t limited to saimin. You can add charsiu into fried noodles, fried rice, chow funn noodles, (somen) salads and even manapua if you’re so inclined to make that.

Somen Salad, featuring red and green Kamaboko (fish cake), charsiu pork, julienned omelet, cucumbers, and green onion on a bed of fresh green lettuce

What other uses for Charsiu do you have or know about? Musubi? Casserole? Healing a wound? A good luck charm? Whatever that may be, leave a comment and let us know!

Best thing about making your own charsiu pork is how much money you save. Especially if you’re a “saimin freak” like me. Compare the current price of $6.59/pound of cooked and prepared charsiu at say in this instance, Don Quijote, to just $1.27/pound of raw pork butt. Add in the dollar-busting 67 cents (D.Q. sale price) for the packet of Hawaiian Pride Charsiu sauce, plus whatever electricity (please HECO be good to me) my small toaster oven consumed, and maybe (I’m just guessing) you can tack on another 50 cents per pound to that.

Do the math and you can see it’s a considerable savings going the Charsiu D-I-Y route. Not to mention fresh-made taste vs. a product that may have been under the heat lamps for hours in the store, risking tasting dried-out or worse yet, like “road kill”.

As for this Hawaiian Pride brand of Charsiu sauce/marinade, I can’t really distinguish it as being any different in flavor and intensity than Mid Pac Foods or NOH brand, which I’ve both of which tried already. They all taste one in the same to me and exactly how “local style” Charsiu should taste like. It does have a couple of benefits, with one being obviously the AIG bonus-busting price. The other being it’s ready to use straight out of the packet. No need add water or anything; well, unless you wanna’ doctor it up, like I might do next time. It also takes up very little room in your pantry if that’s something worth your consideration.

Speaking of doctoring Charsiu sauce up, my girlfriend’s friends on Maui recently made a batch of Charsiu for a party they threw, to which they used the Mid Pac brand (see following photo), simply adding (m0re) brown sugar to the mix. This is how theirs looked going in the oven…

She said it came out “killer” in her words.

I remember “HYN Pake” Nate mentioning his own Charsiu doctoring method using Chinese cooking wine? and some other ingrediments. Garlic and ginger I think it was. I forget, but guaranz’ da’ buggah must be winnahz.

The other exclusively made in Hawaii D-I-Y Charsiu sauce/marinade brands that’s been on the market for years now include the dehydrated (powdered) just-add-water type made by NOH…

Then there’s the Mid Pac brand, which comes bottled in rather thin liquid marinade form…

And also the Lum’s brand…

I’ll review Lum’s Char- Siu Sauce next time around, after I run out of this Hawaiian Pride charsiu I just made, which should last only about a month based on how frequently I’ve been craving saimin lately. Makes this cold, dreary weather we’ve been having lately seem, otherwise, oh-so-good!

What? Hawaiian Pride Charsiu Sauce
Where did you buy it and how much? Don Quijote Kaheka, 67 cents sale price/2.9 oz. packet
Big Shaka to: AIG executive bonus incentive-busting 67 cents price. Comparable in flavor to all other brands I’ve tried in the past. Doesn’t taste “Hoisin-ee”. Ready-to-use (in liquid form) out of the packet, no mixing with water necessary (you know, that’s always a tough job). Nice and thick viscosity. Great lookin’ packet label design and logo. Catchy brand name. As advertised on package, it is indeed “quick and easy to make”! Also as advertised, it’s “all natural” and “non preservatives” (great grammar skills there).
No Shaka to: Could use a bit more Charsiu flavor punch (which could be the cook’s fault; not sure). Manufacturer doesn’t have a website (that I know of, could find, or is indicated on the label).
The Tasty Island rating: 3 SPAM Musubi

Let's Talk Chopsticks

Top to bottom: Chinese Restaurant Quality Melamine Resin Chopsticks, Chinese Bamboo Chopsticks, Korean 18-10 Stainless Steel Chopsticks & Spoon, Japanese Yew Wood Chopsticks, Japanese Red Lacquered Chopsticks (standard and shorter lengths; 2 sets), Children’s size Lacquered Bamboo Chopsticks, Japanese Bamboo Cooking Chopsticks (long), Japanese Double-Tiped Bamboo Cooking Chopsticks, High Quality Decorative Pine Waribashi (disposable) Chopsticks, Bamboo Waribashi (disposable) Chopsticks (wrapped with Zippy’s logo) and standard pine Waribashi (disposable) Chopsticks (wrapped with Yummy’s Korean B-B-Q logo). Also pictured is a square Japanese ceramic tan/brown chopsticks rest and a Chinese white/blue porcelain chopsticks rest.

Back in January of last year, I did a post on Tonkatsu sauces, where reader Michelle made a note about me sticking chopsticks in my rice bowl in one of the photos, pointing that out as being forbidden in Japanese culture. It actually turns out being forbidden by ALL chopstick-using asian cultures, as that symbolizes death in the form of an offering for the deceased, as it portrays incense placed into ashes.

Not only did I stick the chopsticks in the rice for that photo, I also crisscrossed them, which is another no-no. To top that off, I also poured shoyu on the rice, which, especially to Japanese elite, is considered “low class”.

Ack! Goes to show how long it’s been since I’ve been to Japan. I’ve been there so many times while growing up, but have now forgotten all the those important table manners our family used to respect and obey when visiting there.

I don’t have any asian ancestry myself, so whatever of those cultural influences I’ve been exposed to were through travel and friends, classmates and coworkers I grew up with here in Hawaii; not passed on from elders. Yet the asian people and traditions are those I’m so fond of and hold with high regard and respect.

Of course there’s a lot more rules than that when it comes to chopstick etiquette, not just in Japan, but all the asian countries that use them, including the motherland of chopsticks, China, as well as Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam.

The question is, how have these traditions of strict chopstick etiquette from your particular homeland carried itself as either you, your parents, great-grandparents or ancestors beyond that immigrated to the United States or other western country? Do you observe them all yourself, all the time? Or only when sitting down with immediate family, or in a formal restaurant?

Issei and nisei (first and second generation) Japanese-Americans surely must be much more strict in practice than, say sansei and yonsei (third and fourth generation Japanese-Americans). I asked a few of my local sansei and yonsei Japanese friends and coworkers if they practice strict chopsticks etiquette and most of them said they do for the most basic ones (like standing chopsticks in rice), but the more obscure or meticulous ones hardly if at all.

There’s quite a few websites out there now that cover this subject, with most of them pretty much in accord with each other on the same set of rules and guidelines.

There’s a whopping 40 forbidden acts listed regarding the use of chopsticks (and a few on general table manners) from a Japanese perspective on this web page.

This Wikipedia article on Chopsticks gives a good general overview on the history and etiquette practices from each country, and is an ideal place to start your own personal research. I’m not about to attempt to retype the whole list here. You can read them at those links yourself.

If you read the rules, many of them are common sense, while others — like the chopsticks stuck vertically in the rice — have more symbolism, superstition, and/or pure tradition behind them.

Such as for the Japanese, when chopsticks are placed on their rest on the table, they should always point to the LEFT; if they point to the right it is a symbol of bad luck. ZOINKS!

What’s just as interesting as the history and various cultural etiquette practices behind chopsticks, are the variations in materials, finishes, size and design profiles that they’re made from one region or country to another.

The most intriguing one I discovered rather recently are the Korean STAINLESS STEEL chopsticks, which come as a set including a matching SPOON…

Korean 18/10 stainless steel chopsticks and spoon set

This Korean Chopsticks measures 8″ length x 1/8″width x 1/16″ thick at the tip x 1/4″ width x 1/16″ thick at the handle end. The spoon measures 8-5/16″ length x 1-5/8″ width at the spoon end x 3/8″ width x 1/16″ thick at the handle end.

Notice the ornately-decorated, matching handles and satin-matte finish in that area for better hand grip. On the back of the spoon it says 18-10, which must be indicating it’s made of 18/10 (18% chromium/10% nickel) stainless steel.

Also notice I placed the chopsticks to the RIGHT of the spoon in accordance to Korean tradition; putting them to the left of the spoon is forbidden.

There’s a few reasons I found on why Korean chopsticks are made of stainless steel. The most practical one being that the South Korean government prohibits the sale and consumption of disposable products, including chopsticks. So stainless steel was chosen as the most durable reusable (easy to wash and care) material to make this utensil out of, just as western forks, spoons and knives are made of.

Another reason mentioned is that after World War II, Korea had a shortage of wood resources and a surplus of scrap metal.

The most radical reason I’ve read is that they were distributed to the masses during World War II to serve dual purpose as throw dart weapons in case enemy forces invaded their country. Which is credible, as if you feel it in your hand, the front point end is heavier than the back handle end, making it ideal for throwing with the point spearheading into its target. Filing the blunt tip into a sharp point would be easy to do as well.

Here’s another Korean Stainless Steel Chopsticks & Spoon set…

As for using them to eat, the spoon is intended to be used for soups and RICE only. Yes, rice. You don’t use the chopsticks, you use the spoon. And, according to Korean etiquette, NEVER pick the rice bowl off the table. Unlike the Japanese and Chinese who lift their rice bowl to eat, the Koreans leave the bowl planted on the table, strictly using the spoon to transport the rice to the mouth. Also, both spoon and chopsticks are not to be used simultaneously. Nope. You only use one or the other at a time. So you would leave the steel chopsticks on their rest whenever using the spoon to eat soup or rice. Then when it’s time to grab something like say a piece of Kal Bi or Kim Chee, you would first rest the spoon, then grab the chopsticks. Man, that sounds kinda a hassle.

Whatever the case, the Koreans truly have a unique chopstick design and etiquette.

I bought this set at Kapalama Market’s Makaloa street location (next to Don Quijote) for $4.99. Interestingly, they had them hidden underneath the counter at the cash register. What’s up with that? Maybe they don’t want outsiders “in” on their “good stuff”. lol Well, when I asked one of the stock clerks if they had them, he gladly pointed me to the cashier for them. Cool.

Notice the ends of the Korean chopsticks are blunt, and the profile is FLAT…

Here’s the handle side of these…

We’ll get to using these rather unusual chopsticks (and spoon!) later, but next let’s look at the all-time classic Chinese chopsticks…

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks (with spoon)

This Chinese melamine resin chopsticks measure 10-3/4″ length x 3/16″ diameter at the round profile tip x 1/4″ square at the handle end.

The Chinese bamboo chopsticks (shown in top photo with red Chinese characters on it) have are unfinished, yet sanded very smooth. They measure 10-3/8″ length x 1/8″ diameter at the round profile tip x 1/4″ square at the handle end.

I included a soup spoon with it, as that’s what usually accompanies them at most Chinese restaurants. I’m just wondering whether my placement of the spoon on the RIGHT of the chopsticks here symbolizes anything good or BAD in Chinese? I couldn’t find the answer online (didn’t search THAT deep). Maybe you know or can find the answer.

What many of you might fondly (or not so fondly) make note of is these Chinese restaurant style melamine chopsticks’ non-tapered blunt tips and slippery-smooth finish at the business end…

Chinese style restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks and unfinished smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks tips

Dang, to try and pick up loose Chinese style long-grain rice with this? Forget it! That’s why the Chinese method to eating rice is to bring the bowl right to the mouth and use the chopsticks to “shovel” the rice in your mouth. Not pick the rice up like Japanese do from the bowl held at chest level.

Here you see the profile at the handle end of the Chinese chopsticks are square…

I purchased these from a Chinese grocery store on Maunakea street in Chinatown. This is how the packages look…

These were incredibly cheap at just $1.75 for the package of 10 pairs (20 total) of restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks on the left, and a recession-busting 75 cents for the package of 10 pairs (20 total) of unfinished, smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks on the right… and I didn’t even need to bargain! lol

Next under the microscope we have several varieties of Japanese chopsticks…

Japanese chopsticks in various materials, finishes and sizes

The brown-stained oil-rubbed yew wood chopsticks on top measures 8-7/8″ length x less than 1/16″ diameter round profile at the tip x 5/16″ square at the handle end.

The longer red lacquered wood chopsticks beneath that measures 8-7/8″ length x 1/16″ diameter at the round profile tip x 5/16″ at the rounded-square handle end.

The shorter red lacquered wood chopsticks measures 7/5/8″ length x 1/16″ diameter at the round profile tip x 5/16″ at the rounded-square handle end.

The children’s lacquered bamboo chopsticks with the cute widdle bunny wabbit cartoon character on it measures 6-7/16″ length x 1/8″ diameter at the round profile tip x 1/4″ at the rounded-square handle end.

Notice how they’re all distinctively tapered gradually from the handle all the way to the tip, sort of like a really stretched out cone.

Japanese Chopsticks’ handle ends

I especially like when the tips have these ribbed grooves that really improve grip…

The only drawback to the ribbed tips is they take a bit more effort to wash thoroughly, unlike the smooth finish tips that just take a quick swipe of the soaped sponge and they’re clean. I’m sure most restaurants are aware of that and only offer the smooth type. Or not this type at all, and just give Waribashi (disposable chopsticks).

Which brings us to exactly that, the waribashi (disposable) variety…

Waribashi disposable chopsticks

The fancy unfinished smooth-sanded pine waribashi chopsticks on top measures 9-1/4″ length x 3/16″ width x 1/8″ thick at the oval-profile tip x 3/16″ width x 1/4″ thick at the beveled angle handle end.

The unfinished bamboo (Zippy’s logo) waribashi chopsticks measures 8-1/4″ length x 1/8″ diameter round profile at the tip x 1/4″ width x 3/16″ thickness at the rectangle profile handle end.

The bare-bones basic unfinished smooth-sanded pine waribashi (Yummy’s logo) chopsticks measures 8″ length x 1/8″ diameter at the rounded hexagon profile tip x 1/4″ width x 1/8″ thickness at the ractangular hexagon profile handle end.

Various waribashi tip profiles…

Various waribashi handle end profiles…

My favorite of the three is the bamboo in the middle. In fact, in some ways, I prefer the bamboo waribashi more than even the fancier lacquered Japanese styles. It’s tapered angle at the tip affords good grip on even the most slippery foods (as you’ll soon see), and the unfinished surface helps that out. While it’s also denser by nature and less prone to splinters. It also has good rigidity. They’re typically twice the price of the bare-bones basic chopsticks, but for home-use, I always spring the extra cost for the bamboo waribashi. And I appreciate the restaurants (such as Zippy’s) who go the extra mile to offer bamboo waribashi to their customers.

Finally we have those cooking chopsticks, that in the next photo will require a little exercise using your mouse’ scroll wheel lol…

Cooking chopsticks

And that’s a reduced size. These buggahz are LOOOOONNNNNGGGG! Most likely longer than the computer monitor you’re looking at is, tall.

The unfinished smooth bamboo with the red handle cooking chopsticks on the left measures a 12″ ruler-beating 14-1/8″ length x 1/8″ diameter at the round profile tip x 1/4″ diameter at the rounded-square profile handle end.

The brown-stained, unfinished, smooth-sanded bamboo DOUBLE-TIPPED! cooking chopsticks on the right also measures a 12″ ruler-beating 13″ length x 1/8″ diameter round profile at BOTH TIPS. How cool is that. A double-tipped chopstick!

Obviously the reason cooking chopsticks are long are to keep your hands as far away as possible from the searing wok, boiling water and/or hot oil. Notice they’re both made of unfinished bamboo which is durable and sturdy enough for the task, and also doesn’t conduct heat. Besides, under high heat, the plastic type resin would melt, a lacquered finish could discharge unwanted chemicals into the food and metal would conduct the heat right to your hand, which wouldn’t be good.

Then if you looked closely at the first photo showing all the different chopsticks, notice there’s a couple styles of chopstick rests in there. Here’s better look…

Ceramic chopstick rests

Porcelain chopsticks rest

Did you know you can fabricate your own chopstick rest, origami style, using the sleeve that wraps the waribashi disposable chopsticks? Check it out…

Waribashi disposable chopsticks rests folded origami style out of the paper wrapper they come in

Here’s a closer look…

• Learn how to fold the origami crane/bird chopstick rest here.
• Learn how to fold the standard origami chopstick rest (center) here.
• Learn how to fold the “inverted hat” origami chopstick rest here.

Or if that’s too cute ‘n fancy or hassles for you, just fold the wrapper into a simple knot.

You know what was interesting as far as buying the chopsticks for this presentation was, unless I didn’t look good enough (which I did I think), the Japanese stores (Marukai and Don Quijote) only carried Japanese chopsticks, Palama (Korean) Market only carried Korean chopsticks and the Chinese grocery store on Maunakea street in Chinatown only carried Chinese chopsticks.

I didn’t have the time to go treasure hunting in Chinatown for Taiwanese chopsticks (which are a little longer than Chinese chopsticks according to Wikipedia) or Vietnamese style Palmwood chopsticks. So my apologies for not including you folks in here.

I think the varieties I have here cover the most distinctive differences for most styles of chopsticks, unless you wanna’ talk maybe “training chopsticks” and other modern stick-like eating contraptions on the market.

Now let’s talk how you HOLD your chopsticks. Left-handed or right-handed?

Whether it’s a fork, spoon or chopsticks, I’m a lefty…

Using chopsticks: Stationary lower chopstick rested between base of thumb and index finger at the top and ring finger at the bottom, with the “actuator” chopstick above operated by the pointer and middle finger, using the tip of the thumb as a fulcrum point.

Notice I grip the stationary chopstick between the base of my thumb and the bottom part against my ring finger (which is where most instructions say to).

What I found interesting was that several people I asked said they don’t rest the stationary chopstick on their ring finger, but rest it on their middle finger, like this….

Lower stationary chopstick rested at the bottom by the middle finger. The upper “actuator” chopstick is operated by the pointer finger and thumb

While I’m still able to work them like this, I find there’s less grip, travel and leverage on the “actuator” chopstick holding it like this. I’m sure if I did this for years it wouldn’t be awkward, but as it is now, I’ll stick to my more traditional method.

Now let’s put the various chopstick styles here to the task they were designed for, which is to EAT!

When I thought of challenging foods to pick up using chopsticks, the very first dish that came to mind was none other than that good old Luau favorite, Chicken Long Rice!

A bowl of Chicken Long Rice (made by yours truly) and store-bought Won Bok Kim Chee, surrounded by a variety of Korean, Chinese and Japanese chopsticks.

You know you’ve been there before. Sitting on the table at da’ baby luau or wedding with da’ aunties and uncles next to you, as you struggle to get da’ slippery clear chicken long rice noodles to stay put on your flimsy, cheap disposable fork or chopsticks as you raise it to your mouth, only to have them evade your attempt and slip right back onto the partitioned luau plate. To make matters worse, sometimes back into the wrong section, like right into the pile of fresh Ahi Poke you were about to dig into next. Darned it! I hate when that happens! lol Da’ good kine luaus provide those rectangle brown tapa-printed “bowls” for serving liquid stuffs like ‘dis. Da’ cheap ‘kine luaus no moah… you jus’ gotta’ rough it wit’ da’ sectional luau plate fo’ every’ting. lol

The Kim Chee is thrown in for good measure to contrast the difficult with the easy as far as picking things up with chopsticks are concerned.

And how can you not have RICE in any chopsticks demonstration, and not just any rice, but chinese style (loose) long-grain white rice…

I also put a local style fried rice bento to the test…

Finally to add some real solid food to the table, I also threw in a vegetable tempura bento…

Broccoli, String Bean and Sweet Potato Vegetable Tempura Bento

Before seeing how each one handles the food, we’ll look at their tips profiles and how they meet each other and how that might affect its ability to grip and pick things up…

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks

Now let’s try and pick up some of that loose long-grain white rice with it…

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks picks up long-grain white rice

As you can kinda’ tell, I struggled to keep the loose grains from falling through the open “V” of the slippery-smooth resin, non-tapered, blunt-end tips of the Chinese chopsticks. But alas! The Chinese don’t eat their rice with the bowl planted on the table. No, they PICK UP the bowl and bring it to their mouth and use the chopsticks to help shovel the rice into the mouth. Right? If you’re Chinese, do you or your parents or grandparents still eat rice like that? The question is, how can you do that if the rice doesn’t have it’s own bowl? Then you’ll stuck struggling with these relatively cumbersome chopsticks trying to pick the loose long-grain rice. Been there, done that.

Now let’s try an even MORE difficult task and use the Chinese resin chopsticks to eat some Chicken Long Rice noodles….

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks grabbing some Chicken Long Rice noodles

Good Lord, the long rice keeps slipping through and falling back into the bowl! Thankfully my chopstick skills are pretty good (at least I think so) and I was eventually able to clasp the two together tight enough to hold the slippery-slimy-wet clear bean thread rice noodles long enough to get it from the bowl on the table to my mouth. Darned, I gotta’ say, that’s a great batch of Chicken Long Rice I made for this demo’!

Now let’s try picking up some Kim Chee…

Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks picking up Won Bok Kim Chee

and also a piece of broccoli tempura…

No sweat. Actually here’s where the blunt ended (flat) tips have an advantage, offering a nice “pinch” if you will.

To sum this pair up, the Chinese restaurant quality melamine resin chopsticks are actually quite comfortable to hold as an adult. But when I was a kid and my hands were smaller and chopsticks skills not as refined, I hated them. In fact, often back then I’d actually ask for a fork vs. struggle with them. Now I kinda’ like them though. The smooth plastic resin finish feels good in the hands and the extra length offers more leverage for heavier food items like that big piece of brocolli tempura to pick up.

Now let’s check out the bamboo Chinese style chopsticks….

Chinese unfinished bamboo chopsticks

Notice its trademark square profile at the handle then tapers into a much more tapered round profile that goes into a point at the tip, versus the blunt thick ends on the melamine resin type. As you can immediately see, there a much longer gripping surface area where the two chopstick meet each other.

Now let’s try pick up some food with it, this time going for the local style fried rice…

Chinese unfinished, smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks picking up local style fried rice

Works great. See how much rice it can scoop up thanks to that long tapered tip.

Let’s go back and try some of that loose Chinese style long-grain rice now…

Chinese unfinished smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks picking up long-grain white rice

Still difficult due to the nature of the rice being loose, but much better than those non-tapered resin ones, that’s for sure. Now I’m just waiting for Popo to whack me on the head and scold me for not picking up the rice bowl and puting it to my mouth like that. Ouch! Ouch! OK, OK Popo, I going pick da’ bowl up. Ouch! Gunfunnit. Keedz. Ouch!

I really like the Chinese unfinished smooth-sanded bamboo chopsticks. They’re lightweight, yet rigid, and the extra length is an advantage, which also affords them a dual-purpose roll as a cooking chopstick AND eating chipstick. Adding to that advantage, the tips are perfectly tapered and afford great grip on food. The sanded-smooth finish feels great in the hands, which also allows you to use it for cooking. The red Chinese characters inscripted on it (whatever that says) gives it a cool look too. I’d say of all the ones showcased here, this one is by far the best all-purpose chopstick. Again, you can buy a package of 10 pairs for a Beijing-bustin’ 79 cents in supermarkets in Honolulu’s Chinatown district. I’m really glad I now have them in my cooking and eating arsenal.

Now let’s get to the most unique set of the bunch, the Korean stainless steel chopsticks and spoon…

Korean 18/10 stainless steel chopsticks

To further illustrate how difficult these can be, look at the tips from this angle…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks

Not only are they relatively short, but they have a flat, thin profile to them. Top that off, you have that polished-to-a-slippery-smooth, who needs grip? finish of the stainless steel. Thankfully the end is blunt which helps give it some pinch, not to mention being safer than if it were a point, potentially impaling its poor user’s tongue, lip, or worse yet, eye or skull! Ack! lol

Let’s start with the most difficult and try to pick up some of those evasive chicken long rice noodles…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks attempting to pick up Chicken Long Rice noodles

While attempting to do this, I began singing the song “Slip Sliding Away” by Paul Simon. For all the obvious reasons, it was even more challenging than the Chinese melamine chopsticks. With a bit of manipulating the angle of the tips together, I was eventually able to fetch some from the bowl on the table and raise it to my mouth, but if you gave me a choice, these Korean style stainless steel chopsticks would be my LAST pick to eat chicken long rice, that’s for sure!

Since my Chicken Long Rice had plenty of ginger-infused chicken broth in it, I could also consider this dish a soup, which by Korean tradition, you’re supposed to use the spoon…

Korean stainless steel spoon scooping up some Chicken Long Rice broth

Notice the chopsticks are placed on the rest while I use the spoon, which I read is how you’re supposed to use these. If you pick up the spoon, you put down the chopstick, and vice versa… but don’t ask me why.

I like how much leverage the spoon’s handle affords, yet I prefer the deeper rim design of the chinese style porcelain (or plastic) spoon, which allows you to scoop and retain more broth in it.

THIS is where the Koreans have a big advantage…

Korean stainless steel spoon scooping up some white long-grain rice

Aha! You loosey-goosey long-grain rice granules can’t fall out of the SPOON! I got you now, suckahz!

Let’s see how the Korean chopsticks do gettin’ some..

Korean stainless steel chopsticks picking white long-grain rice

Almost a losing proposition. No way, Jose. I’ll go back to the spoon, thank you very much. Besides, that’s how this set was designed, anyway. You’re not supposed to eat rice with the chopsticks according to Korean tradition. You use the spoon. Now if we can only convince the conservatives to allow us to use both the chopstick AND spoon simultaneously!

Now this is proper…

Korean stainless steel chopstick picking up a piece of Won Bok Kim Chee

Now THIS is where the Korean stainless steel chopstick is truly in its element, doing exactly the task it was designed for. This very act has probably been performed billions, if not trillions or even teragazillions (is that a word? lol) of times throughout history in Korea. I just added a few more to that ever-growing count.

Let’s try the Korean stainless steel spoon on the fried rice…

Korean stainless steel spoon scooping up some local style fried rice

It actually feels kinda’ weird eating rice with a spoon. Like I’m being fed like a baby. lol For realz though! *Crying like a baby—> “whahhhh, whaahhhh! gimmmeeee wice! gimmeee wice! whaaaahhhh!*

Let’s try grabbing the stickier short-grain fried rice with the Korean Chopsticks…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks picking up some local style fried rice

Now that feels much better and much more natural, for me at least. It’s still challenging to pick rice up using these due their thin and flat profile, but it works. The question is, is this OK to use according to Korean tradition? See, the fried rice has solid bits and pieces of meat and veggies in it as well, but it’s still rice, so am I supposed to use the spoon and cry like a baby afterward? Dunno.

After a little practice with the flat-profiled stainless steel chopsticks, I got better at it. Here I was easily able to fish out a piece of chicken from the long rice bowl…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks picking up a piece of chicken from a bowl of chicken long rice

Picking up a more substantial piece of food like this Broccoli Tempura was even easier…

Korean stainless steel chopsticks picking up a piece of Broccoli Tempura

This is where the rigidity of the stainless steel it’s made of shined (no pun intended).

Rounding my use of the Korean stainless steel chopsticks, I’ll just say they’re very “interesting”. The durability of the stainless steel will certainly make these outlast any other chopsticks here, provided I don’t end up losing them in my kitchen drawers somewhere. What I’d like to do is tote these along with me to a local Korean restaurant and ask the mama sans who work/own the place to show me all the ropes on using these and what’s the REAL proper way of using these according to their own Korean traditions. When I do that, I’ll get back to you on it.

Now let’s jump on a plane and head over to Japan and check out their style…

Japanese Yew Wood Chopsticks (one of my personal favorites)

This one has a really nice angle at the tip, almost resembling a caliper.

Then there’s this type…

Japanese lacquered wood chopsticks

The tapered tip area doesn’t meet each other as much as the angle given on the Chinese bamboo chopstick, but it’s still enough to provide enough platform to keep food in place.

Let’s try pick up some long rice…

Japanese lacquered wood chopsticks picking up Chicken Long Rice noodles

The polished lacquer finish lets the noodles slip through easily, but the angle of the taper on the tips allows you to squeeze the noodles in place. It just takes a little more effort on your part to put a forceful grip on it, especially for this dish.

Now the loose long-grain white rice…

Japanese lacquered wood chopsticks picking up white long-grain rice

The angle of the tips is good, but its skinny profile offers rather inadequate platform area underneath, causing the loose rice to fall over the side quite easily.

Let’s try the Kim Chee…

Japanese lacquered wood chopsticks picking up Won Bok Kim Chee

Works like a champ. Good pinching action.

Some fried rice with the yew wood type…

Japanese Yew wood chopsticks picking up local style fried rice

Again, works like champ. I really like the thicker rounded-square profile of the Yew wood chopsticks. In fact, this is the exact pair of chopsticks I use most often at home. This, and another set of lacquered ones that have the ribbing on the tip, like the kid’s one shown in the group photos, but longer.

Let’s try pick up some rice with the super-duper long cooking chopsticks…

Cooking chopsticks picking up long-grain white rice

Obviously not made for this task, yet I was at least able to grab a bite’s worth and actually could make due eating with it if I had to. I’d just choke-up and place my hand closer towards the tip than where it’s placed in the photo above.

Using that kid’s size chopsticks, I just want to showcase here the ribbed tips and how it augments it’s grip when picking up this piece of chicken…

Ribbed tips on chopsticks augment gripping ability

Even better, look how well it does with the Chicken Long Rice noodes…

Ribbed tips on chopsticks help pick up more Chicken Long Rice noodles

So lesson learned: if you want to eat Chicken Long Rice using chopsticks, get the ones with the angled ribbed tips. They work the best for this task.

Now let’s move on to the Waribashi (disposable) chopsticks and see how they perform, starting with my favorite of the genre, the bamboo…

Waribashi bamboo disposable chopsticks

Like the Chinese bamboo chopsticks and the Japanese Yew wood chopsticks, the disposable bamboo chopsticks have decent amount of contact area between the two at the tapered tips. They’re definitely worth the extra cost over the bargain-basement pine type.

Let’s pick up some long-grain white rice with it…

Waribashi bamboo disposable chopsticks picking up white long-grain rice

Excellent job. Maikai.

Now let’s try that with the upgraded pine waribashi….

Waribashi high quality disposable pine wood chopsticks

I don’t know if you can see it, but change profile from square at the handle end and taper to a rounded square profile at the business end. This one does a pretty good job too, but I find the sharp square edge on the handle end uncomfortable, while also making me nervous that it’s fibrous pine wood is going to jab a splinter in the skin of my hands if I slide them on it.

Now let’s try that with the bargain basement pine wood waribashi….

Waribashi pine wood disposable chopsticks (the cheapest you can get)

What can I say, they work. They’ll get the job done, and have been getting the job done for ages now.

Did you know you’re not supposed to rub waribashi chopsticks together in a restaurant (to attempt to remove splinters) or at a dinner party at someone’s home? Doing that tells the owner or host that you think he or she’s CHEAP. But they are cheap! lol J/K.

Perhaps how the joined waribashi breaks apart is a good indicator how cheaply-made they are. Let’s try separating a few pairs…

The first four pairs starting from the left are the bargain-basement waribashi pine disposable chopsticks, all from the same manufacturer (the green 4-leaf clover and white paper wrapper brand). Notice the one farthest to the left did the worst, making that dreaded crack towards the outside, instead of the intended split smack down the center like you’d hope it would behave and do having that groove to help guide it. So much for that groove. The next three of the same breed broke apart consistently the same, with a slightly-veering crack line to the left, but acceptibly-even.

The waribashi bamboo chopstick after (second pair from the far right) cracked as perfectly in half as I could ask. Jozu desu. Bamboo waribashi is ichiban in my book.

Then there’s the upscale pine waribashi on the far right which broke into a 1/3 – 2/3 split, but at least it did it straight – no so angled like the first pine one – making it less noticeable… and making the restaurant owner or host of the dinner look less cheap. lol

So that’s that. A look at chopsticks. A domestic tool we use on a daily basis (or at least I do), yet like many other good things in life, one we often take for granted.

Look up a few of the rules and regulations regarding chopsticks etiquette by the various cultures that use them, and tell us how many you observe or don’t, yet should or may consider observing in the future. Or not.

Kuàizi. Hashi. Jeokkarak… Whatever you call them, chopsticks certainly offer some food for thought.

Related links:
Chopsticks – Wikipedia article
Chopsticks Etiquette in Oneself and Others – What Japan Thinks
Korean Eating Utensils a Paradox (link downloads PDF document )

Sneak Peek: New Chun Wah Kam in Kapolei

Diner A and his ohana stopped by the new Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory restaurant outlet in Kapolei this past Saturday for lunch, and while there captured a few photos of the establishment and food. Since they were taken with his cell phone, they aren’t going to make the cover of Honolulu Advertiser’s Dining Out section anytime soon, but at least you get a glimpse of what the new place looks like, in case you haven’t had the opportunity to make it out there yet.

The way the system works here is you pull a number, then when you’re called, one of the customer service staff walks you down the entree selection counter and serves your plate as you point and choose what you want. That same person handles each ticket in its entirety, so if you have a party of 2 or more, that person will handle their order as well, and ring everything up together.

Because there’s so many entrees to choose from, he says it’s best if you first scope everything out by taking a preview walk down the serving counter (like that man in the gray shirt is doing) before standing in line to order. This way you get a head start on what there is (and how it looks) and what you (might) want. Then you go and pull your number and wait there to be called.

OK, looking at this photo, you see just one item (which is steamed lup cheong rice) has a (handwritten) sign on it. Now take notice that all the other items DO NOT HAVE SIGNS telling you what each dish is. So every dish you see, if you don’t recognize it, you must ask your server what it is. That was his biggest peeve and frustration about their system.

Hopefully with them being new, they’re just still working out the details and haven’t gotten to this one yet. All they gotta’ do is generate small, yet descriptive signs using their administrative PC and a laser jet printer and stick them in (replaceable) clear sleeves attached to the front of the display window where it’s visible to the customer. How hard is that?

Shoot, I’d be peeved too. Especially when there’s that many items, and in some cases, when side-by-side make look identical, but aren’t.

Take manapua, where its filling is concealed…

OK, I see that’s baked manapua, but what’s in it?

Dear Mr. Kam, please make signs for your food selections at your new restaurant in Kapolei. Mahalo!

Anyway, off we continue on our guess-n-assume journey of what there is to eat at the Chun Wah Kam Kapolei….

OK, I can tell those fat noodles are Udon, combined with luncheon meat and green onions. The noodles to the right are fried saimin noodles. That’s the starch Diner A chose.

More views around the restaurant…

Notice the contemporary architectural fixtures and interior design.

There’s no shortage of ovens like this to pump out dozens and dozens of boxes upon boxes of fresh-baked Manapua…

Cool hair.

To order, you can either choose a mini entree plate for $6.50, a single entree plate for $7.75, which includes a starch and 1 entree. Or you can order the 2-entree plate for $9.25 which includes 1 starch and 2 entrees.

Or, if you really wanna’ mix it up, for those same prices, you can divide each item into half-portions. So for instance, what you can do with the one-entree plate for $7.75 is get a half-portion of Chow Funn, along with a half-portion of Fried Rice; then for the entree you can choose, say, a half-portion Beef Broccoli along with a half-portion of Sweet and Sour Shrimp. Therefore effectively turning that example one-entree plate into a total “4-choice plate”.

Same math for the 2-entree plate, which also includes 1 or any combination of starch. So for this one you can get, say, a half-portion Chow Mein, and a half-portion White Rice for the starch, then for the entree get a half-portion Beef Choi Sum, half-portion Charsiu Pork, half-portion Lemon Chicken and half-portion Ginger Chicken, effectively doubling all the choices to six. Sweet. Not just Taco Town sweet, but Combo #5 sweet!

The Manapua and various Dim Sum can be added to your plate, but those items will be added to the price ala carte per piece; you can’t substitute them for the regular entree items. Darned it.

Here in all its camera phone glory is Diner A’s 2 entree-turned-4 entree (plus 1 starch) plate from Chun Wah Kam Kapolei…

That’s Shoyu Chicken on the very top, with the two deep-fried ball-shaped items above and below the Charsiu Pork being deep-fried Pork Hash and Garlic Fish to the right, with an order Fried Saimin for starch.

His phone camera takes amazing macros…

Seriously though, he raved about the deep-fried Pork Hash, saying he could eat entire plate of just that. Wow, must be really ono! Everything else on his plate was a winner as well, earning an overall 3-SPAM Musubi rating.

But is Mr. Kam getting trade secrets from Mr. Libby on the current market conditions for Manapua?…

Wow Laulau! Where’s da’ Beef!? …errrr… Charsiu?! For $1.50 each, we want more charsiu! We want more charsiu! We want more charsiu! They’re gonna’ have to join the “Manapua Buns” club along with Libby’s. lol

What looks rather enticing for you budget-busting party planners out there is this featured prix fixe catering selection called the the “House Special Set Menu”, which includes: Beef Broccoli, Sweet Sour Spareribs, Oyster Sauce Chicken, Chow Mein Noodle, Crispy Kau Gee and White Rice for just $7.35/person for 20-200 people, $6.85/person for 201-400 people and $6.75/person for 401 people or more. That’s a very good deal in today’s market as far as catering is concerned.

The new Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory restaurant opened for business on December 16, 2008 (according to staff). They’re located in the also new Crossroads at Kapolei Shopping Center, serving as anchor tenant along with neighbor Simply Organized, a new concept “fashion-forward” organization and storage specialty retailer.

Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory (New!)
in the (also new!) Crossroads at Kapolei Center (adjacent to Simply Organized)
885 Kamokila Blvd
Kapolei, HI 96707
(808) 693-8838 (<—see entire menu there)

One last note on the Crossroads at Kapolei: also slated to open there will be a Teddy’s Bigger Burgers. Yay!

2/19/09 Update:

Here’s a baked Manapua Diner A picked up from the Chun Wah Kam in Kapolei on a subsequent visit since the first time shown previously…

Baked Manapua from Chun Wah Kam Kapolei

Now THAT’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout! Choke Charsiu, baby! Ono, da Charsiu too. Flavorful, moist and authentic, without being strange or weird-tasting. As good as local style Manapua Charsiu filling gets. Nice and bold red color too.

SPAM® Spread Wonton Min

SPAM® Spread Wonton Min (left) and Libby’s Potted Meat Wonton Min (right)

In this final segment of a three-part series covering more than what many might find it’s worth, we have here SPAM® Spread Wonton Min! ***Cough, cough. Glug, glug. Hack Hack. Cough, cough.***

What’s nice about wontons is its pasta-like versatility, including the ability to not only deep-fry it ’til crisp ‘n GBD, but also to prepare it from the same original form in al dente mode like every great noodle should. After about 8 minutes in the rapidly-boiling drink, it turns out looking like this…

SPAM® Spread wontons (left) and Libby’s Potted Meat Wontons (right) in boiled-to-al dente perfection “min mode”

Instead of dropping the wontons you just formed into hot oil, you simply drop them in rapidly-boiling water, to which they turn out like that you see above. Then, with the same boiling water, make your saimin. Then garnish your saimin with them, along with whatever else your hungry heart desires…

SPAM® Spread Wonton Min

Libby’s Potted Meat Wonton Min

So how does the “min” version of these potted meat wontons work out? Meh.

On the positive side, at least it didn’t melt away as much as it did in the crispy, deep-fried version…

The SPAM® Spread beat out the Libby’s Potted Meat once again thanks to its more porky-meaty flavor profile.

But on the negative side, I could taste that funky cat food-like aftertaste they both have even more than the crispy, deep-fried versions. Meoew. REEEEEERR! Spttthhhh. Hissssss. Meow. For better or worse, boiled wontons brings out the filling ingredients’ flavor much more than deep-fried crispy ones; here being the latter.

That said, I’ve pretty much had all me can takes on this stuff. Even after 40 or more times of re-reinforcement listening to Anthony Robbin’s motivational CDs, and five attempted serving options using it as the main ingredient, SPAM® Spread and Libby’s Potted Meat Food Product still hasn’t turned into the beautiful-both-inside-and-out Gwyneth Paltrow incarnation of Rosemary. While I won’t quite say Balut is better (it is actually delicious in a chicken soup kinda’ way if you can get over a few psychological and visual obstacles), it is something I might consider first before diving into potted meats while in survival mode.

Wait, hold on, my cel phone is ringing. “Hello?”. SHALLOW HAL NEEDS A GAL. “What?” SHALLOW HAL NEEDS A GAL!

Don’t miss part I and II of this three-part series!…

SPAM® Spread on Rice ‘n Crackers

SPAM® Spread Crispy Wontons

SPAM® Spread Crispy Wontons

SPAM® Spread Wontons (left 3) and Libby’s Potted Meat Wontons (right 3), with Mae Ploy Thai Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce (masked as Kamen Rider V3) in the center

Now back again under a non-Shallow Hal hypnotic state; this after listening to Anthony Robbin’s motivational CDs 20 more times, I’m ready for my second date with SPAM® Spread. This time making Crispy Wontons! Mmmm, doesn’t that look yummy!?!?!?!?

I figure since this is somewhat a mutated version of ground pork, wontons would be the perfect vessel to carry them. And hopefully the magic of deep-frying will kick it up notches unknown to mankind (in Emeril’s words). And believe me, SPAM® Spread and Libby’s Potted Meat needs ALL the kickin’-it-up-a-notch, bamming help it can get!

This project begins with the wrappers, for which I picked up this pack of Sun Noodle brand Wonton-Pi from Don Quijote…

Sun Noodle Wonton-Pi, $1.99/pack from Don Quijote

There’s enough in this pack to make wontons for an army, but I just have a meager 4 ounces (approximately) total of potted meat products to stuff them with. Therefore I added the standard supporting roll ingredients to the mix to add volume and also, more importantly, make the filling as authentic to the dish as possible. That would be the addition of minced shrimp, water chestnuts, green onions, oyster sauce, sesame oil and shoyu…

SPAM® Spread Wonton Filling, also including fresh shrimp, water chestnuts, green onions, oyster sauce, sesame oil and shoyu

I forgot to buy fresh ginger to add in it. Ah minah, no need. Da’ oystah sauce already get plenny’ flavah.

Here’s the Libby’s Potted Meat Wonton filling mixture…

Libby’s Potted Meat Wonton Filling, also including fresh shrimp, water chestnuts, green onions, oyster sauce, sesame oil and shoyu

Stir those ingredients together to combine and here’s how it looks…

SPAM® Spread Wonton Filling, clear for active duty

Libby’s Potted Meat Wonton Filling, clear for active duty

Doesn’t that look delicious!?!?!?!? ***runs out the back door grunting, hacking and gagging***

Thankfully those additional ingredients netted more mystery meat wonton filling to work with.

Place about a teaspoon in the center of each wonton pi…

Then with your fingers, “paint” some egg wash (or water) along all four edges, then fold them over to make a triangle like this…

Press on the joined edges to seal it. You’ll get the hang of it quick. It’s really easy. You can deep fry them just like that, but I like to then take this triangle shape and wrap it around my finger, joining the two outside points of the triangle so that they end up looking like this…

Really though, as far as shapes, sky’s the limit! Fold them however you want. Look for a few ideas online. Main thing, especially with this potted meat stuff, is that you seal the filling well, lest you have “polluted” oil.

Then simply drop them in the hot oil….

Drop them in oil (I used vegetable oil on this occasion) that’s about 360ºF, then from there it takes anywhere from 2-5 minutes to get each one golden brown and delicious (“GBD”). Use a slotted spoon or a Chinese spider to work with them in the oil. Be careful not burn yourself.

When each batch reaches “GBD” status, remove them from the hot oil and place on a dry paper towel to blot out the excess oil, then plate ‘em up!…

Again, that dipping sauce with the funny face featuring sesame seed eyes, a carrot mouth and green onion antennas is none other than Mae Ploy Sweet Chilli Sauce, imported from Thailand…

Folks, if you don’t have this sauce in your pantry, next time you get to an asian grocery store, GET THIS. I promise, you’ll LOVE it. This sauce is especially great with anything deep fried, whether it’s meat, poultry, fish, pastries, fruits, candy, insects, car parts, or what we have here with these God-forsaken wontons. OMG (no double-pun intended)… awesome!

In fact, I used it to drown out that icky Vienna Sausage flavor the Libby’s Potted Meat Wonton still had and worked like a charm! The sauce is perfectly balanced between sweet and hot, with a pronounced chili pepper flavor, yet subtle and almost tomato-like. Really ono. It’s also kinda’ gelatinous, which makes it adhere well to anything you dip into it. Plus, it’s really cheap! That big 32 oz. bottle was just $3.19 regular price at Don Quijote. What a deal!

How does it look inside after it’s fried? Like this…

SPAM® Spread Wonton (left) and Libby’s Potted Meat Wonton (right)

Notice the chunks of shrimp in both, which really helped the potted meat stuff out. I mean REALLY helped it out. Yet also notice that the SPAM Spread and Libby’s Potted Meat practically, for the most part, melted away. All that was left behind were gritty bits of true-t0-its character-in-flavor protein from each. A testament that most of its volume is made up of congealed fat. Lovely.

I say both were just, eh, OK. Certainly not as bad as eating it cold, straight out of the can, but nothing I’d put into a published recipe book (well besides what’s being published here).

For this application, the SPAM® Spread tasted better, thanks to its more “hammy-porky” flavor profile. Yet I’d take REAL pork over this stuff ANY day.

Unlike how it should be, the star of this wasn’t the filling at all, but the golden brown and delicious, deep-fried wonton along with that fantastic Mae Ploy sauce. I could just deep-fry wontons plain and serve them as chips with the sauce and it’d be great. In fact, that would make a great pupu!

Would I serve my best friends SPAM® Spread or Libby’s Potted Meat Crispy Wontons as pupus? If they too listened to Anthony Robbin’s motivational CDs 40 times over before arriving to the party, yes. If not, no.

Well that was interesting.

Coming up in the final part of this series while abusing my digestive system and potentially reducing my lifespan, we’ll explore SPAM® Spread Wonton Min!…

SPAM® Spread Wonton Min (left) and Libby’s Potted Meat Wonton Min (right)

“Shallow Hal needs a!….

Don’t miss part I of this series…

SPAM® Spread on Rice ‘n Crackers

Project Dry Mein

The Tasty Island’s Project Dry Mein, exhibit C (mixed)

Ever since recently hearing about and seeing first-hand photo accounts of Sam Sato’s famous dry noodles, also referred to as “Dry Mein”, something about it had me bent on recreating the dish at home. Perhaps it’s the purely simplistic concept the dish seems to have. “Seems” being the operative word, that increases my curiosity even further, along with the “Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?!” thought slapping me across the face. This, compounded by the many sentiments of high regard and enthusiasm over the dish made in comments by readers here over the surrogate review I did a month ago on Sam Sato’s, makes it that much more intriguing.

Since I’m on Oahu, not Maui, and can’t just conveniently drive on over to Wailuku to get some myself, the next best thing I can do is attempt to deconstruct the dish in order to recreate it.

And all I’ve got to work with are a few photos, as well as a few fellow diners’ first-hand accounts of how the dish is presented. Along with the flavor profile of the broth side dish, and most importantly, the flavor and texture of the noodles.

Let’s take a look once again at the real McCoy, a serving of Dry Noodles from Sam Sato’s…

Sam Sato’s Dry Noodles, $4.95 (small)

Now look at my attempt at recreating the dish

The Tasty Island’s Project Dry Mein, exhibit C

Notice I named this one “exhibit C”, as this is my third attempt, and the best one yet.

Color-wise, my broth is obviously darker and less neutral-looking, if you will. An attestment to perhaps a little too much dashi in the chicken stock? Dunno’. Still ono though! My Sun Noodle Saimin-based noodles also aren’t as fat and could use a little more oil to coat, but still, it worked. Completely. Absolutely! According to those recently trying Sam Sato’s, spot on.

Which reminds just how complex this “seemingly” simple dish can be. Not quite as easy as just cooking the noodles in boiling water and serving it on the side with a dashi-based saimin broth. I tried that initially-assumed method, and It turned out rather bland and just, eh, OK. Surely not as good the one everyone raves about over at Sam Sato’s.

I was confident I already had the right noodles for the dish, which is the superior Hawaii’s Original Saimin Old Style from Sun Noodle…

Since I wasn’t satisfied with the first attempt, I went on to plan B and searched online for recipes, coming across really what was the only one I could find that sounded close, posted over at

Reader Jocelyn left a comment mentioning she thought the noodles are flavored with oyster sauce, dashi and oil.I also noticed one reviewer of Sam Sato’s who didn’t speak so highly of the dish mentioned the broth tasted like chicken broth. Which actually sounded like something worth trying!

So using ALL those ingredients, as well as the basic method of preparation from Aloha World’s recipe, I set off to refine it.

One mistake I made in following AlohaWorld’s recipe was to use ALL the sauce ingredients as instructed when tossing the cooked noodles in the bowl, which turned out too salty and over-flavored. So much for exhibit B.

Finally I came up with a winner on my third attempt with exhibit C. Here’s the recipe!…

Dry Mein Project Exhibit C recipe
1 serving Sun Noodle brand Hawaii’s Original Saimin Old Style (including dashi broth packet)
1 14 oz. can chicken broth
2 cups water

2 tablespoons shoyu
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dashi or saimin broth powder diluted with 2 tablespoons hot chicken broth
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon powdered dashi saimin broth
Chopped green onions

Charsiu, cut into strips
Kamaboko, cut into strips
Bean Sprouts
Green Onions, chopped

Bring entire can of chicken stock to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Pour about a half-cup of the hot chicken broth in a small serving bowl on the side. To this, add 1 tablespoons of the powdered dashi saimin broth (in the packet) and stir to fully dilute and combine. Garnish with green onion (this also adds flavor!).

To the chicken broth pot, add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil once again. Once its boiling, add the fresh saimin noodles and cook until al dente, about 3-4 minutes. Drain noodles thoroughly (you can save the hot chicken stock & water to cook another serving by pouring it out into another pot).

While the noodles are cooking, in a small cup or bowl, combine the shoyu, oyster sauce, diluted dashi saimin broth and oil together using a spoon, whisking briskly to infuse the oil with the other ingredients. This is the key component in the dish, so the better you mix it and taste it to your liking, the better!

Immediately after draining, place hot, cooked noodles into a large mixing bowl. Now drizzle the soy, oyster, dashi and oil sauce mixture slowly (emphasize SLOWLY!) onto the noodles and toss to evenly c0at. Add just enough to taste, better underdoing it than overdoing it. Go by the feel of the force, Jedi master. lol But seriously, do that.

Then add sauce-coated cooked saimin noodles to serving bowl and top with all your garnishes. Serve immediately while hot along with the side bowl of broth. Enjoy.

The Tasty Island’s Project Dry Mein

In summarizing this Dry Mein’s deconstructed and reconstructed project, the noodles are absolutely the star of the dish, to which the Sun Brand “Nama” style saimin is the preferred choice, to the best I’d consider based on what I’m told about it. It’s not quite as thick or same in profile as Sam Sato’s, but close enough to pull it off. Especially the flavor and texture of it.

Another key is getting the “sauce” that you toss the noodles with, right. You can most certainly play around a bit with the recipe to make it your own. Perhaps add ginger. Less shoyu. More Oyster Sauce. In fact, I even added a dash of Chinese style abalone sauce to mines, and it was really ono!

But those core ingredients listed in this recipe should get you on your way to a great Dry Mein. I thought so.

It would be great to hear from all you Sam Sato Maui regulars on your take on the Dry Noodles, and how you would decontruct the dish, and whether this recipe sounds on the money.

Until I get to Sam Sato’s myself, I think it’s darned close.

Libby Manapua Shop Revisted

The next Chinese New Year takes place on Monday, January 26, 2009, but for the rest of us living by the international calendar, it takes place tomorrow. Yet in the same spirit — especially for us Hawaii folks — today’s New Year’s eve is filled with a number of cultural and family-oriented festivities; the Chinese tradition of setting off fireworks to chase away the evil spirits perhaps the highlight of them all.

In light of that, I bring to you yet another great contribution to humanity courtesy of the Chinese: Manapua and various other dim sum, once again from Libby Manapua Shop in Kalihi. This spread, courtesy of Diner C and AC. Mahalo!

Eight steamed charsiu manapua, 4 chicken manapua, half-dozen pork hash and half-dozen halfmoon

Like everywhere else, the prices have gone up at Libby’s, yet they’re still one of the lowest in town in comparison to its main competitors. A steamed Charsiu Manapua is now $1.10 each, which ain’t bad considering that’s just 15 cents more than they were two years ago. This in comparison to Chun Wah Kam, who’s current rate are $1.45 each. The Pork Hash are now 55 cents each, up just 10 cents from 2006.

Gon Lau Mein

Chow Fun

Shrimp Paste with Curry Sauce Spring Rolls

Libby Manapua Shop plate 12.08 – Steamed Charsiu Manapua, chicken Manapua, Curry Shrimp Spring Roll, Halfmoon, Pork Hash, Gon Lau Mein and Chow Fun

Whoah, whoah, whoah, stop the press! OK, that chicken manapua looks great. And it was great. In fact, we liked it even more than the Charsiu Manapua! But what is up with that Charsiu Manapua? You may remember not long ago I mentioned Libby’s having a reputation lately for lacking in the charsiu filling department, and it appears, they’re still playing “Pake” on us. Wassup wit’ dat?

This, in comparison with Char Hung Sut, where as you see by this very recent example (from a box we had just this past month) who are still filling their Manapua adequately…

Steamed Charsiu Manapua from Char Hung Sut, 12.08

Also, the Chow Fun had more cabbage than actual Chow Fun noodles in it. Perhaps they should rename it Chow Choi. lol Ono flavor though. Hopefully there’ll be more chow fun noodles in the mix the next time around.

Another thing lacking from BOTH Manapua shops, in case you haven’t noticed, is the red color of the charsiu. Look at the photo of the Char Hung Sut Manapua that’s adorned this Food Blog’s masthead from the start, and you see back then it was much more red. Is food coloring becoming expensive, too?

Regardless of the lacking Charsiu filling, red color, and Chow Fun noodles in the Chow Fun lol, Libby’s is still overall my favorite Manapua shop due to their superior (and now abundant) buns, with Char Hung Sut a close second.

And New Year’s eve is all about making resolutions, so let’s hope the good folks at Libby’s turn over a new, less Pake leaf in 2009 and start filling their buns with more Charsiu.

Hey, speaking of which, folks continuously comment here asking how they can get either Libby or Char Hung Sut (or any authentic Oahu-made) Manapua shipped to them on the mainland. To which I called Libby’s up to ask if they would provide that service, which they do! Guess how much though? $72 for one dozen manapua. Yup. almost 3/4th of a hundred buckaroos for these. Reason being is that they need to pack them specially in dry ice in a cooler and send it 1-day air via Fed Ex. I think you’re better off saving up a few hundred dollars more and just taking a Hawaii vacation to pick them up in person. You can take these on an aircraft as hand carry. And the folks at Libby’s are trained to know how to pack their Dim Sum for air travel, as they’re a popular place where folks stop by to get Omiyage for friend and family back home on the neighbor islands and abroad. Especially since they’re located within close proximity to HNL.

Speaking of Chinese Dim Sum, my sister and ohana just got me this fantabulous cookbook for Christmas titled DIM SUM APPETIZERS and Light Meals…

Guess what the first set of recipes are on? Manapua!…

For risk of Copyright infringement, I can’t show you the blown-up version of the content, but this gives you an idea what’s inside.

Oh, I am so going to try this out in the near future. And you know you’ll see and hear about it right here first!

Of course, there’s many other delicacies in the Dim Sum genre, including various styles of Siu Mai…

And other steamed goodies…

And not to forget, after Turkey (Thanksgiving), there’s Jook!…

This looks like one cookbook I’ll be making plenty of use of. If you see a copy in the store, pick it up. Highly recommended.

Anyways, to all of you and yours…

Kung Hee Fat Choy,

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou,

Shinen Omedeto Gozaimasu,

Happy New Year!

Hurray HECO! Shrimp Wonton Soup

Now that was a day-after-Christmas “episode” that took what I said in the last entry “basking in the moment” to a whole nother level. Almost literally, time stood still.

You’re probably already well aware of the island-wide power outage Oahu experienced from approximately 6:45pm yesterday (Friday) evening, until, at least for my section of the Honolulu grid, 7am this morning (Saturday). A solid 12 hours.

While not quite as long as our last major outage that occured after the 2006 earthquake, it was enough to test our patience, as well as our emergency supply kit, having us break out every candle, flashlight and bottled water we had. We even lent some of those supplies to a neighbor who wasn’t quite as prepared. Like most other folks, eventually we just called it a night and went to bed early, vs. what we normally like to do on a Friday night, which is to stay up late and watch new release Blu-Ray movies.

So what does this Shrimp Wonton Soup have to do with a power outage? Well, in pointing out the obvious, three essentials are needed in order to properly store and serve this soup as packaged: 1.) a refrigerator/freezer 2.) water, and 3.) a microwave oven. All of the above requiring basic utilities.

You know the saying “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. That saying can be applied to health, relationships, and, yes, POWER. As in electrical power, then having a trickle-down effect from there. Especially when you’re a condo-dweller like me, where every necessary household function is reliant on that, from the elevators to get you up to your floor (try walking up and down 24 or more flights of stairs twice consecutively), the lights and appliances (of course), to the water supply. High rises depend on electric-driven pumps to get water to the upper floors, and when that’s not operating, once the pressure is gone, pau, no H2O. All you got is what’s in the plastic bottles.

And without any or all of the above, this Shrimp Wonton Soup is a no-go.

So now you’re probably thinking, “why didn’t you just boil water on a portable stove to serve that?” Believe me, I wish I could have done that, but I DIDN’T HAVE ONE! And this latest power outage reminded me of that very essential survival item that as of yet is the missing link in our emergency preparedness supply kit. Therefore today I’m heading straight to Don Quijote after this writing and picking one of them butane-fueled stoves up. They’re currently on sale there for $13.99 plus $1.17 each for the butane cartridges. That’s a good price.

Secondly, this being a frozen food item, wouldn’t be a good choice, as you must open the freezer door to get, causing unnecessary loss of valuable cold air needed to keep your other frozen foods in tact. Better stick with canned soup from the pantry in this situation.

That said, in all its glory, now that electrical power has been restored thanks to all the hard-working HECO crews out there, I’m celebrating it by enjoying a good ‘ole frozen, open the freezer door whenever needed, ready-to-serve meal, cooked quick and conveniently using fresh, clean TAP water and the microwave oven. YES! Just one of the many conveniences and modern luxuries we take for granted day-after-day, never really appreciating what it takes behind the scenes to keep them running.

Now let’s take a closer look at this microwavable CP brand Shrimp Wonton Soup. The box shown above contains 6 individual shrinkwrapped bowls like this…

Each bowl measures 4¾” diameter x 2¾” height from lid to base. They’re not barcoded for individual sale, and the instructions say to keep them frozen, so I’m not sure if they could be sold even in a refrigerated vending machine, lest the shrimp spoil quickly once it’s defrosted.

Let’s open the cover and see what we got…

It’s still frozen here, so of course isn’t going to look very pretty. If you look carefully at the bottom of the black plastic bowl, you can see there’s an oily broth base, along with chopped green onions. You simply add water up to the line marked in the bowl, which is about halfway up the height of it (not to the top rim).

Then it says to cover it loosely and microwave on high for 2½-3 minutes. Then enjoy…

For the love of me, I tried my best to “arrange” this to look as good as it does on the label, but it just wouldn’t behave. The shrimp wontons seemed to have a mind of their own, tossing and turning under their own will. lol

Here’s a pretty good angle…

…the angle going into my mouth as I’m about to eat it!

And how is it? Not bad. The broth is rather mild, nondescript and neutral; not bold like, say, shoyu or chashu ramen broth (OK, I’m biased!). It tastes like wonton soup is supposed to taste, I suppose. I’m not a Chinese soup expert anyway, so I can’t assimilate which one it tastes like. But I CAN say, after the first few sips, I immediately added a dash of shoyu to give it a little more zip, which certainly helped.

The wonton is simply an entire Vannamei shrimp tail wrapped in a wonton. It says there’s also soya, gluten, sesame and egg, which I’m guessing are more functional than for flavor.The wonton wrapper itself was a bit too thin. It could have been thicker to hold up to the tougher flesh of the shrimp. If it had been thicker, that may have sealed the deal.

Here you can see the quite sizable Vannamei Shrimp encased within the thin and delicate wonton wrapper…

Next time I’ll make Wonton Min (Saimin with wontons in it) using the the stuff inside this bowl. I’m betting that’s gonna’ be ono!

Whether it’s frozen Shrimp Wonton Soup, TV Dinner or any other culinary convenience that makes our life easier and tastier, let’s show an appreciation of thanks to the hard-working folks at HECO and celebrate the use once again to the technologically-marvelous, so-glad-we-have-it, electrically-powered, never-take-for-granted REFRIGERATOR and MICROWAVE OVEN!

What? Shrimp Wonton Soup
Who makes it? CP Products (Charoen Pokphand Foods & Public Co., Ltd., Thailand)
Where did you buy it? Costco Hawaii Kai
How much did it cost? 12.99 for a frozen carton of six 5.1 oz. bowls
How is it prepared to serve? 5.1 oz. of food and 8 oz. of Board of Water Supply Water, heated by 700 microwave watts of HECO power
Big shaka to: Just-add-water microwavable convenience, generous amount of shrimp, inclusion of chopped green onions, HECO restoring our power
No shaka to: Not having a portable butane stove, wonton wrappers too thin, rather non-exciting broth, elongated power outage (delay in watching Invincible and House Bunny on Blu-Ray)

Christmas Colored Kamaboko

Amano (Hilo’s Finest) Kamaboko (Steamed Fish Cake), $1.79 each (sale price @ Marukai)

When I spotted this green-colored Kamaboko sitting in the refrigerator case next to the standard pink ones at Ward Marukai the other day, I immediately thought “Oh cool, they got a Christmas theme goin’ on!”  I’ve never seen Kamaboko this color before – whether it be Okuhara or Amano brand.  Therefore,  I called the Amano factory in Hilo (the company who makes this one) to find out whether the green version is indeed a special limited Christmas holiday edition, to which they confirmed it is.  So no more green ones after December.

Of course holiday-themed colored food ain’t nothing new – especially in candy land – with the likes of M&M’s first in mind, making orange ones for Halloween, green ones for St. Patrick’s Day, and, like these Kamaboko, red and green ones for Christmas. Speaking of that, I remember at a Generation Kikaida event a few years ago, they had Blue & Red frosted cookies for sale. Toh!

Let’s take a closer look, starting with the packaging…

As you see, they’re vacuum-sealed, extending their shelf life.  If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can read the ingredients, where you’ll see they included the green version’s food coloring information so that it’s a one-label-fits-both deal (cheaper production). Other than that, the main ingredient in both versions is Surimi paste, the same “mystery fish” stuff used to make imitation crab.

The best part of all, now let’s cut a few slices of each one and have a taste!…

Any difference between the two? Yes: the green one tastes like Peppermint and the pink one tastes like strawberry. Nah, just kiddin’.  Ya’ think that would work though? A sweetened, mint or fruit-flavored fish cake? I don’t know and am not in any hurry to find out. lol

No, actually, there’s no difference in flavor. The only way you might think otherwise is if you let your mind trick you to think otherwise based on their outer appearance. Quite honestly, the green one by itself looks kinda’ unappetizing to me. Mainly, probably because I’m used to pink Kamaboko. Yet when they’re presented side-by-side, they instantly both become festive and full of holiday cheer.

If you’re not familiar with Kamaboko made in Hawaii, it tastes similar to imitation crab (you HAVE tried that I hope), except, well, just not as “crabby”. More “meaty-fishy”,  yet obscure of exactly what it’s made of thanks to that Surimi paste its mostly comprised of. Texture-wise, it’s like medium-soft rubber, yet easy to cut through and chew.

Now all you creative cooks out there are probably already rubbing your hands together, thinking of the culinary possibilities available using these holiday-themed Kamaboko. Especially in the flexibility in how Kamaboko can be sliced up for different types of presentations. I’ll be showcasing three of them here.

The very first dish that came to my mind when in the store was a Christmas-themed Somen Salad, so that’s exactly what I did…

Pomai’s “Everthing but the Kitchen Sink” Somen Salad Platter, Christmas Holidays Edition

Hey, gotta’ admit, that does look full of holiday cheer!

The two green blobs on the corner are dollops of Wasabi paste, while the light pink stuff on the bottom left corner is Sushi Shoga (sweetened pickled ginger), and on the top right Beni Shoga (tart pickled ginger).

I had all kinds of debates within on how I was gonna’ arrange this, settling on keeping the green on one side and red (pink) on the other. From there I mixed it by putting the red charsiu on the green side and green cucumber on the red (pink) side.

My other option was to either alternate the Kamaboko red/green/red/green///, or to itemize each type in their own section like this other one I made as a take-out plate for my niece…

That’s how Zippy’s arranges their Somen Salad…

My next thought was making the classic local style bowl of Saimin with the red and green Kamaboko, and here’s how it turned out…

Sun Noodle Saimin with holiday-themed Amano Kamaboko, charsiu and green onions

That looks pretty good. Shucks though, I should have used my red or green pair of  Hashi (chopsticks).  It also would have been cool to have green-colored charsiu to go along with the classic red charsiu. I must note, this Sun Noodle brand “Hawaii’s Original Saimin” is fantastic. The best I’ve had yet. The noodles’ texture and flavor rules!

Finally I decided on making my very own Kamaboko Sashimi Platter. I came up with this idea during my days of singlehood, when finding anything in the kitchen to make a quick meal was a common occurance. One day I was craving sashimi, and was too lazy to run to the store for some fresh Ahi, then when I spotted the open package of Kamaboko in the fridge, I was like “Bingo!”. So I shredded some cabbage on a plate, sliced the Kamaboko thin like Ahi Sashimi then just whacked it like that along with my “why clear just one nostril when you can clear your entire sinus cavity out” hotter-than-hot wasabi shoyu dipping sauce. Sashimi purists would probably frown upon my Wasabi-choking madness, arguing that too much will kill the flavor of the fresh Ahi, but I don’t care. That’s how I like it.

Here I present a Christmas version of my  Kamaboko Sashimi Platter…

Kamaboko Sashimi Platter, Christmas Holiday Edition

Notice the ratio of Wasabi paste compared with the amount of shoyu in that shallow sauce dish. No scade… go for it!

How’s the contrasting colors of the Kamaboko slices? Again, quite festive. Looks like you could almost put them on a string and decorate your Christmas tree or house with it. lol  Well, you probably could, but your house will smell funny and be full of ants the next day.

Seriously though, you should try making this budget-busting Kamaboko Sashimi Platter. Winnahz! While of course it can’t touch fresh, top grade, expertly-sliced ahi, it’s a tasty twist on the dish, and best of all will set you back just $2 for a full platter.

Getting back to the Somen salad adventures, here’s a couple of Somen Salad plates I made (for family members) at the same time WITHOUT the green Kamaboko, so you can compare the two from a presentation aspect…

That’s a dollop of Wasabi on top in the center.

Actually, the Somen salad already has enough green in it from the lettuce, cucumber and wasabi, but hey, the green Kamaboko does bring a little more excitement and Holiday theme to the plate.

If you’re not familiar with Somen Salad, it’s a “localized” take on a traditional Japanese noodle dish that just goes by the name “Somen”. Instead of being in a hot broth like most ramen, the noodles are served cold and dry (cooked al dente, but dry).  There actually is a hot, broth-based version of somen called Nyumen. What makes Somen now a “salad” are the addition of sliced charsiu (or ham or SPAM), egg omelet, Kamaboko, cucumber, greeen onion and lettuce. Those toppings are unique to Hawaii, and most likely you will not find somen in such form in Japan. This evolution is similar to what happened with Saimin.

Somen noodles are made with wheat flour and are much finer and more delicate than ramen or saimin noodles, especially when boiling them. They cook quickly, from dry to done within 2 minutes, to which you must rinse them thoroughly after cooking in cold water to “shock it” and stop the cooking, as well as get any starch out, so they don’t stick after the water is drained.

Here’s a package of Somen noodles I purchased from Don Quijote…

What I love about Japanese food (and products in general) is their attention to detail, right down the packaging. Especially with noodles such as ramen and somen, they often portioned in single serving bundles (or packets)…

This package of 5 portions was just $1.29 on sale. That’s a lotta’ bang for the buck!

If you watch Soko Ga Shiritai (KIKU-TV), then chances are you’ve (virtually) visited tons of ramen shop kitchens (as well as every other type of specialty restaurant) throughout Japan. There, you may have noticed that many of them cook ramen in huge vats of rapidly boiling water using individually-portioned strainer baskets. That’s the same method I used to cook each individual portion of somen in this package…

I don’t have one them cool ramen baskets (yet), so I made do with a regular screen collander. After just a quick 2 minute boil they’re done. You can tell by tasting some as it goes. They’ll from al dente to soggy quickly so stay right there while they’re in the boiling water.

Once they’re done, lift up the collander and shake it to get as much hot water out and back into the boiling pot, then take it straight to the kitchen sink and thoroughly rinse the cooked Somen under cold running water. You can also shock it in ice water to make it cold quicker. This stops the cooking process and keeps them at optimum al dente doneness. After they’re thoroughly rinsed and cool, shake as much water out as possible. Then, a trick I learned from my girlfriend (who she learned from a Japanese coworker), is to coat the freshly-cooked somen noodles with just a little sesame oil. Just a small drop will do, otherwise the sesame oil will overpower it.

Just a small drop is enough. Then take your chopsticks and thoroughly, yet gently toss the somen noodles to evenly coat them with the sesame oil. This will prevent them from sticking.

Now it’s ready for service, just add toppings.

To eat somen salad, you need the proper dipping sauce called Somen Tsuyu…

This Aloha brand Somen Tsuyu is concentrated, so you must add an equal portion of water to dilute it. I also added  a little wasabi in mine, just because I like it that way. You could also add grated ginger, sesame oil and/or green onion. Everyone has their own style.  For serving, some folks prefer pouring the Somen Tsuyu sauce over the entire salad like you would any other salad dressing, but I prefer dipping the salad in the sauce.

Chances are if your favorite supermarket sells somen noodles, they sell Somen Tsuyu. Otherwise make your own from scratch. There’s tons of recipes online.

Here one more time is that massive Christmas Somen Salad platter I prepared the other day…

Pomai’s “Everthing but the Kitchen Sink” Somen Salad Platter, Christmas Holidays Edition

Another dish I thought of making using the green and pink was a Kamaboko Salad. Perhaps next holiday season.

Any other ideas using red (pink) and green Kamaboko? Leave a comment and let’s hear about it!

As mentioned earlier, Amano Fish Cake Factory in Hilo are only making the green Kamaboko for a limited time during the holiday season, while supplies last. Check your local (Hawaii) supermarket for availability.

Kamaboko freezes well, and I’m not sure if Amano plans to sell them in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, but if that holiday is one you like to festively observe, this is a good opportunity to stash a few green Kamaboko in the ice chest for that lucky day next March.

By now you should have noticed I’m a huge (see platter above) Somen Salad fan. Kamaboko too.