S&S Old Time Island Style Saimin

We complete our three-part “Saimin Series 2011” today with a product review of Sun Noodle’s NEW S&S Old Time Island Style Saimin. This, following the first and second installments of saimin stand reviews over at The Old Saimin House and Palace Saimin, both truly “old school” institutions that’s been serving classic Hawaii Saimin to generations over the decades, dating back to the 1940’s.

As mentioned in the previous “Saimin Series” reviews, I visited “OSH” and “Palace” to reacquaint my palate to what “old school” Hawaii Saimin should taste like.

Those of you who regularly eat the current S&S Saimin, yet remember the older formula, may notice that the current S&S’s broth is essentially a packet of slightly modified Hon-dashi, which is a Bonito-based soup stock. Whereas, if you also visit the local stand stand that still uses  an “old school” broth recipe, you’ll notice the old school saimin broth is based on shrimp, not the bonito-source Katsuobushi. Some may also use a combination of shrimp and katsuobushi, along with kombu, pork, chicken and/or who knows what else, as of course they’ll never give away their broth’s secret recipe!

Well enter Sun Noodles all-new “retro chic” S&S Old Time Island Style Saimin. Where right there on the front of the package it touts a “Traditional Shrimp Soup Base” that’s a “Favorite taste of your past”. Hmm, we shall see about that!

Let’s check out the back of the package, looking specifically at the ingredients…

S&S Old Time Island Island Style Saimin
Soup Base Ingredients: Salt, Sugar, Monosodium Glutamate, Corn Starch, Krill Extract, Soy Sauce (Soy Bean, Wheat, Water), Hydrolized Soy Protein & Flour Enhancer (Nucleic Acid).

Yep, this one’s packin’ the MSG, as it is in just about every other instant noodle soup broth, not to mention the numerous other food products with at least some form of glutamate in it. Which, not surprisingly, one full serving of this Saimin with a packet of the broth powder mixed in the water-based soup will bombard your system with a whoppin’ 2,740mg of sodium, burying the daily value meter dial into the redline at 114%. Good Lord, someone please pass me another Lisinopril tablet. lol

Getting beyond its health “benefits”, as far as flavor factor, notice there’s Krill Extract in it, which is entirely absent in the current “standard” S&S Saimin broth packet, which uses, as mentioned above, Bonito (dried fish powder). Krill are micro-sized shrimp-like crustaceans that swim in huge swarms, with its primary prey being whales, seals, penguins, and of course, humans. As for the shrimp-based broths the local saimin stands make, I’ve heard they use either regular shrimp shells (after the meat has been removed and consumed in other dishes, or dried shrimp, a.k.a. Opae.

Shiro’s Saimin Haven, the home of “everything including the kitchen sink” saimin, should come out with a saimin called “The Donald Trump”, where the broth is made from the shells of Maine Lobster, Alaskan King Crab, Conch and Abalone.  Imagine how that would taste! Sounds interesting, anyway.

Let’s “depackage” it and check out what’s inside…

If weren’t for the broth packets in the shot, you may have thought those were two old mop heads. lol

S&S Old Time Island Island Style Saimin
Ingredients: Enriched Wheat Flour, Water, Salt, Potassium Carbonate, Gluten, Enriched Flour & starch.

Like the dreaded MSG “mega-sodium” in the broth, the noodles use enriched flour, which as you may know is essentially flour that’s been stripped of its fiber, vitamins and minerals to improve shelf life and texture. This “empty calorie” food ingredient plays havoc on your blood sugar levels that can lead to type-2 diabetes and obesity. But that’s another story for another day (even though I just talked about it today lol).

Like nama ramen (fresh noodle instant ramen), you must cook it by boiling these S&S noodles in water for 3-4 minutes and then DRAIN the water, as the water will take out and take on the extra flour and cornstarch that the raw, uncooked noodles are coated in for packaging (so it doesn’t stick together). Before you put the noodles in the boiling water, pour cups (boil six cups total) in your serving bowl, along with the Ebi Dashi powdered soup broth and stir to dilute it.

Here’s how the broth looks in powdered form before getting hit with the boiling-hot water…

Some powdered dashi broths also have dehydrated green onion already mixed in it, but not this one, which is good, as I’d rather add my own fresh toppings and garnish.

Speaking of toppings, I rightfully complained how The Old Saimin House and Palace Saimin, for some reason, didn’t included Kamaboko as a topping in their Saimin, which is even more perplexing considering Okuhara Kamaboko factory is right down the street! WTH???

O.K., O.K., fine then, be like that. I’ll get my OWN Kamaboko, dammmm it! lol

Since I’m now at “Diner P’s Saimin Stand” (my kitchen), I included Okuhara Kamaboko…

Here it is outta’ the package…

Cuting it in half (on the bias), you see I got the one that has the visually appealing swirl in it…

Okuhara also makes the Kamaboko with the built-in wood chopping block base, but I think this one looks better in saimin. They both taste the same though. If you haven’t tasted local Kamaboko before, it’s a steamed Japanese fish cake made with surimi paste, so it tastes very similar to imitation crab, albeit not “stringy” in texture, being more solid and firmly gelatinous. While in taste, it’s a little more salty, and well, not as “crabby”, is the best way I can describe it. It definitely provides a pleasant, contrasting balance alongside the savory, meaty Charsiu (Chinese roast pork) topping, adding that always welcome “surf” with the “turf”.

Getting everything ready for “plating” (actually “bowling” lol), here’s my saimin toppings ‘ garnish spread all prepped and eager for a hot bath in broth…

Whoah, whoah, wait, wait, wait, back the truck up, BACK THE TRUCK UP! Where’s the green onion? Ack! I forgot the green onion! I cannot believe this. I ALWAYS have green onion on me, and this one time I’m doing a saimin review and I don’t have green onion. Daaaaaamm it!

Oh well, at least I have sliced egg omelet, so I suppose that will make up for it, although I’d prefer if it had green onion, too!

Also in this spread is my homemade Charsiu pork, which I made myself using, of all brands, the NOH dehydrated package stuff. But you know what? That stuff is pretty darned good! I was impressed! Once you add the water, it tastes just as good as the liquid bottled stuff. I usually doctor my store-bought Charsiu marinade anyway by adding honey and shoyu to it, which really kicks it up a few notches.

Let’s do this.

Add the hot water to the broth in the serving bowl and stir, boil the nama saimin noodles for 3 minutes and drain, add cooked noodles to hot soup broth in bowl, add toppings and garnish, and voila! S&S’ all-new Old Time Island Style Saimin, featuring Traditional shrimp Soup Base…

That’s a nice presentation, but once again, it SURE IS MISSING SOMETHING WITHOUT THE GREEN ONIONS! But hey, we’ll make due with what we have, after all, saimin was a peasant’s food dish, and surely back in the plantation days, they must have used what little they had in their kitchen to garnish their saimin. I mean, you know, a $1 bunch of green onions is beyond my budget at the moment. lol

Let’s taste the broth, where in this next photo, I took before adding the noodles and toppings…

Ding-ding-ding, have a WINNER! If you want the next best thing to Palace Saimin, this right here is pretty much “Palace in a Package”. It’s no doubt comes across as a “Traditional Shrimp Soup Base” and definitely deserves its “Favorite taste of your past” tagline on the label. Slightly “shrimpy”, slightly savory just like Palace, whereas, where Palace gets its savory element from pork bones, this “retro” S&S Saimin broth gets its savory counter-balance from Shoyu.

On the other hand, if you DON’T like anything that tastes even remotely like shrimp, you won’t like this broth, nor will you like the saimin broth at Forty Niner Restaurant, Old Saimin House and Palace Saimin (to name a few).

For me, I LOVE IT! 5 SPAM Musubi, ’nuff said.

Let’s try the noodles now…

Unlike the OTHER S&S Saimin, which has a much different flavor and texture, the noodles in this S&S Old Time Island Style Saimin seem to be the same one used in Sun Noodle’s “Hawaii’s Original Saimin” featuring “Old Style Oriental Style Noodle”…

Man, Sun Noodle really wants to corner the saimin market, don’t they? That makes THREE different saimin products from the same manufacturer. Not that I’m complaining, as you know how highly I think of their products.

Apparently though, Palace Saimin and The Old Saimin House rather source their noodles from Eagle Noodle Factory, which I’ve been told doesn’t use Potassium or Sodium Carbonate (Kansui) in their noodles. The Kansui is what gives the noodles that “egg-like” flavor, and these sort of have that going on, although thankfully not as much as their Japanese ramen noodles. They’re also a bit more firm and glutenous like Japanese ramen noodle then the relatively more “pasty” noodles from Eagle Noodle Factory served at OSH and Palace. Which of course “Saimin Purists” might scoff at, but me being on the other side of the fence and being a Japanese “Ramen Snob” actually prefer the Kansui element going on in the noodles.  As always, that’s subject to your own personal opinion, of course. 🙂

Let’s hit the Charsiu and Kamaboko in one fell swoop…

The combination of the subtle shrimp flavor from the broth, along with the punch of the Charsiu and mild fishy element from the Kamaboko works EXCELLENT together. The green onion (here I go again on that tangent) really would have hit it outta’ the park, but just these two garnishes alone were fantastic, which I need to have a talk with the owners of OSH and Palace on SERIOUSLY considering adding Kamaboko to their Saimin. It’s a MUST!

Let’s hit the sliced egg omelet…

Oh yea, that’s the icing on the cake, right there, bringing all the meaty toppings into a full circle. Sometimes I put in a sliced boiled egg, which works great too.

Summing it up, solid 5 SPAM Musubi for Sun Noodles all-new “retro chic” Old Time Island Style Saimin. If like or miss Palace Saimin, or your favorite “old School” saimin house, this is as close as you can get to the real deal. The only thing that may come off different are the noodles, that a little more on the side of Japanese ramen, yet don’t get me wrong, it still tastes like Saimin noodles. The broth here is what really nails it.

Oh, one last thing: when you go grocery shopping, don’t forget the Green Onion!

What? S&S Old Time Island Style Saimin
Who makes it? Sun Noodle Company/H&U Inc. Tel. (808) 841-5808
Where can I buy it? Currently at Don Quijote and Times Supermarket Oahu store locations only (call them for more updated info’)
How much does it cost? $1.59 regular price ($1.19 sale price at DQ) for 2-serving 9.5 oz. package
How do I store it? In the refrigerator (up to 1 week) or in the freezer
How do I cook it? Read the instructions
How should I garnish it? Sliced Charsiu Pork, Kamaboko (steamed fish cake), boiled egg or omelet and green onions are the usual toppings, but you can put your entire kitchen pantry in the bowl if you want lol
The Tasty Island rating: 5 SPAM Musubi
Notes: The broth nails it, with it’s subtle hint of shrimp and savoriness. Noodles are a bit firmer and “eggy-er” than traditional saimin noodles in a good way. If you want Palace Saimin in a Package, this is as close as you can get.

For the sake of convenience and comparision, let’s do a sub-review here of Sun Noodle’s OTHER S&S Saimin product that’s been around for DECADES (including before Sun acquired the brand), which includes an even more instant noodle than the already instant nama noodles in the new product…

Unpacking it, you see how much whiter and thinner these noodles are than the new S&S Saimin…

Unlike the new S&S Saimin, where the raw noodles must be boiled SEPARATELY for 3-4 minutes, these here are actually already cooked, requiring you to only heat them up to loosen it by placing in a bowl of boiling hot water for 20 to 30 seconds (from frozen state), then you add the powdered Bonito-based soup broth straight to the same bowl of water with the noodles. You can also mircowave this to prepare it, which is great as a convenient and satisfying lunch at the office, which is why I like to say S&S also must means “Sustenance and Satisfying”.

A-ha, I have green onion topping this one! But now no more da’ egg omelet. Whoah man, da’ sacrifices. lol

Here in heated and served state, you see how much thinner and whiter in color these noodles are…

They’re also more “pasty” and not “eggy” at all like the new S&S Saimin noodle (which is actually the same noodle used in their OTHER saimin product; I know, it gets a little confusing). Personally I prefer the slightly thicker, firmer, subtle egg-like flavor of the new noodle, but this works, especially considering the convenience that it’s already cooked and microwavable.

While I love the new “retro chic” shrimp-based broth, I’ve always enjoyed the Bonito-based broth that’s been served with local package saimin ever since I can remember.

Speaking of broth, here’s the ingredients for the S&S classic…

S&S Saimin “classic”
Soup Base Ingredients: Salt, MSG, Glucose, Powdered Soy Sauce, Powdered Bonito (Dried Fish Powder), Disodium Inosinate and Powdered Seaweed.

And the noodles…

S&S Saimin “classic”
Saimin Noodle Ingredients: Enriched Flour, Water, Salt, Potassium and Sodium, Carbonate, Cornstarch.

What? S&S Saimin “classic”
Who makes it? H&U Inc, DBA Sun Noodle Factory
Where did you buy it and how much did it cost? I forget. I had it in my freezer for a couple a months now, but it’s available at most Hawaii grocery stores in the freezer section.
The Tasty Island rating: 3 SPAM Musubi
Notes: See review above

P.S. If you’re wondering why I changed the “look” of The Tasty Island, is because my original “Tarski” WordPress theme (which I ‘ve been using since day 1) was giving me problems (more like HEADACHES <see photo inset).

So I decided to apply a new theme, using a popular one called “Weaver 2010”, which is much more flexible, in that I can now use sub-themes and manually edit the CSS to really customize it. Over time you may notice I’ll be making changes and tweaks here and there, including experimenting with different colors, fonts, layout, interactive widgets, and of course the all-important masthead design. Hopefully my web host will get with the program and update their PHP on the server, as I think that’s at least partially what’s causing my site to load slowly. If you’re having problems with load speed or access to this website, please let me know.

As always, big mahalo for your readership and cool comments. 🙂


First Byte: Bangkok Chef on Nimitz

Bangkok Chef recently opened for business in the former and entirely gutted ‘n renovated Weyerhauser building on the corner of Alakawa Street and Nimitz Highway in the Iwilei area of Honolulu’s “Big Box District”, which includes Best Buy, Costco, Home Depot, and coming soon, Lowe’s. While here in the same converted Weyerhauser building, Bangkok Chef shares already limited ground floor level parking with neighboring Party City, Tanaka Saimin and La Tour Cafe.

Like La Tour Cafe and Tanaka Saimin, Bangkok Chef offers a brand spankin’ new, clean, hip and contemporary dining space…

Bangkok Chef offers both dine-in and takeout, where based on our “first byte” dine-in experience, I’d highly recommend phoning in your order for takeout.

Looks like a nice place to have lunch.

Let’s check out the menu…

With that, Diner A ordered Bangkok Chef’s Chicken Fried Rice…

Bangkok Chef – Chicken Fried Rice: Thai Jasmine Fried Rice, with egg, onion, carrots and peas. Served with cucumber. $6.25

While yours truly decided try Bangkok Chef’s Pad Bliao Waan…

Bangkok Chef – Pad Bliao Waan: Sliced chicken breast with pineapple chunks, onions, bell peppers in sweet & sour sauce. $6.25

Why did I decide on trying the “Pad Bliao Waan”, you may ask? Well, my theory is whenever dining out is, if it’s something I’ve NEVER heard of before, let alone being able to pronounce it properly, I’m SO on that. Seriously! Really though, I mean, without asking someone who’s Thai how to properly pronounce “Pad Bliao Waan”, I’d just as well say it phonetically like, “Pad Blee-au Won”. Although I’m willing to bet it’s not quite that simple, and there may be some silent consonants and/or either extended or extremely shortened vowels in that name.

Anyhow, how did my “Pad Bliao Waan” taste? Ono! Hey, I can say that!

The thinly-sliced stir-fried chicken was very tender, while the sweet & sour sauce was had a great flavor, although I wouldn’t quite say it tasted particularly “Thai”…

Everything else supporting the chicken and sorta’ “smokey”, kinda’ “ginger-ee” sweet ‘n sour sauce, which also includes green and red bell peppers, white onions and Thai Jasmine rice were all cooked perfectly al dente.

Overall, I’d say this is a dish that could have just as well come out of Panda Express, in a very good way. Which means it wasn’t really “Thai-ish” and could just have well been a Chinese stir-fry, yet absolutely delicious and priced right at less than $7 for a very generous portion. 3 SPAM Musubi.

Now, as for Diner A’s Chicken Fried Rice, while that doesn’t sound exciting at all, believe me, taste-wise, this was by far one of the BEST FRIED RICE I’ve tasted year!

Seriously, this is some smokin’ “mean” fried rice. It just has that “IT” factor about it, which is partially credited to the “flaming wok”, almost char-grilled like flavor imparted in the mildly-nutty fried Jasmine Rice. While whatever the sauce they use to flavor it is neither over nor under powering. SOLID 5 SPAM Musubi for Bangkok Chef’s Chicken Fried Rice, where I’d DEFINITELY recommend, if you dine here, order family style and have THIS as the central “do-it-all” starch for everyone to enjoy with the other entrees.

Service, while very friendly by the wait staff, was the only thing to complain about, as our order came close to half-an-hour to arrive from the kitchen. Yet, being this place had almost literally just opened at the time of our visit, “growing pains” such as this are to be expected, so I wouldn’t factor that in at all. Thankfully, our food that finally did arrive was piping hot and delicious, and that’s really what matters most.

Bangkok Chef
900 N. Nimitz Highway
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. (808) 536-8570

P.S. While that was our “first byte” of Bangkok Chef’s new location in the former Weyerhauser building on Nimitz and Alakawa in Iwilei, we also enjoyed an entire SPREAD of Thai eats, catered from Bangkok Chef’s Nuuanu street location. This, being back in December of last year for yet another office luncheon party, where on this festive holiday season occasion, we start with Bangkok Chef’s Summer Rolls (regardless of it being technically “winter” at the time lol)…

I take it Bangkok Chef uses Skippy brand “super chunky” Peanut Butter to make their Peanut Sauce. Oh, that’s right, the summer rolls…

Bangkok Chef – Summer Rolls: Shrimp, lettuce, mint leaves & rice-noodles wrapped in soft rice paper. Served w/special peanut


Bangkok Chef catering: Papaya Salad: Papaya, chili peppers, garlic, long bean & tomato w/crushed peanut in house special sauce.

Bangkok Chef – Thai Jasmine Rice and white rice

Bangkok Chef catering: Pad Thai: rice noodles fried with egg, chicken & tofu w/bean sprout, chives in house pad Thai sauce.

Bangkok Chef – Basil Shrimp: Shrimp, baby corn, mushrooms, bamboo shoot, chili pepper and fresh basil sauteed with oyster sauce

Bangkok Chef – Panang Pork Curry: sliced pork loin, potato, lime leaves, peanut, basil in Panang curry sauce and coconut milk

Bangkok Chef catering – Pad Bliao Waan: Sliced chicken breast w/pineapple chunks, onions, bell peppers in sweet & sour sauce

Bangkok Chef catering – Fried Chicken Wings: Lemon Grass flavored chicken wings. Served with house special sauce & cucumber

For dessert, we once again relied on good ‘ole Costco, this time opting for Sinbad’s Baklava…

While someone from accounting provided this chocolate chip crumble…

Last but never least, the love for chocolate ‘n all things sweet caps off this amazing looking spread with some scrumptious homemade brownies…

Now let’s check out a few plates hot off Bangkok Chef’s catered luncheon line press…

How was it all? Absolutely delicious! The fairly spicy-hot Panang curry and wings were my personal fave’. Overall, a very solid 3 SPAM Musubi across the board for Bangkok Chef’s catered dishes.

My First Pressure Cooker

Whether it’s a first date, first time solo in the cockpit of an F-22 Raptor, or first touch of that spankin’ new, “lastest ‘n greatest” smart phone you’ve just committed a 2-year contract to, as “simple” as it may appear, there’s certainly going to be a few things you need to know before you start, and learn more about as you go. And a pressure cooker is no exception.

In the case here, there are a few rules and procedures that set a pressure cooker apart from your conventional cookware which need to be taken into consideration. Far apart actually, as in much, MUCH FASTER COOKING TIMES. Up to 70% quicker, SERIOUSLY, as I soon discovered.

That sealed-in, high pressure heat inherent in pressure cooking is also said to retain much more of the natural moisture AND water-soluble vitamins and minerals in the food using this method, hence this is also a HEALTHY way to cook.

The significantly faster cooking times also makes a pressure cooker VERY ENERGY EFFICIENT. Especially when you consider the extremely high, beyond-boiling point 257ºF cooking temperature a pressure cooker generates within its hallowed walls requires only a low heat source setting from your stovetop burner once the 15 psi pressure is achieved.

So if you’ve already converted all your appliances to Energy Star compliant models and changed all your incandescent bulbs in your home to compact fluorescents (CFLs), you best be adding a pressure cooker to your energy (cost)-saving “THINK GREEN” must-have list.

After recently hearing my coworkers rave about how they’ve prepared dishes such as St. Paddy’s day corned beef brisket and pot roasts in just minutes in their pressure cooker – both which can normally take several hours conventionally – I was sold.

So I headed out on a hunt for a good price on a good quality model and ended up with a very nice one from ROSS’ Hawaii Kai store (gotta’ love that store). According to their price tag, this item’s regular retail price is $90, yet they were selling it for just $41. Works for me. Sold.

The pressure cooker I got that’s featured here today is manufactured by FAGOR, a major appliance manufacturer based in Spain.

Like other manufacturers, FAGOR offers several pressure cooker models. The one I have is the Rapida, which is their most basic model, and didn’t come with any accessories, which in hind sight, I kinda’ wish I got that. Then again, I don’t want any more “stuff” than my cramped condo-sized kitchen already has, so this works. If I do need any other accessories, I’m good at “McGuyvering” stuff in my kitchen.

Here’s the entire list of features and benefits of my new kitchen gadget “toy”:

Manufactured by FAGOR
Quality features:
• Made of 18/10 stainless steel
• 3-ply Stainless Steel/Aluminum/ Stainless Steel thermo heat conductive base for even heat distribution
• Cooks on all types of stove tops: gas, electric, ceramic or induction
• Heavy-duty silicone gasket (replaceable)
• U.L. approved
• 10 year warranty – fully guaranteed
Safety features:
• Safety lock on handle prevents opening before all pressure is released
• Two independent over-pressure release valves assure no pressure build-up
Unit includes:
6-Quart Rapida Belly-shaped Pressure cooker
• Instructions manual with Recipes and instructional DVD

Here’s the same Fagor Presssure Cooker instructional video on the included DVD that someone uploaded on YouTube…


Other features on the box go on to say:
• Reduces cooking time up to 70%
• Easily adapt your recipes and cook 1/3 of the time (instructions inside)
• Load ingredients, lock lid in place and begin cooking… release pressure and enjoy healthy, flavorful meals
• Create delicious meals while retaining important water-soluble vitamins and minerals
• The tender taste of slow cooking
• Cooks without oil (fat)
• Maintains the natural color and flavor of foods

COOKS: Vegetable Medley in 2 minutes, Fresh Steamed Lobster in 3 minutes, Cioppino in 5 minutes, Bean Soup in 20 minutes, Mediterranean Chicken in 15  minutes, Risotto in 7 minutes, Pasta Primavera in 7 minutes, Pepper Steak in 4 minutes, Cheesecake in 30 minutes, Chili in 16 minutes, Fajitas in 5 minutes, Corn Chowder in 12 minutes.

Wow, those are some mighty quick cooking times! I must note that Fagor’s Rapida and Splendid pressure cooker models are made in China, while the more expensive Express, Duo, Futuro and Elite models are made in Spain.

Still, the fit and finish quality of this Rapida Pressure Cooker is absolutely top notch, with not one visible flaw. In fact it’s so gorgeous, I actually polished it with my Diamond Magic polish (awesome stuff as well) after each use so far, as I still have that “brand new” novelty within me about this wonder of cooking beauty. In other words, I consider we’re both still on our first dates phase and “courting” each other. lol

It’s has a considerably hefty feel to it, with thick 18/10 stainless steel pot walls, and of course that all-important 3-ply stainless/aluminum/stainless steel conductive heat “sandwiched” pot base.

Here’s a closer look at the controls built into the pressure cooker’s black ABS lid handle…

The lid handle interlocks with the pot handle, which you do by aligning that line (where the blue arrow is pointing) with the pot handle, making sure the lid’s lip is aligned with the pots flange, then you simply turn the lid handle towards the pot handle, where they interlock with each other . Then you lock the lid in place by moving that green switch forward.

The yellow “button” forward of the green lid locking switch is not really a button, but a pressure indicator. This yellow button pops up once the cooker has reached its 15 psi cooking pressure.

Up from there is a dial switch with three positions: Unlock , Steam Release and High. To start pressure cooking, you move this to the High position. When the cooking time is up, you can do one of several things, depending on what you’re cooking:

You can immediately release the pressure to stop the cooking process by turning this dial switch to the Steam Release position, which it will blow the hot steam right out of a hole that’s built into the front side of that dial switch. Be very careful when doing this, as it spits out very hot high-pressured steam!

Or you can immediately bring down the pressure the “old fashioned” way by running the pot under cold water to quickly cool it down.

Or you can let it relieve its pressure “naturally” by just turning off the heat and setting the cooker aside. Keep in mind, if you do this, the food CONTINUES to cook for a long time due to the hot pressurized steam remaining “trapped” inside, even after it’s not on the fire. Which probably would be ok for making stocks, but may not be ideal if critical cooking times for meats, vegetables and such are a consideration.

Moving along on our little “tour” of my new Rapida pressure cooker, here’s that 3-ply sandwiched stainless steel/aluminum/stainless steel conductive thermo heat base…

This both literally and figuratively puts the stamp of QUALITY in this wonderful piece of cooking magic, as it gives me the confidence that not only will the heat be distributed more evenly, but that it will also help to prevent scorching. Or so I thought, as you shall soon find out! lol

Next to that 3-ply heavy-duty base, another critical component of this wonder cooker is the heavy-duty “C” profile silicone gasket that literally LOCKS & SEALS the pressure in…

Under the lid you can also see the two pressure valves, while also notice the lid has tabbed segments incorporated into its stamped steel design that fold over around its perimeter. These interlock with matching tabbed segments on the perimeter of the pot’s rim, so when you put the lid on and align the lid handle with the pot handle, there’s virtually NO WAY the lid could blow off while it’s under pressure.

When you turn the handles to align and lock the lid nto place with the pot, you can feel the gasket compress, as it gives a slight resistance as you turn it into the locked position. For added safety, once again there’s that green locking switch on the lid handle, which I must also note, there’s an interconnected mechanism that will not all allow you to unlock the lid unless the High/Steam/Unlock switch dial is in the UNLOCK position.

That makes 3 levels of safety redundancy built right in, so no worries of having your squid luau or oxtail soup become your new kitchen wall paper “look”. lol

One note on storage, according to the manufacturer, you shouldn’t store the pressure cooker with the lid on, especially in the LOCKED position, as this will cause the silicone gasket to prematurely “compress” and have a less than ideal seal when in use. They recommend storing it with the lid either turned upside down or separately. They also recommend lightly coating the silicone gasket with cooking oil to keep it pliable.

That’s pretty much the physical make-up of my modern day pressure cooker. Certainly steps ahead from the “stovetop grenade” your grandma may have had.

Now let’s talk cooking times, which as already noted, these things can RIP. There’s an an excellent and very informative site on all things pressure cooker over at MissVickie.com, where of course there’s a pressure cooking time chart for all types of foods. In that chart, it states Pork Butt takes just 35-40 minutes to cook. It doesn’t say at what level of doneness (just cooked through or pulled-pork fork tender), but that’s still mighty quick.

That said, one of the first things I wanted to try in my new pressure cooker was Kalua Pig, which as you may know normally takes about 8 hours in a conventional oven (a bit shorter in convection), or even longer in an Imu (traditional Hawaiian underground oven).

So I set off on my first attempt at pressure-cooked Kalua Pig, on my first time EVER using a pressure cooker.

Just one problem. One MAJOR problem. Being the “typical man” that I am, did I read my new pressure cooker instructions manual or watch the instructional DVD BEFORE using it for the first time? Nope. Because, you know, when it comes to “gadgets” or anything mechanical or electronic, us fellahz think that we got it ALL FIGURED OUT. I mean, how complicated can this be, right? “Manual, shmanual” as far as we’re concerned.

Well there’s just one important piece of information I was not aware of as a pressure cooker “newbie”, and that’s that you must TURN DOWN the fire to LOW once the cooker achieves full 15 PSI pressure. Did I lower the heat from high to low once the pressure was on max? Nope. And guess what? It was A DISASTER! Talk about “Chernobyl” Kalua Pig, that’s pretty what I had! LOL!

Well, not really “laughing out loud”, as the smell was actually kinda’ TOXIC from the combination of burnt-to-the-crisp ti leaves and pork butt. So much that I had to open all the windows and turn on every fan in the house to get the smell out. ACK!!!  While “smell-o-vision” would be great, trust me, this is one time you DO NOT WANT smell-o-vision, as this thing smelled just NASTY!

I didn’t even take anymore photos after that shot, as it was SO not pretty under that top layer of ti leaves. Ugh. lol

Rewinding on what went wrong, first let me say what I did right, which was adding 2 cups of water, which is what MissVickie.com recommends when cooking Pork Butt in a pressure cooker.

As for preparing the pork butt, I simply coated it generously with liquid smoke and Hawaiian sea salt, then wrapped it ENTIRELY (key word here) with Ti Leaves, set it in the pressure cooker pot, covered it with the 2 cups water, locked the lid, set the fire on high and let her rip.

Now for what I did WRONG, which as you already know, I didn’t turn the heat down to LOW once the cooker reached full pressure. So this thing was cooking away at GOD KNOWS how high of a temperature, but certainly way, WAY higher than what it was designed to be cooking at.

The high heat maintained from the burner ended up making  the pressure in the cooker exceed the 15 psi ceiling, where the automatic pressure relief valve (thank goodness it has that!) stayed open more or less throughout the cooking time. Which me being a “newbie” thought this was “normal”, but Hell no, I found out the hard way that that’s NOT normal. This open valve ended up letting all the moisture out of the pot, while entirely evaporating the two cups of water that was in there. Not good.

While it was cooking, everything seemed fine, and it smelled “OK”, up until about 40 minutes into the cooking time, then it started to smell “strange”, yet not BAD…. yet. Then about just 5 minutes later it was like “dayummm!, what the heck is goin’ on in there?!!!”. So I finally shut off the fire and just let it cool down naturally, mainly to (hopefully) let the pork continue cooking so it would reach fork-tender doneness. That extended cooking time as “naturally” cooled down just gave the ti leaves and and burnt pork on the bottom more time to burn even more.

I must say though, the pork that DIDN’T burn (which actually was most of it) was indeed pull-apart fork tender after just about 1 hour of cooking/BURNING. Too bad the toxic, horrid aroma from the burnt ti leaves and scorched pork on the bottom of the pot pretty much ruined the entire batch. It smelled so bad, I didn’t even risk tasting it.

When I attempt (stress ATTEMPT) to make Kalua Pig again in my pressure cooker, not only will I turn down the fire, but I’ll probably add a little more water. I also won’t put any ti leaves on the bottom (wrapped around the pork), but just cover it in layers ON TOP and AROUND the pork butt. Good Lord, burnt Ti Leaves smells HORRID! lol

After learning the hard way once again that men really don’t know it all when it comes to gadgets, this time around I read the instructions manual thoroughly from cover to cover, watched the included instructional DVD and also checked out a few pressure cooker demonstrations on YouTube. I then set off to make another dish that takes a while to cook, which is “Local style” Sweet & Sour Spare Ribs. This one using my Aunt’s favorite recipe, which is simply a 4 lb. tray of pork spare ribs, ginger, daikon, carrots and 1 cup each of shoyu, sugar, vinegar and 1 can of chunk pineapple, including the juice. In this case, I used apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar, as I think apple cider vinegar has a better flavor when cooking with it.

While pressure cooking is indeed, fast, energy efficient and healthy, if there’s one “drawback” to it, is that you can’t just open the lid whenever you want to check on your food, stir it, or add ingredients as the cooking time progresses.

As you know when it comes to dishes such as pot roasts, stews and soups, most vegetables and/or starch ingredients in these recipes cook much faster than the tough cuts of meats it also uses. So with pressure cooking, many recipes have to be cooked in several pressurized “sessions”. Or as MissVickie.com calls it, the “Phased Pressure Cooking Method“: 1st pressurized phase the meat, 2nd pressurized phase the vegetables and/or starch and the 3rd unpressurized phase, the thickener. You get the idea.

So going off the cooking chart, which calls for just 10 minutes to pressure cook pork spare ribs, I cooked the (slightly-browned) meat, along with the the shoyu, sugar, vinegar, pineapple chunks ‘n juice and ginger for just 5 minutes pressure time.

Note that when you time pressure cooking, you start the timer from the time it reaches full 15 PSI pressure (when that yellow indicator button pops up), NOT when you first put the cooker on the fire. So while it does look amazingly fast on paper, the reality is theres that approximate 5 minutes of time it takes to pressure up , AND also the time it takes to pressure down (if required) when considering the TOTAL PROCESS (not cooking) TIME, not just the pressurized time.Plus the prep time such as peeling the vegetables ‘n stuff of course.

So anyway, after just 5 minutes of cooking time under pressure, I cut the LOW heat off and let it reduce pressure naturally. This took about another 10 minutes for the yellow pressure indicator button to go down, meaning it’s now safe to remove the lid. Which it then looked like this…

Yup, just 5 minutes of pressurized cooking time yielded pork spare ribs that were already falling off the bones, while the sweet and sour “sauce” was beautifully incorporated and infused with onolicious flavor from the bones in the pork.

That’s the first pressurized phase. Next pressurized phase, in goes the the daikon and carrot root veggies…

Let her go for 5 more minutes under pressure, let her cool down naturally (about 15 minutes), then voila, Sweet & Sour Spare Ribs…

A closer look…

Serve it  up…

As you can see, I insist on using only the finest Chinaware for my food presentations. lol

Seriously though, it turned out BROKE DA’ MOUT’ WINNAHZ! What’s interesting is I didn’t even need to do the 3rd thickening phase of adding a cornstarch and water slurry, as the sugar caramelized enough to give it just the right amount thickness.

Here you can kinda’ see the fat and meat of the spare ribs is practically MELTING apart off my spoon…

Pressure-cooked “Local-style” Sweet ‘n Sour Spare Ribs

You know that cartilage-like texture of the “bone” in pork spare ribs? Well these were so soft, yet had just enough “crunch” to it if you know what I mean. Plus, the flavor from the sweet and sour sauce was completely permeated throughout meat, bone and fat of the spare ribs and veggies, thanks to the benefit of high pressure cooking. Winnahz!

In hindsight, I don’t think this recipe needed to be done in 2 phases, as the spare ribs cooked so quickly, I think the root vegetables probably would have been perfectly cooked just as well had I put it all in the pot at the same time from the beginning. So there you go, just take the recipe I gave above and simply throw everything in your pressure cooker, let her rip for 10 minutes, then let it cool down naturally, and voila, you going stay get PERFECT local style Sweet ‘n Sour Spare Ribs.

My third and most recent pressure cooker project to date was Okinawan Pig’s Feet Soup, a.k.a. Ashitibichi, where here’s the final result…

Pomai’s pressure-cooked Okinawan Pig’s Feet Soup (Ashitibichi) with rice (gohan), Benishoga and Sushi Shoga tsukemono condiments

Gotta’ admit, that looks pretty darned OISHII! And you know what? It was very oishii! At least it came out more authentic tasting than my first attempt at Ashitibichi in a conventional pot. Not that I attribute my newfound success at making this dish to pressure cooking, yet I do think it did help extract more flavor out of the bones to make the soup broth.

I’ll now run you through how I did it, while pointing out again that I’m still LEARNING my pressure cooker, realizing just how FAST this thing is at cooking what normally takes much, much longer for these tough cuts of meats. In this case, the pig’s feet and hocks, which we have in raw state here…

Oh, don’t gross out. If you ate a bacon cheeseburger or bacon ‘n eggs anytime recently, this ain’t that much different, and mighty tasty if done the right way. Give it a try!

Along with that one HUGE cut of pig’s feet and hock part are a few cuts of spare ribs for added “meat” in the final soup.

Now the deal with properly preparing Ashitibichi is you MUST remove the blood and “scum” from the meat and bones before making the soup, as the broth has to taste “clean”. The way you do that, is you parboil the pig’s feet  for about 10 minutes, and then drain and thoroughly rinse it. So another mistake I made was thinking I could “parboil” it in high pressure mode in the pressure cooker to remove the blood and excess fat. WRONG.

What happened was, even for a short 5 minutes of pressurized cooking, the pork meat already began pulling off the bones of both the feet ‘n hocks and spare ribs…

…and I STILL have to add water to make the broth. Not surprisingly, upon doing that, returning it to the heat under pressure, after 15 minutes of cooking, the pig’s feet was pretty much rendered to loose bones with all the meat and skin barely sticking to it…

All I did in this next shot was turn the spoon, and it easily, without any restraint, FELL APART…

Which is fine if all you want is “pork soup”, but we want “Pig’s Feet Soup”, where there’s still a foot intact to gnaw on, so this won’t work. I’ll still use the “meat” (because that’s all it is now), but I’ll have to go get another package of pig’s feet and do that step again using a different method.

Here’s that overcooked “destroyed” pig’s feet and spare ribs, drained and put in a bowl on the side…

Of course all this tender pork meat is still good and will be used in the soup as an added “bonus”. Thankfully I also got a WONDERFUL pork broth out of that, which I placed in another separate container, and then refrigerated it overnight so I could easly skim off any separated fat off the top…

So back to the drawing board, I got another package of pig’s “trotters”, this time only the trotter part (no hocks), since I already had plenty of “meat” from the previous batch…

Doesn’t that look lovely? lol

This time around, to remove the blood and “scum”, I parboiled them UNPRESSURIZED for 10 minutes, placing the pressure cooker lid loosely on the pot without locking it. Out they came after being rinsed and drained looking like this…

That’s much better than the pretty much fully-cooked state they were in my first attempt. Cut up into individual pig’s feet servings, they looked like this…

By now you may feel a little squeamish looking at all these animal parts, so we’ll change gears and talk for a moment about the other ingredients that goes into traditional Okinawan Pig’s Feet Soup. One of the most unique being Chinese Squash, a.k.a. Winter Melon, or as the Okinawans call it “Togan”….

The flesh and seeds inside…

To describe how Togan tastes raw, it’s pretty much like eating an unripe melon or cantaloupe, sans the sweet or fruit-flavored element. It’s very subtle and nondescript, with no bitterness, acidity or sweetness whatsoever. I think what’s best about it is that it absorbs all the flavors of the broth once it’s cooked through. The skin is very easy to peel with a standard handheld vegetable and fruit peeler, while the seeds are also easy to scoop out using just a spoon. Very easy to work with. I got this quarter-section of Togan from the Kaheka Don Quijote for $1.49/lbs., which came out to about $4 for this piece, as a WHOLE Togan is is nearly as large as a watermelon.

One of my favorite ingredients in this soup are the tied knots of kombu….

Seriously, I could just as well take that hot pork broth and fill it up with a whole bunch of tied kombu knots for some Kombu Soup and call it a day.

Along with that are cut daikon and carrots, where here I have all the other “veggies” prepped and ready to hit what will actually be the third phase of cooking the vegetables…

So here we have the pot of pig’s feet soup after the pig’s feet have been “half-cooked”, where I used the broth from my first batch of pig’s feet for even more intense flavor…

In went all them “veggies”, then I turned back on the pressure cooker for another 10 minutes…

Then immediately released the pressure using the dial switch, to which my pretty much finished Ashitibichi turned out looking like this…

Serve ’em up…

Hai, itadakimasu!…

I think the pig’s feet are done just right at this point, where they still had some integrity, yet once it hits your mouth, it melts apart. You can see in this angle where the all-important marrow in the center of the bones was so soft, I could easily suck it out…

Like pig’s feet “buttah”…

I definitely did VERY well with the authenticity of the broth flavor this time, thanks to not adding dashinomoto, which made my first attempt at Ashitibichi taste more like Japanese Oden. My only other flavoring in the broth besides the pig’s feet (and various “veggies”) was Miso paste of the “shiro” (white) variety, which I used in restraint, adding it ever so slightly to taste.

The “veggies” were done pretty much how I wanted them, although I think the carrots could have used a little more time. I put in the mustard cabbage raw, as I like it that way, but you can cook it in the final phase if you don’t like the “bite” it has. I like that bite and crispy green taste mustard cabbage has in its raw state, so this was fantastic for me.

In hindsight of my first (actually second within a first) attempt at making Okinawan Pig’s Feet Soup in a pressure cooker, I think just like Sweet & Sour Spare Ribs, next time I’m going to put everything in from the start, except the kombu, as the Pig’s Feet cooks SO QUICK, I’m confident the veggies will still have enough al dente doneness doing it that way. I’ll keep you posted when that happens.

Summing it up, I give my pressure-cooked Ashitibichi on this attempt 3 SPAM Musubi, the pressure-cooked Sweet & Sour Spare Ribs 5 Musubi, with “no comment” on my pressure-cooked “rookie” Kalua Pig, other than to ask, “How often have first dates ever been PERFECT?” LOL!

I’m really looking forward to trying  more favorite recipes in my new pressure cooker, such as Portuguese Bean Soup, Pot Roast, Squid Luau and Laulau, just to name a few. This pressure cooker has already proven to be one of the best investments for my kitchen (besides the new kitchen itself) I’ve made yet. Every home should have one!



Grindz of the Day: Arirang, Monarch Seafoods & Chocolate-covered Bacon

Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Quisine – Fish Jun

Repeat visits are an obvious indicator we really dig the place, which brings us back once again to several spots.

We begin today’s “Grindz of the Day” with lunch at Arirang, where this past Aloha Friday Diner A and yours truly visited as we BOTH had da’ “ono’s” (craving) for Fish Jun.

Before I continue, I must note that there’s an ongoing “debate” on where exactly “Jun” originated. Namely “Meat Jun”.  Many folks on the mainland think it must be a “Hawaii thing”, because the Korean restaurants in their neck of the woods don’t have such a dish.

I found this interesting discussion over at WOWGRINDS.com on the subject, where lots of comments have helped to dispel the “Meat Jun Mystery”. One comment reads, “So I discovered this watching this korean show and the Kwangju region in Korea is known for the dish we call “meat jeon.” In korean it’s yukjeon (??), yuk meaning ‘meat.’ So it’s not a local Hawaiian invention, but maybe some Korean from that region brought it over and revised it.” Plus many other insightful comments you should click on over and read if you’re interested.

Apparently the “myth” part is due to how differently the name is SPELLED, as based on the common denominator of that discussion, the PROPER way to spell “Meat Jun” is “Meat Jeon”. or more properly than that, “Gogi Jeon” or “Yukjeon”.

To make it even more confusing, the various Korean restaurants around Oahu each have a slightly different way of spelling it. Arirang and Ah-Lang Korean Restaurant spells it “Meat Jun”, Soon’s Kal-Bi Drive-In spells it “Meat Jhun”, while Jin Joo Korean Restaurant spells it “Meat Chun”. ACK!!

Anyhow, if you have more information on Meat Jun or variation of the dish that you’ve encountered, I’d love to hear about it.

Not to confuse you any more, but another popular version of this flour and egg-battered Korean favorite is what we have here today in the form of Fish Jun…

Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Quisine – Fish Jun. $8.95 (lunch price)

Or should I spell that Fish Jhun? Or Fish Junn? Or Fish Chun? Or Fish Jeon? Or Fish Joon? Or how about Fish June? lol

That was Diner A’s plate. Here’s mine, where in this shot I’ve broken a piece in half to reveal the super-moist and flaky Mahimahi within…

Arirang Bar-B-Q Korean Quisine – Fish Jun. $8.95 (lunch price)

The key here being they use Mahimahi, which makes for an EXCELLENT Fish Jun, as in my experience over the years, Mahimahi has always been the best type of fish for this dish. Reason being, Mahi has a good amount of oil in the flesh, offering a savory-yet-tame, sort of “buttery” white meat flavor that’s not “fishy” at all, while having a super moist, tender and flaky texture that just melts in your mouth. Awesome.

Rest assured, Mahimahi is what you’ll get in your Fish Jun at Arirang, as it specifically says that right on the menu. Whereas, many places don’t specify, so you never know what may be in it: could be (the cheaper) haddock, pollock or even talapia (not from the Ala Wai Canal of course). I’d love to sample how Ono, a.k.a. Wahoo tastes in Jun (or Junn or Jeon or June) form.

Notice how they cut the egg and flour-battered Mahimahi here, where they’re shaped like medalions that measure approximately 4″Lx3″Wx1/4″ thickness each, with four of them on this lunch-sized portion.

Most “Jun” dishes are served with a dipping sauce that’s pretty much like a simplified version of Japanese Ponzu;  in this case, made with soy sauce, vinegar and sugar…

That said, let’s hit it!..

First of all, as described above, the mahi has a buttery, mildy-savory flavor and is super moist ‘n tender. And it’s cooked to absolute PERFECTION. The flour and egg batter has a nice crunch going on, while being very lightly seasoned with what tastes like just salt, if even that. The egg flavor helps to amplify the wonderful taste of the Mahi within, underscoring the JUN in this Fish Jun.

If there’s one complaint, I’d just say the default “Jun” sauce they provide was too mild, as if the soy sauce (shoyu) they use was the low sodium variety, or something like that, as the sauce tasted like it was watered down.

Not to fret though, as we clearly remember the EXCELLENT house-made Gochujang sauce Arirang put on our table the last time we were here, so we requested that…

OK, let’s try again wit’ da’ Gochujang action…

I’ll put it to you this way: even though the default “ponzu style” Jun dipping sauce was on the mild side, it was still “MONEY”. Now with Arirang’s AWESOME house-made Gochujang sauce joining this Fish Jun party, it is “BANK”!!! Or so Guy Fieri would have said it. Serious “Bank”. Like 5 SPAM Musubi “Bank”. So, so delicious. I swear, if you’re looking for an EXCELLENT Fish Jun, you need to head on over to Arirang. High, HIGHLY recommended.

I’m gonna’ tease you with a few more bite-through shots so you can see just how moist and tender this broke da’ mout’ winnahz Mahimahi-based Fisch Jgeonng was…

Here I combined the default “Jun” Sauce with the Gochujang Sauce at about 3:1 ratio…

Oh yeah, now THAT’s rockin’!  You get a little tang, a little sweet, some heat, along with a savory “bottom” thanks to the miso they use in the Gochujang sauce, which really is its “secret”. In fact, I’m surprised our server admitted that they use that. Yet you can clearly taste there’s miso in the Gochujang sauce. All I know is you could pour that stuff on anything and it would taste good.

Not that this it needs a sauce, as just like the Angry Korean Lady’s Meat Jun and Chive Jun, this Fish Jun is SCUMPTIOUS just by itself, and the sauces are really just icing on an already fantastic cake.

Summing it up, “Bank” 5 SPAM for Arirang’s Fish Jun (jeon, jeong, june, jhun, junn, joon, whatevahz…)

Speaking of “Bank”, also winning top honors is Arirang’s EXCELLENT Banchan side dishes…

Arirang’s Kim Chee is certainly “Money”, while their Korean style Shoyu Potatoes are “BANK”!!! As Diner A noted, they almost “Taste like Shoyu Chicken”, where you could just as well order a plate of this stuff as the main entree along with rice and call it a day. It’s that “meaty”.

Look at how that deep ‘n savory, sweetened shoyu “goodness” penetrates the outer layer of the fork-tender red potatoes…

Rewinding to the beginning of our Fish Jun “experience” on this visit, we enjoyed the included house seaweed soup…

I asked our server if they had the Korean Stainless Steel Chopsticks to accompany the Korean Stainless Steel Spoon, but they didn’t have them.

As Diner A described it, “It’s like sipping on a hot bowl of the ocean”, is the best way to describe it. Seriously, as simple as this Kombu-based soup is, it’s LOVELY. Next time I come here, I’m going to ask them how to make it, so I can do it at home before EVERY meal. Heart-warming, soul-soothing good stuff!


Moving on to our next “Grindz of the Day”, we go back a week to the previous Aloha Friday, where Diner A and yours truly returned yet again to Monarch Seafoods. This time around where Diner A “hanahou’d” their AWESOME Fried Poke, making that his single entree choice, while I decided to try their Spicy Calamari…

Monarch Seafoods – Spicy Thai Calamari Steak (left) and Fried Poke (right) plates

Let’s zoom in…

Monarch Seafoods – Deep Fried Poke. $7.95

All I can say is, in the battered ‘n fried fish category, next to the Fish Jun featured previously in this post, Monarch Seafood’s Fired Poke is as GOOD AS IT GETS!

Especially when it’s coated in Monarch’s KILLER house dressing…

It tastes like they marinade the ahi — which tastes VERY FRESH (not old stuff) — in some sort of shoyu-based marinade, then they coat it katsu style, taking a dredge in flour, egg and panko, then hitting the deep fryer to give it that “GBD” doneness, with no more and no less. So the Ahi within remains SUPER moist and succulent, especially when combined with that very tasty marinade it’s SOAKED with. FREAKIN’ AWESOME STUFF. PERIOD.

Another “Bank” 5 SPAM Musubi for Monarch Seafood’s Fried Poke. Make sure if you order this to ask for extra house dressing. Liquid Gold I tell ya’, Liquid Gold.

Now let’s check out Monarch’s Spicy Calamari…

Monarch Seafoods – Spicy Thai Calamari Steak. $7.95

These Panko-crusted Calamari (squid) “steaks” are some “tik” (thick) buggahz (suckers)…

As for the “Spicy” factor”, it both appears and tastes like, before hitting the panko and flour batter station, they basically coat the calamari steaks with the same Mae Ploy Sweet Thai Chili Sauce that’s used for dipping after the fact.

As you know, Calamari (squid) is very mild in flavor, as this was, while it was also notably tender, as you know how Calamari can be rubbery if over or undercooked. So “props” to Monarch on that. The panko and thick flour batter didn’t stick well to the Calamari within, yet for what it’s worth, added a nice flavor and texture contrast to it. While the Mae Ploy Sweet Thai Chili Sauce works for Wonton-wrapped stuff, I don’t think it works quite as well with pank0-battered stuff, as was the case here. By far, Monarch’s AWESOME house creamy dressing (the yellow-greenish stuff) is THE ONE to dip the “Spicy Calamari” into.

Spice-wise, it wasn’t hot at all, as Mae Ploy Sweet Thai Chili Sauce is very mild by default (at least to my palate).

Summing it up, I give Monarch Seafood’s Spicy Calamari 3 SPAM Musubi. Which really is saying a lot for someone who isn’t particularly a Calamari fan. If you are, you definitely need to try this.


Last but never least, we round up today’s “Grindz of the Day” with two of just about everyone’s FAVORITE foods: BACON and CHOCOLATE.

If you’re a Food Network and Travel Channel “Foodie Junkie” like I am, you probably already at least seen it. Yet so far on Oahu, it’s not that commonly found on restaurant menus. Yet recently I was at Eat Cafe, where I noticed they had it sort of “scribbled” on their chalkboard menu as kind of an afterthought. And I thought, “Hmmmmmmm, I wonder?”

Since I had two huge SLABS of Costo-issue sliced Maple flavored smoked bacon in my fridge, I immediately went online to find out how to make the stuff.

As advertised, it’s literally Chocolate-covered Bacon, no more, no less. With Valentine’s Day right behind us, we naturally had a surplus of chocolates hangin’ around – most notably a bunch of Dark Chocolate, as that’s my girlfriend’s favorite.

So I began my Chocolate-covered Bacon quest by first baking half a slab of thick-cut Maple flavored smoked bacon in the oven until it reached a slight “rubberyness”, and not to the point of being “crunchy-crispy”, as I personally don’t like my bacon (over) done that way.

Then I took about 1 cup’s worth of Giradelli brand dark chocolate squares and “nuked” it on low heat in the microwave until it melted. I was a little disappointed that it came out kinda’ clumpy, so I looked online what the base of chocolate is, and it said oil. So I turned around and “tempered” the chocolate by adding a pat of butter to thin it into a usable viscosity.

After the cooked bacon cooled to room temperature, I then proceeded to coat each slice on all surfaces with the butter-tempered dark Giradelli chocolate. Then I stuck it in the refrigerator to “set” the chocolate, where out it came a few hours later looking like this…

The lighting exposure in that shot makes it look like milk chocolate. Here’s another angle that’s more color-accurate…

I SO can’t wait to try this.

Here’s a macro cross-cut shot of one of these Dark Chocolate-covered Bacon slices…

How is it? CRAZY. TASTY indeed, yet simply NUTS. The combination of the sweet, deep and robust dark chocolate, along with the salty, smokey, savory goodness of the bacon WORKS, yet your brain is like “WTH is this?!!!”. That’s the best way I can describe it upon first bite.

Yet, after about the third bite, it becomes pretty addictive. Mainly out of denial that this actually does taste good. But it does! Genius.

If there’s anything I’d improve on, it would be to cook the bacon more crispy, as the congealed fat at the doneness I baked the bacon (ha ha) was a little strange on the palate. I also need to work on my chocolate tempering skills to get it where it’s like “candy”, whereas on this first take, it was kinda’ “messy”. But those are just “minah ‘kine stuffs” (nothing serious).

All I can say is if you like bacon and if you like chocolate, chances are pretty likely you’ll LOVE Chocolate-covered Bacon. I’m personally not a chocolate person, so I can’t really appreciate that element, yet I’ll vouch for the sweet, robust ‘n savory thing going on with this unique hybrid “invention”. 3 SPAM Musubi.

Mo'ili'ili Eats: Bella Mia Pizzeria

Several weeks ago we celebrated Diner C’s birthday with lunch at Bella Mia Pizzaria, a relatively new, casual American-Italian eatery located on South Beretania Street, situated amongst a corridor of detached homes, low-rise apartments and small businesses. This is actually one of two restaurants under the same name, with another Bella Mia (sans the “Pizzeria” extension) location on Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki, where as it turns out, that location is owned by Brooklyn native Joey Gonzalez, while his son owns and operates this restaurant.

Obviously converted from an older residential home itself, parking here is limited to, well, as many cars you could fit in the front of a yard typical of the size in this area, which, IIRC, was about seven vehicles max’. The lot was already full on our early arrival lunch hour visit, yet thankfully we quickly found a parallel parking space just a stone throw away on the street front.

The dining room is made up entirely of an open-air porch fronting the establishment, with a romantic and relaxed ambiance suggested by its subtle Mediterranean themed decor…

Try your best to transport yourself and make pretend the “view” from here on busy South Beretania Street is overlooking Italy’s beautiful Amalfi Coast, not REALLY what you’re looking at. lol

The kitchen occupies the back half of the restaurant, which is semi-open to view from the dining room. They don’t sell alcohol, yet of course being an Italian eatery, BYOB is certainly welcome, and best of all, there’s no corkage fee.

Let’s check out what’s on the menu…

Here’s the daily specials that run throughout the week…

Wow, $6.95 is a lot less than most plate lunch takeout joints charge nowaways. Sounds like a great deal!

With that, let’s get our Italian grind on! First to arrive at the table is a complimentary basket of their house bread rolls…

Bella Mia Pizzeria – Complimentary House Bread Rolls

As they appear to be, which our server confirmed, their bread is essentially baked roll-up versions of their house pizza crust. That said, it’s seasoned with just the right amount of salt, while the lightly-toasted, semi-firm “shell” and glutenous, yet light and airy interior bring it all home.

The house marinara sauce it’s accompanied with is rather low-key, as far as infusion of herbs go, yet it does have a good balance of sweetness and acidity to it. Some may find it a bit too plain as far as seasonings go, yet you can always zest it up by adding your own Parmesan and/or red pepper flakes provided in shaker bottles at each table. As always for me, more cheese please.

For appetizer, we all shared a massive platter of their Fried Calamari…

Bella Mia Pizzeria – Fried Calamari. $8.95

These are served with the same house marinara sauce that’s served with the complimentary bread rolls, which the sauce is “bottomless”, and our friendly server lady was more than happy to refill for us throughout our meal.

Bella Mia Pizzeria – Fried Calamari

Both the Calamari squid’s head (ring) and leg parts were decently tender and fresh tasting, with nothing “funky” going on. I found the legs had better flavor and texture, being more characteristic of Octopus (tako) than squid.  The Calamari’s batter was lightly golden-airy and crispy, being sort of “Tempura-ish”, with barely if any salt or other seasonings at all in it, allowing primarily the marinara dipping sauce and lemon to provide that.

Bella Mia Pizzeria – Fried Calamari

Now on to the main course, where we begin with birthday girl Diner C’s choice, Bella Mia Pizzeria’s Chicken Marsala with Linguine Pasta…

Bella Mia – Chicken Marsala: Chicken breast sauteed with mushrooms in a Marsala Wine Sauce. Served on a choice of Spaghetti, Linguine (shown) or Penne. $15.95

As you may already be able to tell, the portions here at Bella Mia are very generous, with each entree easily enough to share between two hungry adults and walk out with satisfied tummies. While that Calamari app’ we ordered certainly was enough to sate all us five hungry adults’ appetites ahead of the main course.

Bella Mia – Chicken Marsala

As for the Chicken Marsala, like all our entrees, it arrived at the table PIPING HOT, with visible steam steadily billowing off the plate for at least a minute while sitting there. Already a good sign! Upon first bite, Diner C immediately noted the Linguine pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, followed with a big thumbs-up for the Marsala Sauce it was evenly coated with. The two generously-sized chicken breasts were also very tasty, tender ‘n moist.

Bella Mia – Chicken Marsala

Summing it up, she gives Bella Mia Pizzeria’s take on Chicken Marsala very solid 3 SPAM Musubi.

Next up we have Diner AA’s choice, which must be noted, she came intent on ordering her usual favorite, eggplant, hoping to try Bella Mia’s Eggplant Parmigiana. Unfortunately our server broke the news that they were out of Eggplant. What? Needless to say, Diner AA was very disappointed, but what else can you do? So she simply moved her selection to the nearest, most similar dish in preparation and ordered the Chicken Parmigiana with Linguine Pasta…

Bella Mia – Chicken Parmigiana: Chicken breast breaded and lightly fried, topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese then baked to perfection. $15.95

Having all the same aforementioned positive attributes of Diner C’s Chicken Cacciatore, Diner AA also gave a thumbs-up 3-SPAM Musubi of approval for Bella Mia’s Chicken Parmigiana.

Switching out a bed of pasta for a roasty-toasty, seriously super-sized bread roll, Diner E decided try Bella Mia Pizzeria’s Chicken Parmigiana Hot Sub…

Bella Mia – Chicken Parmigiana Hot Sub. $8.95

As always, the (in this case ooey-molten meltin’ Mozzarella cheesy-gooey) cross-cut view…

Bella Mia – Chicken Parmigiana Hot Sub

Straight to the point without much said, Diner “Saimin Kaukau” E gives this 2 SPAM Musubi.

Here’s another order/example of the same Chicken Parmigiana Hot Sub that came out of the kitchen (right behind our table)…

Bella Mia – Chicken Parmigiana Hot Sub

If you’re not quite in the mood for a (sub) sandwich or pizza in pie form, consider having the best of both worlds by ordering Bella Mia’s Stromboli…

Bella Mia – Made-to-Order Stromboli Pizza Roll: Sausage, pepperoni, peppers, onions, mushrooms, black olives & mozzarella cheese. $10.95

Essentially a Stromboli is a “Pizza Pocket”, except here at Bella Mia, the  Stromboli arrives at the table MASSIVELY PUMPED UP  like an edible version of the over-the-top ‘roided-out Incredible Hulk, if that helps explain the dramatic visual and psychological impact it has imposing itself upon gawking table guests. NNNNNNNNO-O-O-OH! GGGRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! lol

To give you some scope of scale, notice the size of Diner A’s iPhone in comparison to the Stromboli laid out on the plate in front of him…

Bella Mia – Made-to-Order Stromboli Pizza Roll

While it appears imposingly massive upon arrival in whole form, most of the Stromboli’s size is from the crust being “pumped-up” with hot air during the baking process. Cutting it open reveals that, where you’ll then see the sausage, pepperoni, peppers, onions, mushrooms, black olives and mozarella cheese lay mostly at the bottom quadrant of its puffed-up, cavernous interior space…

Bella Mia – Made-to-Order Stromboli Pizza Roll

It’s always visually stimulating and taunting to the tummy when molten ooey-gooey cheese and other yum-yums come spillin’ out like that. Ooohh…. ahhhhh…

Bella Mia – Made-to-Order Stromboli Pizza Roll

Of course this thing has so much girth, you’d need a mouth that opens up as gaping wide as a feeding Basking Shark in order to heave this in your mouth as is. So Diner A quickly devised a “plan of attack” in taking on Bella Mia’s “Strombilinator” (I made that name up, but sounds kinda’ cool, huh?!), where he cut basically flattened the “poofed-up” crust and cut the entire thing up into bite-size pieces more reasonable for the average human…

Bella Mia – Made-to-Order Stromboli Pizza Roll

How was it? Deliciouso! Diner A was notably fond of their Pepperoni, which had a nicely-spiced and very “meaty” flavor to it, which I got to try a piece and concur to that. The sauce in it also had plenty of zest, while as a whole, of course how can all that other good stuff in there all smothered melted Mozarella Cheese NOT taste awesome? Because it was, simply AWESOME! Adding to that awesomeness filling it, the obviously well-toasted crust it was encased in had a nice crunch on the surface, while underneath it, the “meat” of the crust had a nice, glutenous, yet airy “chew” factor going on, just like their house pizza crust-based bread rolls had.

Summing it up, Diner A gives Bella Mia’s “Strombilinator” (ha ha!) an Incredible Hulk hoppin’ 4 SPAM Musubi. (Hey, that’s two completely different “menacing superheroes” in one sentence lol). Seriously though, he enjoyed it so much, he noted he wants to bring his family back here soon to try it, he enjoyed it so much. Especially considering the portion and prices, which are indeed very family-friendly.

Last but never least, yours truly decided to try Bella Mia’s Spaghetti Meatballs..

Bella Mia – Spaghetti Meatballs. regular $9.95 (daily special price for Monday only $6.95!)

And no, I didn’t order this just because it was the Monday special of the day, as I actually had my mind set upon seeing it on the regular menu, before taking notice there was a special on it. Yet hey, for just $6.95 (that’s $3 off the regular price), shoots, hook me up! Yet even though it was highly discounted in price, it surely didn’t appear they compensated with a smaller portion, that’s for sure!

And how was it? Very good. Like all the dishes the others ordered, my Spaghetti Meatball “platter” (because it was practically sized as one) arrived at the table PIPING HOT. Also like the other linquine-based pasta dishes, my spaghetti noodles were cooked perfectly al dente. The sauce tasted like the same “low key” house Marinara they use for the complimentary bread rolls and Fried  Calimari we were served. Which again didn’t have much in the way of a complex combination of herb in it, yet was well balanced in sweet and acidic, the latter of, which is always an important factor in any good Marinara sauce.

Bella Mia – Spaghetti Meatballs

As for the three meatballs topping the spaghetti and smothered in Marinara sauce, they were fairly large, where I’d say each one was about the size of a racquetball. Unlike that hilarious scene in The Mask, these “meat-a-balls” certainly weren’t spicy, nor were they infused much with herbs. Yet they did have a nice balance of what tasted like a combination of ground beef, pork and bread crumbs, with what also tasted like simple salt and pepper seasoning. Quite plain, actually, yet it was still tasty and very moist. If there’s anything to improve, I’d say it just needed to be browned more on the outside to kick up its meaty flavor.

Summing it up, I give Bella Mia’s Spaghetti Meatball 2 SPAM Musubi, while I must once again note the incredible value at just $6.95 for the Monday daily special on this dish. Can’t beat that!

While I didn’t ask, I’m assuming the customer who ordered this Meatballs on Penne Pasta requested that instead of Spaghetti, yet still got the Spaghetti Meatballs Monday special $6.95 price  …

Penne Pasta Meatballs

Don’t forget, there’s also “Lasagna Tuesday”, “Alfredo Wednesday”, “Stromboli Thursday” and “1 Topping 10″ Pizza Fridays” $6.95 daily specials at Bella Mia, which that alone is worth the trip here.

Summing it up, we all enjoyed our lunch at Bella Mia Pizzaria. Service was friendly and attentive, and while the entrees took a while to come out (about 20 minutes), the relaxed ambiance and reward of having all our dishes arrive at the table together at once, each fresh made, piping hot, and overall well prepared ‘n tasty, made the wait worth it. I’m definitely returning again to try their pizza, as well ordering my very own “Strombolinator”. That’s some good eats right there!

Bella Mia Pizzeria. Check ’em out!

Bella Mia Pizzeria
2222 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96826

Tel. (808) 941-4400

Bella Mia Pizzeria menu (1.1mb 2-page PDF; current as of 2/11)

The Tasty Island rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)

P.S. Us “Yelpers” recently had an online discussion on “Ghetto Recipes“, where everyone brought up their favorite “poor man’s grub” either while growing up and/or when times were tough. Not that now is any different for many folks.

With that, being Hawaii-based “Yelpers”, “dishes” that came up naturally included just about EVERYTHING and ANYTHING with RICE. That’s a given. Then there were other desperate or weird “recipes” that were mentioned when the wallet’s thin, including the venerable dry, uncooked saimin (the stiff Maruchan and Nissin brand kinda’ stuff) eaten straight outta’ the package, and Spaghetti that uses Ketchup as its “Marinara Sauce”.

Well, speaking of ketchup being used as a desperate measure for a desperate time,  recently  I was “desperately” craving a tasty snack, where not having everything I needed on hand with what I had to work with, I came up with a new recipe I’ve at least temporarily named “Jiffy Salsa”, a.k.a. “Ghetto Salsa”…

“Jiffy Salsa” a.k.a. “Ghetto Salsa” n’ Chips

You’re probably now saying, “No you didn’t. You didn’t! Please tell me you didn’t do that!” Yes, I did my friends. YES. I. DID. lol!!!!

The deal was, we had this “ginormous” bag of Costco-issue Organic Tortilla Chips that was sitting around in our office pantry and nobody was eating it, as we ran out of REAL Salsa to go along with it. Yet our little pantry area also has an assortment of condiment packets saved from past lunches stashed away in a jar. So I thought to myself “Hmmmmm, I wonder? What if I make a “Quickie Salsa” by combining several condiment packets of fast food ketchup with a condiment packet or two of fast food taco sauce?” So that’s exactly what I did, and guess what? It turned out pretty darned tasty and a pretty darned acceptable substitute for the real deal, I kid you not!

Of course, like most fast ‘n cheap foods (specifically, PROCESSED FOODS), this here “Ghetto Salsa” isn’t gonna’ be praised about and graced on the cover of your periodical HMO members’ magazine anytime soon. Yet that’s besides the point here. We’ll save the trip to WHOLE FOODS PAYCHECK for another post.

For this — ehem, cough, cough — “recipe”,  I simply combined exactly 5 packets of ketchup with 1 packet of taco sauce, as we only had that one packet of taco sauce remaining in the jar, and, cha-cha-cha, ariba- ariba, “Jiffy Salsa”!…

“Jiffy Salsa” a.k.a. “Ghetto Salsa” n’ Chips

The cumin and other spices in the (Tex-Mex) taco sauce “Mexicanized” the ketchup, where I swear, if I only had real tomatoes I could dice up and throw in there, this would be very close in taste to at least mass-produced, bottled (processed) salsa.

If I ever make it again (stress “IF” and “EVER”), I’d go with a ratio of 4 packets ketchup to 1 packet taco sauce, as this batch was a just little too sweet from the ketchup, while it also could have used just a little more of them “Mexicanized” taco sauce spices to “salsafy” it.

Perhaps add some chopped onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime along with that, and shoots, it would probably taste almost as good as the fresh stuff! Well duh, then that’s pretty much at least “half fresh salsa”. lol

Anyhow, if you ever happen to have a lonely bag of leftover Tortilla Chips sitting just around with no fresh or bottled salsa to finish it up with, “raid” your fast food condiment packets stash jar and dig up the ketchup and taco sauce, combine it in a ratio as suggested above or to your own personal taste, serve with Tortilla Chips and enjoy.

“Jiffy Salsa, a.k.a. “Ghetto Salsa”. Try it.  If you’re craving a tasty snack, yet your options are limited, you just might like it! For what it’s worth (free), winnahz!

Hmmmm, now to brainstorm what I can “creatively” do with all them leftover fast food condiment packets of Aloha Shoyu. 😉



Kalihi Kai Eats: Monarch Seafoods

For today’s review we’re back in Kalihi, where it’s repeatedly and affectionately designated here on this blog as “The Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe”, a.k.a. “God’s Country”. This time around at yet another hole-in-the-wall gem over at Monarch Seafoods, located next door mauka (towards the Koolau mountain range) of Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory on Kalihi Street, with Bank of Hawaii’s Dillingham Boulevard branch also adjacent to them if that will help you find them.

Monarch Seafoods is a fish distributor that also offers catering services, as well as what we’re sampling here in this review from their daily takeout operation. And the place is strictly takeout with no dine-in seating.

Without further ado, here’s their most current menu as of this writing…

Upon entering, you’ll find the customer service area is rather small, where as little as 10 people waiting in line for their order can already make it feel crowded. Yet that’s how it is at most hole-in-the-wall gems. Here’s the front end service counter, made up mostly of a refrigerated display case filled with a goldmine of ono kine grindz…

Being a seafood purveyor — with nearby Honolulu’s fish auction block right down the street, mind you — naturally there’s no shortage of fresh fish and prepared Poke to be had here…

Of course they also have prepared bento lunches ready to go…

Next time I visit here, I definitely need to try “Pop’s Homemade Banana Cream Pie”, as that’s one of my favorite kinds of pie…

So on this first-time visit, Diner A decided to go “Surf ‘n Turf” and chose a mixed plate of Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke and Hamburger Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions…

Mixed Plate of Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke and Hamburger Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms ‘n Onions and House Nalo (as in Waimanalo) Greens. $8.45

A closer look…

OMG, Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke is da bomb!…

Seemingly simple, yet easy to mess up if done the wrong way. Yet Monarch NAILS this, as the thoroughly cooked-through Ahi cube is seasoned with just the right amount of what tastes like a shoyu-based marinade (because you know, it’s Poke), while the Panko crust is offers a wonderful “GBD” taste and texture contrast to the delightfully tender and moist Ahi meat. Superb indeed. In fact, , just drop a bunch of these absolutely scrumptiously onolicious Deep Fried Poke bites in a big bowl along with a case or two of ice cold Heinekens amongst a bunch of you and your best friends, and you’ve got one heck of a great paina (party)!

They provide a chili Aioli sauce for the Deep Fried Poke, but both Diner A and I agree what REALLY makes this OUTRAGEOUSLY OFF THE CHARTS is their AMAZING House Salad Dressing…

Chili Aioli Sauce (left) and Monarch’s signature House Salad Dressing (right)

I swear, you could dip your car bumper in Monarch’s salad dressing and it’d taste awesome. Seriously, if you ever visit this place, ASK FOR EXTRA DRESSING. Trust me, you’ll thank me (and them for giving you an extra cup) for that tip.  It goes great with, well, EVERYTHING.

To explain it, it’s got a sweet ‘n sour-meets-creamy flavor profile goin’ on, with a subtle hint of garlic. It sort of reminds me of Costco’s Parisian Dressing that comes with that salad kit they sell. But this one BLOWS that and is by far one of the BEST salad dressings I’ve ever tasted in recent memory.

As for the Hamburger Steak, the gravy is solid (tasting that is), also sporting garlic undertones, with plenty of depth and “beefy-ness”, while having perfect thickness and body. The single hamburger patty was on the small side, yet according to Diner A it was seasoned nicely and had all the right fillers that make a hamburger steak taste like it should.

Overall, Diner A gives Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke and Hamburger Steak mixed plate a super solid 4 SPAM Musubi.

Next up is yours truly, where I just had to go with what everyone on Yelp raves about, which is Monarch’s ever-popular Nori-wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi…

Monarch Seafoods – Nori-wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi with Nalo Greens and Brown Rice. $8.95

A closer look…

What nobody on Yelp mentions nor probably haven’t tried experimenting with, is dipping the Nori-wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi roll in their AMAZING House Dressing!…

Oh man, I tell ya’, that dressing takes what is already an awesome dish to levels unknown to mankind. Bam! You can see they drizzle the Nori-Wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi with Wasabi, which is great. Then you add the creamy, sort of garlic-ee, sweet ‘n sour element from the dressing and, I swear, it  just makes you wanna’ roll your eyeballs backwards in your noggin. lol Seriously, so ono!

Construction-wise, it appears they take a thinly-sliced slab of ahi and top it with minced imitation crab that’s mixed with other ingredients I couldn’t quite pinpoint, although I’m sure there’s at least some mayonnaise in it. They take that and roll it up all wrapped up in several multiple layers of nori maki, then it gets a quick dredge in tempura batter then deep fried. You know, the kinda’ thing Kahai Street Kitchen right down the street would probably do.

The end result is Ahi that’s super moist and imparted with plenty of “Umami” thanks to the Nori and (imitation) crab meat surrounding both sides of it, while you get that “decadent crunch” factor from the lightly crispy tempura coating it’s encased in. Genius.

As for the Nalo Greens, they were super fresh ‘n crispy, and incredibly packed into the left corner pocket of my plate. Where after I finished the Ahi, I was able to fill the entire main entree section with my salad!…

I tell ya’, it was like having a refreshing appetizer salad after the main dish!

Summing it up, 4 SPAM Musubi for Monarch’s Nori-Wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi. Use real crab meat and I’d give it 5. Trade out the crab for lobster and I’d probably give it a TEN! Bu-Ya!

We enjoyed our lunch from Monarch Seafoods so much, that we made a hana hou (encore) visit just a week later! This time around with Diner EY (different guy than Diner E) in tow, where he decided to give their Garlic Roast Pork plate a spin…

Monarch Seafoods – Roast Pork with Gravy. $7.95

I got a taste of the gravy, and can cofirm it’s certainly “garlic-ee”, yet not obnoxiously so. In words of Rap Replinger’s “Aunty Marialani”, it’s “jussssssss right”. Go check ’em now, check ’em now, go. lol  Diner EY also gave a thumbs-up of approval for the roast pork, saying it was fork tender and packed with flavor. 4 SPAM Musubi.

This time around, Diner A decided to try Monarch’s Crab Cake, Mochiko Chicken and Fried Poke Bento…

Monarch Seafoods – Bento: Crab Cake, Mochiko Chicken and Fried Poke. $7.95

The crab cake…

How was it? 3 SPAM Musubi.

Finally, yours truly laid it down this time with Monarch’s Garlic Butter Sauteed Tiger Prawns with Zucchini and Mushrooms over Linguine pasta…

Monarch Seafoods – Garlic Butter Sauteed Tiger Prawns with Zucchini and Mushrooms over Linguine. $8.95

A closer look…

How was it? Eh, it’s OK but nothing really worth writing home or here about. It wasn’t drenched in garlic butter as much as I would have liked, while the tails were on the verge of being overcooked and rubbery. They also weren’t as sweet as I was expecting it to be. As for the pasta, the linguine was cooked perfectly al dente, but the “cream” sauce just did not work. It literally tasted like somewhat thickened canned cream, while having barely any seasoning or flavor, whatsoever. Someone please pass me some butter and fresh grated parm’ please. I gotta say though, there were generous slices of zucchini and sauteed white mushrooms in it, yet even then, the really lame, plain Jane cream sauce didn’t lend them a helping hand in flavor ‘tat all.

Summing it up, I give Monarch’s Garlic Butter Tiger Prawns 1 SPAM Musubi, which I’m being generous at even that. Thankfully, again, I had their awesome House Salad Dressing to save the day and make a lame plate at least decent enough to eat.


Leave it use to take advantage of a scale when we see one, where here we weighed my Nori Wrapped, Crab-stuffed Ahi plate on our first visit, which clocked in at 1.065 pounds…

So if they charged us $11.95 per pound (the average price of their fresh raw ahi), this plate would have totaled out at $12.73. Thankfully that plate is just $8.95, which is truly a bargain for a truly inspirational and creative seafood dish you’d easily pay 3 or more times that in a finer dining restaurant.  Gotta’ love Kalihi for that.

Monarch Seafoods
515 Kalihi St
Honolulu, Hawaii  96819

Tel. (808) 841-7877

Monarch Seafoods & Catering menu (71k 2-page PDF document download; current as of 1.11)

The Tasty Island rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!

Grindz of the Day: Ilima Restaurant & Catering, Hana No Sato, Kahai Street Kitchen, Young's Fish Market, Don Quijote & OnoPops

Ilima Catering – Saimin Supreme: garnished with Teri’ Beef, Ham, Tofu and Green Onions (double order). $6

Well that’s a long post title. But eh, whatevahz. lol

Anyhow, back in November, Diner E took me to have lunch at Ilima Restaurant & Catering, a truly “old school, Triple-D” kinda’ place, located in the heart of industrial Mapunapuna near HNL airport.  According to Ilima’s successive owner (as of 1978) Paul Suyap (and his lovely wife, Florence), the original owner, Masaji Uyehara, opened Ilima Restaurant & Catering for business 57 years ago in this very same Mapunapuna spot…

FIFTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO (1954)!!!!!!!! Wow.

With that, check out Ilima’s relatively “50’s-like” value-priced menu…

Wow, what a selection of local favorite comfort foods, all at GREAT prices!

There’s a small dining area to the right of a narrow galley fronting the service counter….

See, I wasn’t kidding when I said this place is “old school”. Seriously OLD SCHOOL! Notice the brown plastic catering warmer cube transport containers on that back wall.

With that, on this visit, Diner E decided to try Ilima’s Veal Cutlet plate…

Ilima Restaurant & Catering – Veal Cutlet Plate. $6

Good Lord and Hail Mary in Jesus’ name. Looking at that, I just wanna’  light up the fireplace (pretending I have one) on a chilly winter night and curl up on my sofa, pop in a Blu-Ray and eat that VERY slowly, savoring every bite as I enjoy the movie from beginning to end. lol Seriously, if that doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t what will! Looks SO ONO!!!!!!!!

A “profile” angle…

Last but certainly not least for this mouth-watering Veal Cutlet plate, the ever-important “cross-cut” view of the cutlet itself…

Sheesh, I tell ya’, I wanna’ drink TANK that GRAVY just looking at it! lol

And how is it? “Diner “Saimin Kaukau” E immediately gave it a thumbs-up, super-solid 3 SPAM Musubi of approval, which to you and I would either be 4 or 5 SPAM Musubi. All I know is I hope tonight I have a wonderful dream of savoring a plate of Ilima’s Veal Cutlet by my fireplace while watching a movie. lol

On this particular late November day entering our “chilly” (at least by Hawaiian standards) winter season here in the islands, I remember I was “jonesing” for either saimin or ramen, and thankfully Ilima’s had me covered, where I immediately set my sight on their “Saimin Supreme”. Saimin Supreme? Great name! HOOK. ME. UP! Yet for just $3, I assumed it wasn’t going to be enough to fill me up, so I requested to double my order in the same bowl, which the owner was more than happy to oblige…

Ilima Catering – Saimin Supreme, garnished with Teri’ Beef, Ham, Tofu and Green Onion. $6 (double portion order; $3 regular order)

I asked the owner how they make their broth, and he said it was simply dashi-based, which is absolutely A-OK with me, as, quite frankly, I’m not particularly a fan of saimin broths that taste heavily like shrimp shells,  which some other saimin houses tend to make theirs. To note, like most restaurants that serve saimin or ramen here on Oahu, Ilima sources their noodles from Sun Noodle Factory, which I’ll say time and time again, I’m a HUGE fan of.

That said, the broth was spot-on, with just enough dashi to give it that  depth and “Umami” factor, while the noodles were cooked perfectly al dente. Ultimately, the most important thing to point out about this particular bowl of Saimin is how the Teri’ Beef actually ADDED to it, and wasn’t a distraction.  I  was afraid the Teri’ Beef flavor would overpower the saimin broth and noodles, but it turned out very COMPLIMENTARY. Sweet. While I would have preferred the more traditional Chinese style Charsiu over the American-style ham, for what it’s worth, it worked. I also missed having Kamaboko in it, yet the Tofu was nice, albeit an obviously neutral-flavored garnishment touch.

Summing it up, I give Ilima Restaurant and Catering’s “Saimin Supreme” a super-solid 3 SPAM Musubi. Where if I may, my only suggestion to improve on, would be to switch out the American ham for Chinese Charsiu, and add Kamaboko. To which I’m most confident this would then easily achieve 4 or 5 SPAM Musubi Saimin “Supreme” stardom. Yay!

While on the subject of “oriental noodle soup”, moving along to our next venue, we land smack the center of Waikiki on Koa Street behind the Hyatt Regency & Spa Hotel over at Hana No Sato, where on this also first time visit, I couldn’t resist trying their Shoyu Ramen…

Hana No Sato – Shoyu Ramen. $8.00

Remember what I said a moment ago about curling up on the sofa with the fireplace lit, while watching a movie and DEVOURING that incredible looking, gravy-covered Veal Cutlet plate from Ilima’s? Well, OK, if you want, simply switch out the Veal Cutlet plate for this bowl of Shoyu Ramen from Hana No Sato and I’d be just as happy a camper! Seriously! lol

First I observe the bowl and go into my usual deep spiritual trance as I take in the “mana” (spirit) of what I’m about to partake on. Because, you know, Japanese Ramen is DEEP STUFF. Breath in the aroma of the hot, steaming broth. Appreciate it. Let it uplift your heart. Your “Tamashii”. OK, hai, itadaki masu….

Sugoi! Oishii-to-da’ max desu yo (my new hybrid word)!  Oh man, this is some mighty onolicious Shoyu Ramen! I won’t say it’s Tokyo style, because it ain’t. Yet for what it’s worth, this one is rockin’ it!

The (again) Sun Noodle Factory-sourced ramen noodles were cooked perfectly, while the broth had a complexity, yet simplicity all its own. I’d almost go on a limb and say it tasted “saimin-like”, yet in a GREAT WAY, that quite honestly I don’t think any local saimin house in the islands could ever achieve. Reason I say that is because owner Shogo-san is from Japan, and Nihonjin just have an understanding of the complex ingredients that make a great ramen that us local folks would never understand unless we lived there and/or worked in an authentic ramen-ya.

Anyhoo, let’s try the Charsiu…

Not bad. Can’t touch Goma Tei’s superior, melt-in-the-mouth, oh-so-fatty-good rolled pork belly Charsiu, yet for what it’s worth, this thinly-sliced simmered pork loin works. Thankfully Hana No Sato also includes Menma (marinaded bamboo shoots), which of course add an extra dimension of “Umaminess” to the broth, as well as the stringy-rubbery texture while you chew it along with the soft noodles. I am SUCH a menma fan, you don’t even know! Between that and mushrooms, I don’t need any meat. Just that and I’m good!

Here’s the main man of Hana No Sato, chef/all-around-cool-dude Shogo-san…

Hana No Sato’s main dining counter…

Up next we return once again to what is probably my ichiban favorite “hole-in-the-wall plate lunch joint-gone-gourmet”, over at the ALWAYS FAN-TA-BULOUS Kahai Street Kitchen in the ever-so-scenic and picturesque industrial area of Kalihi Kai. This time around, where on two recent visits I tried their Nori-rolled Kataifi-wrapped Mahi Mahi plate…

Kahai Street Kitchen – Nori Rolled Kataifi Wrapped Mahi Mahi: Mahi Mahi rolled in Nori and Shredded Phyllo Dough, Fried to a golden brown Served with Wasabi Tartar. Choice of White or Brown Rice & Potato Mac or Tossed Salad. $8.50

Are you kidding me? This would EASILY run you three times that price in a Waikiki restaurant, yet don’t let the price fool you. Kahai Street Kitchen owner/Chef Nao Iwata has already proven he really KNOWS his stuff, and this was absolutely no exception, where it was PERFECTLY EXECUTED.

Behold this beauty…

Melts-in-the-mouth tender, moist ‘n flaky Mahimahi? CHECK!…

Then factor in the blast of “Umami” from the Nori that’s generously wrapping the Mahimahi filet, along with that delicately golden crispy ‘n stringy texture of the Kataifi, bringing it all home with the fat-meets-zesty heat punch of the Wasabi Aioli sauce and POW! That is seriously GOOD EATS (mahalo A.B.). No better way to put it. Nothing else to say but 5 SPAM MUSUBI for Kahai Street Kitchen’s Kataifi Mahimahi!

Several weeks later I decided to try their “Hamburger Club”…

The “profile” angle…

A quarter-slice…

The verdict? Unfortunately the burger patty was overcooked, while there was just too much going on. Thinking positively, now if they would just stuff this Club Burger with Crab and Artichoke, then wrap it all up in Nori and Kataifi and then deep fry it, then we’ll be TALKIN’! lol

Summing up KSK’s Club Burger, 1 SPAM Musubi.

Finally, I returned to Kahai Street Kitchen for yet another take on Mahimahi, this time in the form of being (as suggested above) crusted with Crab, Artichoke and Spinach…

Kahai Street Kitchen – Crab, Artichoke and Spinach Crusted Mahi Mahi. Served with White Wine Sauce. $8.50

Common now. If you seen “Mahi Mahi crusted with Crab and Artichoke” listed on the menu, could you resist? You can’t! At least I couldn’t!

Check it out…

The verdict? Yum! (I couldn’t say “ono” lest I confuse you with whether this is Mahimahi or Ono the fish lol). It didn’t have as much “impact” as the Nori and Kataifi-wrapped version, yet the added fattiness from the mayo-based Crab and Artichoke, along with the generous garlic in there had plenty-oh-punch on the palate. 3 SPAM Musubi.I also must note the Linguine pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, simply flavored with a light drizzle of EVOO, finely-chopped parsley, salt ‘n pep’. Nice. The slices of perfectly toasted French Baguettes were also a welcoming touch.

Next we have a BROKE DA’ MOUT’ Kalua Pig and Lomi Salmon plate from Young’s Fish Market, compliments of a private invitation to a product expo’ by IKON OFFICE SOLUTIONS (mahaloz Cynthia!)…

While I personally find eating Hawaiian food with RICE almost a tragedy (if not an insult) vs. with POI, I understand the cost and demand/popularity considerations for not providing the latter. Thankfully Young’s completely REDEEMS any hangups I have on that by providing absolutely BROKE DA’ MOUT’ ONO Kalua Pig! It’s super moist thanks to copious amounts of pork fat, while being perfectly smoked, having a truly genuine Imu (traditional Hawaiian underground oven) flavor. I don’t know if Young’s actually does Imu-roast their pig, as this just as well may be oven-roasted with the help of liquid smoke and Ti leaves, yet for all I care, Young’s NAILS Kalua Pig (that didn’t sound right, but you know what I mean). lol

They also hit a home run on the Lomi Salmon, with generous chunks of salt salmon, immediately reminding you this is Lomi Salmon and NOT “Lomi Tomato”. Perfect balance of salt as well. What’s nice is the Lomi Salmon sort of is a psuedo-replacement for Poi, where the combination of the salted salmon along with the savory, smoked pulled pork flavor compliment each other in a truly “Hawaiian style” way eating experience. Ya’ know?

Summing it up, solid 5 SPAM Musubi for Young’s Kalua Pig and Lomi Salmon plate. 10 SPAM Musubi if had Poi!

Speaking of Young’s Fish Market, one of Oahu’s most respected purveyor of Hawaiian food, lately their Laulau hasn’t been quite up to snuff, with the Luau leaves being under-steamed and tough, while the filling hasn’t been seasoned with enough Hawaiian salt, and basically overall disappointing. That said, my Kuliou’ou cousins recently made a batch of homemade Laulau for a family fundraiser that was OFF THE CHARTS AMAZING!…

I didn’t get a photo of it cut open for service, but I’ll just say again, it was OFF THE CHARTS ONO!!! WOW LAU “Kuliou’ou” LAU!

Speaking of foods in wrapped-up form, one of my all-time favorite meals-on-the-go is Musubi. More specifically and simply, UME MUSUBI. That’s it. I don’t need no SPAM or this or that (although there is a time and place for it).  Just Ume and I’m GOOD! Where thanks to convenience, I regularly get myself an Ume Musubi from the Kaheha Street Don Quijote Omusubi counter, which is located adjacent to their meat and fish department…

Like the absolutely AWESOME Musubi-Ya Iyasume in Waikiki (next door to Hana No Sat0), DQ’s Omusubi uses Premium-grade rice…

Where’s the beef? Or actually, the Ume? Have a bite and you shall see, grass hopper…

Ahh, oooohhhh, aaaaahhhh.

My only complaint is that they don’t add ANY seasoning (salt) to the rice, so it depends entirely on the saltiness from the Ume and robust undertone from the Nori for flavor. Otherwise the premium-grade rice is cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of “stick”. All-in-all, 3 SPAM Musubi. Or, err, make that 3 Ume Musubi! lol

Finally for today’s “Grindz of the Day”, we’re back yet again at KCC Farmers’ Market this past Saturday morning to try another flavor. Where on this visit I decided to sample yet another NEW FLAVAH!…

I asked Joe which one he liked more, to which he immediately pointed me to the Apple Banana-Mac Nut,  where here they are chillin’ in the chest…

I’m shivering just looking at that (a good thing)! lol

The selling point for me on this was the fact that Joe said these were generously laced with real chunks of Macadamia Nuts, which you shall soon see he wasn’t kidding!

Here’s OnoPops all-new for January ’11 “Apple Banana-Mac Nut” flavor, unwrapped and about to be completely DEVOURED by yours truly…

It certainly has a “Banana-ish” color to it, along with what appears to be chunks of Mac Nuts in it.

The “profile” angle…

It also looks frosty-cold, which is a welcome sight on a hot Hawaiian Saturday morning at the foot of Diamond Head crater (where KCC is located).

OK, let’s do this…

And?  It’s definitely “Banana-ee” in flavor profile (the other descriptor to “Banana-ish” lol), with a hint of acicidity due to it being sourced from Apple Bananas, which have that edge of tartness to them.

As for the Macadamia part of the equation, Joe was not kidding when he said there’s CHOKE NUTS in this Banana Pop (that didn’t sound right lol). Check it out…

See it? Here’s more as I eat my way through…

Summing it up, this is DEFINITELY A KEEPER and needs to make OnoPops already long list of regular menu items. I can just imagine this being dipped in Chocolate, either milk or dark variety for added “oomph”. Rating? 5 SPAM Musubi! WINNAH WINNAH MAC NUT ‘BANANA POP DINNAH.. or, err, dessert, that is. Or in my case this past Saturday morning, breakfast.