Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Local Food - An Introduction

Welcome to Broke Da Mouth, a blog dedicated to local (Hawaiian) cuisine and the people who eat it!

I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised on some of the finest food in the entire world.  18 years and a 6-hour flight later, I was a fledgling college student in San Diego thrust into a world where people eat chili without rice, faces scrunch up at the mere mention of Spam, and L&L passes itself as “Hawaiian Barbeque.”  My college days have been an adventure, a whirlwind of meeting new people, trying new food, and developing as an amateur cook, and I hope to use this blog to share some of the many insights, experiences, and of course, recipes I have picked up over the past few years.

So whether you’re a seasoned local, a curious mainlander, a cooking enthusiast, or just a broke, hungry college student, there’s something here for you.

You may be wondering what I mean when I refer to “locals” and “local” food, and why I seem to be avoiding the word “Hawaiian,” which brings us to lesson number one in interacting with someone from Hawaii: “Local” vs. “Hawaiian”

When talking to someone from Hawaii, “Hawaiian” always implies a direct connection to the indigenous people of Hawaii.  Thus, “Hawaiian food” should only be used to refer to a dish that originates from traditional native Hawaiian culture, and a “Hawaiian (person)” should only be used to describe someone who is ethnically Hawaiian, or of native Hawaiian descent.

Hawaiians (despite my stereotypical stock photo, please note that Hawaiians do not all dress like this, nor necessarily dance hula)
Hawaiian Food (clockwise from upper left: lau lau, squid luau, lomi salmon, poi, kalua pig)

On the other hand, the term “local” can be used more loosely to refer to anything related to the present-day cultural landscape of Hawaii.  Thus, “local food” can refer to any dish that is widely enjoyed in Hawaii and unique to the islands, regardless of where it traditionally originated from, and a “local (person)” can be used to describe anyone who has lived in Hawaii for long enough to embrace the culture.

Locals (Asian, Caucasian, doesn't matter, all born and raised in Hawaii)
Local Food (Loco Moco: sunny side up egg and hamburger patty with brown gravy over rice, a local favorite!)
Of course, Hawaiian food is a significant subset of local food, and Hawaiians are almost always also locals, but there is a distinction to be made, and it's one of those things that locals feel compelled to correct when they are mistakenly labeled Hawaiian.

Still can't quite wrap your head around the essence of "local" food?  Well then check out this list of local recipes compiled by the University of Hawaii.  You'll notice offerings from all kinds of different cultures: Hawaiian, American, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese; but you'll also see dishes that mix and match different styles, blurring the lines between ethnic traditions and creating uniquely local combinations.

So how can you identify local food if it transcends standard food categorization?  Most locals will agree that it is something that you just know from having grown up around it, but here's how I like to think about it: imagine you're in your swimwear and rubber slippers sitting in a folding chair under the shade of a banyan tree at a beach-side potluck surrounded by your closest friends and family.  If it's something that you would make at home and share with your loved ones at this little get-together, it's probably local food.

Local food is simple, down-to-earth, and is never above being served on paper plates.  It doesn't have to be flashy or colorful, nor does it have to be complex or difficult to make, it just has to taste good.  Local food is not what you would cook to impress your new girlfriend, but something you might make for your wife and children on an ordinary weekday night.  This homely and unassuming nature is the essence of local cuisine.

That's all for this week!  Whether you're licking your lips in anticipation or still trying to work out what local food is, be sure to tune in next week when we'll get down to the nuts and bolts with a highlight on a very special cornerstone of local cuisine!


  1. Hey Dan,

    this is a great first post. You're giving your readers a preview of what you are talking about both in your writing and your pictures, and you establish your tone very effectively. The formatting is also great for reading on the Internet, and its good that you took this introductory post to elaborate on the distinction between "Hawaiian" and "local". I also really like the slang-infused titles.