Confession: Eight out of the top 10 things I miss most about Hawaii-Nei fall under the category of foodstuffs. Li hing mui, manapua, Hawaiian Sun, musubi, kakimochi, saimin at McDonald's, fruit punch and lau lau (for the record, the other two things are surfing and snake-free hiking).
Since moving to the mainland, I have contrived various ways of procuring island food. I never fail to compile lengthy grocery lists for any friends traveling between 'daho and da islands; I have mastered the making of musubi; my sister frequents an Asian grocer out in Nampa who sells rice crackers and plum seed; and I have twice returned to the Aloha state to eat my way through several weeks. Despite being landlocked, I can't complain ... except that nothing compares to a plate lunch at midday and I have absolutely no idea how to make Auntie Nalani's haupia.
My sister loves CK but as she's eternally working, I treated my South African visitor to a culinary education (last week he ate his first-ever slice of apple pie; this week I tasked him with the layman's perspective of CK). I glanced at the menu and ordered. One chicken katsu plate, a side of kalua pork, one SPAM musubi and ... drum roll please ... three cans of Hawaiian Sun(!!!) to drink.
We seated ourselves outside and waited ever so briefly for our food as I waxed poetic about my love for Hawaiian Sun's pineapple orange.
I gave the Saffa brief explanations of the food that showed up in front of us: Musubi is rice wrapped in nori and it can be vegetarian, but often has SPAM or chicken as well; macaroni salad is a necessity to plate lunch; kalua pig is shredded pork with Hawaiian sea salt; katsu is a sauce for chicken or pork, which has been pounded flat and fried in panko.
The amateur was most impressed by the katsu plate with rice and macaroni salad. However, he went nowhere near the musubi citing "seaweed" as the excuse. I found the katsu too runny and without bold flavor, but the chicken was fried golden and tender to near perfection. The combination of macaroni salad and rice was too familiar and too long missing from my palette for me to dislike, but the musubi was only OK. Personal preference in SPAM preparation kept me from raving about it. Instead of CK's teriyaki sauce between the rice and SPAM, I prefer my SPAM fried in shoyu (soy sauce) so that it's saltier and firmer. (SPAM is another mystery addiction in Hawaii; it's not traditional Hawaiian food but no islander goes without it.) The kalua pork was the only real disappointment. CK serves it mixed with cabbage--something I've never seen before--and the meat was noticeably missing lots of sea salt.
Professional opinion: Idaho-dwelling kama'aina may scoff at the absence of favorites like poi, fruit punch and haupia but will appreciate the taste of home. For the truly haole Idaho natives, CK is a culinary lesson in another kind of American food.
Rachael Daigle can say humuhumunukunukuapuaa three times fast.