Week 1: Reacquainting with Hawaii

As soon as I stepped off the airplane, I took a deep breath, relishing in that sweet Hawaiian air, the scent transporting me back to what feels like a lifetime ago.  The last time I was here was about 6 or 7 years ago.  I was still in undergrad, I was in a different relationship, and I had barely even begun to scratch the surface of my love affair with food.

When I arrived, it was almost 11pm on a Friday.  It had just recently rained, and it even sprinkled a bit as we drove.  The damp cool air was a blanket welcoming me back to one of my homes.  As I rode the 15 minutes to where I would be staying, I chuckled inwardly when we got onto the H-1 freeway, one of Hawaii’s three interstate highways (take a moment to think about that statement), smiled at the Likelike  (pronounced LEE-keh LEE-keh) Highway sign, and struggled to remember which exits I would take most often.  I knew that the first few days would involve a bombardment of memories, just like these on the short drive from the airport, and I couldn’t wait.

Hawaii was the first place I lived after graduating high school (literally — my mom, stepdad, and I moved less than a week after graduation).  I lived here for four, very formative, years.  I often say that it was the best stepping stone to living on the mainland.  Oahu is bigger than Guam, has a freeway (!!), but the Pacific Island culture in Hawaii is very similar to what I was familiar with growing up on Guam.  Even though the radio stations also played island reggae, and everyone wore shorts with slippers (AKA zoris/flipflops/thongs), and the people looked like the people on Guam, and the climate was almost identical, I was still in an unfamiliar place with no friends or family other than my parents.

What I ended up clinging to most for its familiarity was the food.  Although red rice and kelaguen aren’t part of everyday food in Hawaii, there are enough foods in common that it was easy to forgive.  The love of white rice and liberal use of soy sauce in dishes were probably the most apparent connections.  And, of course, their reverence for SPAM also made things easier.  Other than a few cravings for red rice and kelaguen, I don’t really recall being homesick for Guamanian/Chamorro food.  I didn’t realize this until years later, looking back at the kinds of food that I grew up with, the kinds of food I consider to be comfort food.

So as not to be completely overwhelmed by the flood of memories and nostalgia on my first day back, I decided to take it a bit slow.  I walked to the Ala Moana Center with the hope of purchasing some slippers (because why on earth would I buy them in Boston… in February?).  On my way there, I had to step into the 7-11 just to see this:

Gimme more…

Context Clues

Aside from talking about food with people who share the same passion and thirst (hunger?) for knowledge in talking about food, the thing I loved most about being in the Gastronomy Program at Boston University was the snacks.  Because our classes most often were from 6-9pm on weeknights, instructors would incorporate a shared snack situation to be enjoyed during the mid-class break.  A time to stretch, pee, freshen up, socialize (outside of passing notes – not that I did that; I mean, this is grad school… who does that in grad school?), we were also able to indulge in yummies, especially after talking about food for an hour and a half.

On January 31, I presented my thesis as part of the Jacques Pepin Lecture Series at BU.  My thesis is about the foodways of Guam, where I am from.  I talk a lot about the flavor profile of the food preferences of locals, and have a bunch of photos that I took while I was there doing “fieldwork” (yes, it was fieldwork, but I was also there visiting family and generally having a lovely time soaking in the sun and gaining about 15 pounds).  Taking inspiration from the class snack time, I decided to provide topical snacks at the lecture for attendees to enjoy so they had some gustatory context for what they were learning about.

In case you are unfamiliar with the food (or anything) of Guam, basically people there like their food salty, sour, spicy, and meaty.  The most common ingredients used (according to my participants, and my experience living there for the first 17.5 years of my life) are soy sauce, coconut, lemon, vinegar, onion, garlic, black pepper, and donne’ (local hot pepper).

For the snacks, I chose red rice, chicken kelaguen (similar to ceviche, but the chicken is cooked by heat before acid is added), finadene (the preferred condiment), and manha titiyas (coconut tortillas).  I also made roskette (Chamorro cornstarch cookies).   AKA:

2013-01-31 18.05.172013-01-31 18.05.28

Red rice, kelaguen, and finadene are must-haves on the fiesta table.  Shoot, finadene is generally a must-have in the refrigerator.   I know I always have some!  Roskette is something that personally transports me back home when I eat it.  When I lived on Guam, I would only have it on special occasions, though it was usually readily available at certain grocery stores and mom-and-pop shops.  Once I moved away, it was one of many things I longed for in care packages.

Gimme more…