The Way We Like To Eat - Muriel Miura and Betty Shimabukuro

Susan Sunderland
Wednesday - September 26, 2007
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Muriel Miura, left, and Betty Shimabukuro
Muriel Miura, left, and Betty Shimabukuro

This book is good enough to eat. What Hawaii Likes to Eat by Muriel Miura and Betty Shimabukuro is a feast for the eyes and soul. The beautiful, full-color publication tantalizes one’s taste buds and genuinely reflects local folks’ passion for food. Based on survey results, the authors tracked down recipes of kamaaina favorites including some retro gems. The result is an attractive 228-page presentation of graphics and text you’ll want to have with other high-quality books in your library.

The co-authors are well-regarded foodies with extensive media experience. During the 1970s Miura hosted local TV shows New World of Cooking and Cook Japanese, coinciding with her job as home economist for the Honolulu Gas Co. This was before the Food Network even existed. She also has written and edited 20 cookbooks.

Shimabukuro’s byline has been seen in the pages of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin for 16 years, covering food for nearly 10 years. She has been features editor since 2005.

But perhaps Shimabukuro is best known for her weekly food column known as By Request.

Even the cover makes you hungry
Even the cover makes you hungry

Since 1998, she has published reader-requested recipes for old favorites that Grandma used to make or fabulous dishes encountered in restaurants. It led to Shimabukuro’s first book, By Request: The Search for Hawaii’s Greatest Recipes released by Mutual Publishing last year.

This latest edition kicks it up a notch with bigger, better features. Pages are bigger and bolder. The book design by Nancy Watanabe is artistic and sophisticated. The full-page food photography by Kaz Tanabe just pops off the page.

You’ll drool over Don the Beachcomber’s Cantonese Spareribs shown on page 44, and have a craving for that saimin vividly depicted on page 10. You’ll flip over the Chocolate Dobash Cake, a la F.W. Woolworth-Fort Street, on page 64.

Cookbook junkies like Miura and Shimabukuro read volumes like best-seller novels. They have shelves of recipe books at the office and at home. They have friends who have blockaded entire rooms in their home with cookbooks and stacks of food magazines. It’s a passion like no other, according to Shimabukuro.

What Hawaii Likes To Eat is a book one can read for pure enlightenment and enjoyment. Shimabukuro’s chapter openings and recipe introductions are cordial and insightful.

Saimin, anyone?
Saimin, anyone?

In the opening she writes, “If we are what we eat in Hawaii we are an eclectic bunch, defined by tradition, yes, but also by adventure and a never-ending affinity for the salty, the sweet and the starchy.”

If you’ve never cooked a dish in your life, this alluring publication might get you into the kitchen by dinner. The recipes are easy to understand and seem just as easy to prepare.

Even the recipes from the chapter titled “White Tablecloth” offering contemporary dishes inspired by Hawaii Regional Cuisine don’t seem the least bit intimidating.

Steamed Clams from Chef Martin Wyss’ Swiss Inn and Scallop-Crab Gau Gee with Shiitake Mushroom Soup from Chef Tylun Pang at Fairmont Kea Lani Maui are among the revered recipes.

Shimabukuro hails what local chefs have done to elevate the culinary fare of the Islands. “They have plenty to teach the rest of the world,” she says, “especially in handling seafood and fresh fish.”

Yet the busy home cook or harried diner longs for simple tastes that live in their reverie.

“A big chunk of the requests we get are for recipes from restaurants that don’t exist anymore,” Shimabukuro says. “We even get requests for school cafeteria food. Nostalgia. That’s what people ask for.

“Secondly, I get a lot of requests for basic plate-lunch food, like fried rice or spareribs from specific places. I rarely get a request for a real fancy dish cooked at a regular restaurant, which is unfortunate because those recipes are much easier to get.”

The spring rolls are onolicious
The spring rolls are onolicious

Has she ever failed to get a requested recipe?

“The low-fat oat-cakes from Starbucks. Orange Chicken from Panda. They just won’t give me those recipes,” the food editor and author admits.

She might be “stonewalled” on those, but persistence - and help from Miura’s treasured archives of old-time recipes - has scored winners.

Thankfully, you’ll find them - 137 most requested recipes - in What Hawaii Likes to Eat. Buck’s Bakery Sweet Bread, Tropics-Ala Moana’s Curried Mahimahi, Kyo-Ya’s Misoyaki Butterfish.

They are secrets no more, thanks to foodie-sleuths Miura and Shimabukuro.

Chow down, brah.

Advance copies of What Hawaii Likes to Eat now available for special price of $20 at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, and online at until Oct 1. Available at retail stores ($28.95) beginning Oct. 15.

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