Seeking An Official State Food

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - February 08, 2006
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The sad news that our beloved humuhumunukunukuapua’a is now no longer the state fish has reached shores beyond Hawaii.

Newspaper articles reporting the dethronement of the piggy nosed, bottom-feeding fish have spread far and wide, reaching foreign climes such as Glasgow, Scotland. Our state flower, the hibiscus, our state bird, the nene, and even our beloved state license plate, the rainbow, however, are all safe. As is our state food.

Hold on a minute. We don’t have a state food. How can we islanders, who talk more about food than almost any other topic, have neglected to name a state food?

It’s not as if we don’t have a lot of choice.

Take tilapia. It’s raised here commercially and is a beautifully colored, thickly fleshed, juicy fish, worthy of a place in the finest restaurants. But offer tilapia to any local person and they’re going to look at you as if you’re crazy. Much as tilapia is hailed on the Mainland as “Hawaiian sunfish,” you’re not selling that to locals who know the dull, black-skinned fish of murky streams and muddy rivers.

OK then, not tilapia.

How about mochi soup?

Except, no one who has sipped the broth of this New Year’s delicacy can deny dreading the moment when you actually have to swallow the mochi plug. Come on, admit it. It might bring good luck, but it feels like it sits in your stomach for a week.

No, mochi soup simply won’t do.

Well, there’s always natto. Thing about natto is, I just can’t get past the point in the recipe books where they mention “bacterial contamination,” “spores” and “natto bacteria.” And there’s the smell. Probably a no vote for natto.

I’m a big fan of poi. My children eat it almost daily, and my infant son kicks his legs in glee as we approach the dining table with his little bowl of purple goo. They’re both thriving, rarely get colds, have never had an ear infection and seem about as strong as a couple of linebackers. Poi would be a good contender.

But then there’s kalua pig. Where else would you find people digging holes in their front yard, burying a whole pig and enjoying a case or six of beer until the succulent pork is ready to be raised from the ground?

Or perhaps our state food should be the humble plate lunch. Where else but in Hawaii do you have a meal that comes complete with two starches and the caloric content of 27 pizzas?

And the choice becomes even more difficult when you take our multi-culinary pot into account.

Balut, kim chee, chicken feet, pig’s ears, mountain oysters, pipikaula, musubi, opihi and tripe stew are all good contenders. Squid luau, poke, of course; Portuguese bean soup, saimin and rice would appear to have much going for them in the race to be pronounced state food.

And then, of course, there’s Spam. We consume more of this deceptively named “luncheon meat” than any other place in the world. But Spam, although it’s eaten by the people, doesn’t seem to be a food of the people.

Spam wouldn’t quite do it for me.

No, the Hawaii state food has to be something that’s unique to Hawaii. Something with a name that’s recognizable to all as being unpronounceable by haoles, and something that can be grilled, sautéed, baked, stir-fried, tempura’d and served as sashimi.

I’ve got it.

The humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

Happy eating.

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