If you’re looking for white tablecloths, leather-bound menus, crystal stemware, and a quiet, sophisticated meal, stop here. The following is for those who are interested in unusual smells, unconventional sights, and above all, finger-licking-good foods, all in the raucous racket of Downtown Honolulu’s Chinatown.
Many believe that you cannot fully understand a culture until you’ve sampled the local cuisine. We’re talking about true, authentic, meals-cooked-by-grandma types of meals. So where do you go for these homemade delicacies? – Honolulu’s Chinatown.
The mom & pop shops and restaurants that have been in Chinatown for over 50 years hold secrets and stories of their families’ immigration to Hawaii. Chinatown has evolved over the years – being influenced by the different generations of cultures colliding and forming families and traditions of their own – Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, and more. Multi-racial families have come to blend the Chinese cuisine into Hawai‘i’s own unique flavor. Some recipes, however, have been untouched throughout the generations. It is a mixture of both of these that make Chinatown truly unique.
On this two hour culinary journey throughout Chinatown, you’ll walk through the shops and markets with a local guide who will show you the ins-and-outs of food shopping throughout these blocks. You’ll sample handmade noodles, fresh roasted duck and pork, just out-of-the-oven Chinese baked goods, taste some of the local dim sum delicacies, and much more. Along the route, your guide will point out some of the historic statues honoring influential Chinese immigrants and political figures. You’ll be sure to get a true sense of Hawaiian-Chinese cultural influence and leave with a full stomach!
And just in case you don’t have time to make it down to Chinatown before February 18th, check out this recipe for the traditional Chinese New Years dessert, Nian Gao. Nian Gao literally translates to “Year Cake,” but the word Gao also sounds the same as the Chinese word for tall or high, symbolizing achieving new heights in the coming year. Nian gao is also typically given to family and friends; the stickiness is believed to symbolize the holding or binding together of family. Also, because of its round shape and sweet taste, it is said to bring good fortune and sweetness to one’s life.
Nian gao is traditionally steamed for 4-5 hours, but since we all know we’re too busy these days for that, here is a quick and easy microwaved version.
1 pound dark brown sugar
2 cups water, boiling
1 pound mochiko (glutinous rice flour)
1 12-ounce can coconut milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
sesame seeds, toasted
Dissolve brown sugar in boiling water. Stir in mochiko gradually. Add coconut milk and oil, and beat to smooth out ingredients. Pour mixture into a greased 8-cup microwave dish. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave on HIGH for 18 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let stand uncovered for about 30 minutes. Pull gao from sides of dish and invert onto a platter.
Final step – eat with family and friends and enjoy the new year!
Recipe from The Larissa Monologues Blog