Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
No, this column isn’t about trekking deep into the rainforest to pick pohole, those succulent fiddlehead fern shoots on a Saturday. Nor does it involve hiking the Jackass Ginger trail in Nu‘uanu for fresh pepeau (wood ear mushrooms) and takenoko (bamboo) shoots. It does, however, involve that dreaded drive over the Ko‘olau mountains from K-Town (you know, Käne‘ohe) to that concrete jungle: Honolulu — to procure protein, produce and liquids not found in my neighborhood Foodland, Safeway or Times Supermarkets.
Like other casualties of time, I’m turning into my parents. Some 50 years ago, Mom and Dad Tatsumoto made their monthly, or sometimes even weekly, trek from Käne‘ohe all the way into town, treating it as if the family was about to visit a neighbor island. Back in the day, Longs Drugs, Gem and Times Supermarket were nowhere to be found on the windward side of the island. Now, I, too, treat that westward drive like a big Broadway production and try to limit those “downtown” excursions as much as possible. Actually, I make that round-trip to work five days a week, so I try to limit a sixth-day trek over the mountain as much as possible.
On this Saturday, a visit to Kokua Market in Mö‘ili‘ili was a must. I’d heard that Chef Bob McGee was selling his Pono Pork products at retail through Kokua Market. I also knew that Kokua Market carries locally raised beef in its freezer section and that a lot of the store’s produce is locally grown.
What is Kokua Market? It’s a natural foods co-op. Patrons have the option of purchasing a share in the market ($160 one-time fee) to become a part-owner. Ownership benefits include discount prices and a say (through a vote) in how Kokua Market is operated. Of course, you can shop there, regardless of whether or not you are a part-owner.
The market is slightly bigger than a hole-in-the-wall and located a block east of the University Avenue and South King Street intersection. Parking is located behind the market — you get to it though the two-way street (actually the size of a lane), which, in reality, fits one and a half small vehicles, or maybe a small car and a moped. So, if there’s a car waiting at the light, you have to find street parking nearby, like I did.
When I finally got into the market . . . auwë! No Pono Pork to be found anywhere! However, I did purchase a nice slab of Kunoa Cattle Company flank steak for a delicious ropa vieja (Cuban shredded beef dish) that shredded nicely after an hour in the pressure cooker. I also bought some lean, grass-fed Kulana Foods ground beef that crumbled nicely for a Moroccan-inspired Bolognese sauce. I also found yellow and watermelon beets that were perfect for a goat cheese crostata.
Fujioka’s Wine Times
Next stop: Fujioka’s.
Fujioka’s started in a small corner of Fuijoka Super Market in Hale‘iwa. Lyle Fujioka took over the space and then branched off as Fujioka’s Wine Merchant, at first in the basement of the old Beau Soleil restaurant, midway up Wai‘alae Avenue, and, later, in its current location at the Market City Shopping Center, bordering Kaimukï and Kapahulu.
Back in the day, Lyle was “The Man” in the 50th’s wine world. Although Chuck Furuya had become Hawai‘i’s first master sommelier, Lyle was a wine retailer, so the wine distributors paid close attention to what Lyle said since he could increase their wine sales. Chuck could educate the distributors about a certain wine being excellent with a great price point, but the distributors knew they could only stock a certain wine if it sold, which Lyle was in the position to make happen.
Through Fujioka’s Wine Merchant, Lyle singlehandedly influenced the wines Hawai‘i drank by organizing annual wine tasting fundraisers for the Lupus Foundation of Hawaii, the Hawai‘i branch of the American Diabetes Association and The Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific. After Lyle stepped away from the wine business in 2009, we rarely make the trek all the way to Market City. But since it’s only a big stone’s throw away from Kokua Market, we decided to stop in and check the racks.
Even though my wine storage unit is bursting at the seams, I decided to peruse the liqueurs and aperitif selections and restock my Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Campari and Nocino (walnut liqueur). Lo and behold, I discovered a new gin. After the clerk played a video of the Empress 1908 gin, which is a brilliant cobalt blue on ice that immediately turns to lavender as tonic water is poured into the glass, I just had to get a bottle of this gin.
Next, we headed to Kaimukï. Located a few doors into 8th Avenue near Wai‘alae Avenue is bread maker extraordinaire Chris Sy. From Wednesday through Sunday, Chris creates several different varieties of bread daily. Both country and city loaves are available when the shop opens at 10 a.m. Chris’ focaccia and ciabatta loaves are available a few hours later and his buttery brioche comes out at 1 p.m.
Sy offers annual bread “subscriptions” that allow you to pick up a weekly loaf for 50 weeks. The caveat is that after you select the pick-up day for your weekly loaf, you cannot change the day for a year. I purchased a subscription when it was first offered, but because I also maintain a sourdough starter culture that needs to be refreshed every two to three weeks, I often found myself with more bread than I could consume and ended up gifting my weekly loaf to friends who worked right up the street from Breadshop (incidentally, you can gift a weekly subscription loaf to anyone).
Since Breadshop was just another mile or so up the street from Market City, it made sense to drop in for the best ciabatta on the island.
Heading back . . . I used to make regular trips to J-Shop on Young Street, behind One Kalakaua Senior Living, after purchasing sake at The Sake Shop on South King Street. After all, what pairs nicely with sake? Japanese cuisine, of course! Unfortunately, The Sake Shop lost its lease, but they will be reopening in Kaka‘ako sometime this summer.
Since we were already in town, we stopped in at J-Shop to pick up some items shipped directly from the motherland. I purchase most of my Japanese goods from Marukai, except for Miyazaki grade A5 wagyu beef, which I can get in any cut I want — from ribeye to loin to sirloin to tenderloin — but only at J-Shop. Since the wagyu is in whole slabs, the staff is willing to cut just as much, or just as little, as their customers request. Sometimes I buy steaks; other times I buy the presliced sukiyaki-style trays layered on steaming hot rice, which melts the rich, marbled fat that I adorn with a sprinkle of truffle salt.
As you can see, my special weekend foraging takes me to shops that I don’t patronize on a regular basis. Not so the case with Marukai, which I make a run to just about every other week on my way home from work. That’s where I get reduced-price bento, my weekly lunchtime apples, sake (especially while The Sake Shop awaits its liquor license approval), along with fresh shiso leaves, myöga (Japanese ginger) and fresh wasabi for sashimi I may have purchased at J-Shop. Marukai is also the only market that regularly sells fresh ogo (seaweed) for ho‘io (fern shoots) salad and miso tako poke. And, it never hurts to have a spare bag of those fried green peas and horse beans on hand.
This excursion should tie me over for another month. When I start running on low, I’ll brace myself for another trek over the Ko‘olau mountains and charge into the concrete jungle once again.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”