Haili's Backyard Luau at Ward

Don’t you just love creativity? Thinking outside of the box? Exploring all possibilities and coming up with solutions has always motivated me. I thought it was important to write about Haili’s Hawaiian Foods after hearing about their interim solution to continue their business after their lease at Ward Farmer’s Market expired. Definitely creative!

Haili’s Hawaiian Foods was established in 1950 and was located at the Farmer’s Market on Auahi Street for the longest time. They specialized in all sorts of Hawaiian dishes-plate lunch, poke, pipikaula, dried fish and much more. I believe it was in the beginning of this year that they vacated their place. It was a very sad occurrence but it seemed like so many of the old mom and pop stores all around Hawaii were going through the same situation. I think it makes us local folks appreciate the old establishments much more and try to be loyal to them. Well, this story has a very happy ending. It turns out that the Haili family had an idea. They were able to come up with a lunchwagon concept right across from where they used to have their store. The new concept is called Haili’s Backyard Luau. There’s a very attractive lunchwagon, an area where the staff can grill their pulehu steak and a group of picnic tables for the customers to sit and eat. And this is all located right across from the Ward Stadium 16 Theaters!

Haili’s has added a variety of new items to their menu such as wraps, pulehu steak, Hawaiian-style hot dog, rice bowls, salads and a signature dessert. I guess their target audience is not only the local folks who love traditional Hawaiian food but also the younger generation, those who are more health conscious and our visitors.

As for me, gotta have my traditional Hawaiian food fix once in a while so I decided to go with the combination Hawaiian plate…ono and of good value at $10. You have a choice of eating at one of the tables and watch people as they walk by this busy area (actually they’re probably watching you) or request your meal to go. Come on down to Haili’s Backyard Luau!

Honolulu Festival

Haili's Backyard Luau

He'eia Fishpond, a part of ancient Hawaii

He'eia Fishpond is one of the few fishponds that remain as an active fishpond in O'ahu. It has been said that this ancient Hawaiian fishpond in the shoreline of Kane'ohe Bay was built for their ali'i over 600 years ago. In Hawaiian history, fishponds were the major source of protein and played an important role in the spiritual and cultural lives of the Hawaiian people. Those that helped create these fishponds benefited from the crops of fish and seaweed that were produced. The ancient Hawaiians only took what they needed and were able to sustain from the land.

The ancient fishponds of Hawai'i were one of the most significant and successful aqua-cultural achievements in history. Fishponds were originally created by the residents of their ahupua'a as stocking ponds to raise fish and provide easy access to fish during the winter months when deep sea fishing was dangerous or when it was “kapu” (forbidden) to fish, for example, when they were spawning. So although the law forbade the Hawaiians to fish in the sea at such times they were able to fish in the fishponds because fishponds were considered an extended part of the land according to Hawaiian history.

He'eia Fishpond is a seashore pond that was made by building a wall of stone and coral. This wall ranges in width from 10-14 feet and stretches 1.3 miles in length. What makes it truly unique is that the wall completely encircles the entire 88-acre pond. Its depth is 2-5 feet, based on the tide. The water is brackish, a combination of the water from He'eia Stream (fresh water) and Kaneohe Bay (salt water). The fish that are raised there include moi, 'awa and crabs. Limu (seaweed) also grows plentifully.

Between 1987 and 1999, Mary Brooks, with a strong background in western aqua-cultural techniques, was able to blend both Western and Hawaiian techniques enabling the fish pond to yield 70,000 pounds of moi ( a special fish raised for the Hawaiian Royalty) annually and 1,000 pounds of ogo (seaweed) weekly.

So how does this fishpond work? First of all, there is the kuapa (wall). The purpose of the kuapa was to divide the sea or stream from the water inside the fishpond. Then there is the makaha which is the grate or grill placed in the opening of the rock wall. This was constructed in ancient times with sticks and beams but may now be constructed by wire mesh. This makaha allows both water and pua (baby fish) to enter the fishpond while keeping the undesirable fish out. There are six makaha at He'eia Fishpond that control the water and bring oxygen to the fish.

With the makaha in place, a solid gate is used to control the water level in the fishpond without releasing any fish. The pond can be drained and cleaned during low tide. The opening of this gate also traps the fish for harvesting. When you think about the logic behind the Hawaiian fishpond, it’s quite simple and yet so profound. The Native Hawaiians were pioneers of the conservation and sustenance of our ecosystem.

He'eia Fishpond is owned by Kamehameha Schools and is maintained by a private non-profit organization known as Paepae o He'eia. Their mission is to implement values and concepts from the model of a traditional fishpond to provide physical, intellectual and spiritual sustenance for the community. The organization uses the strengths of He'eia Fishpond to combine ancestral knowledge with western ways.

This organization of young Hawaiians has much to do to maintain the fishpond. They are busy catching pua (baby fish) outside of the fishpond to increase fish productivity. They must remove predator fish such as barracuda and papio. They are constantly repairing the walls. Removal of mangrove from the wall and pond is also important. It grows into the roots and loosens the rock and coral. Its root system is also bad for the fishpond environment because the land that is created by the growth of the mangrove prevents the wind from circulating, preventing the oxygen from being created. And we all know that the fish need oxygen to live. Optimizing the growth of algae is also part of the organization’s program, making sure that the algae get enough sunlight by lowering the level of the water. And then there is the harvesting. You can purchase moi and limu during the seasons that they are abundant.

There is much to learn at the He'eia Fishpond in Kaneohe. Please visit to understand its relevance to Hawaiian living, conservation and Hawai'i’s delicate ecosystem. Paepae O He'eia is always looking for volunteers and support throughout the year. Aloha.

Honolulu Festival

Paepae O He'eia


Mekong II Thai Restaurant

Thai Cuisine is very popular in Hawaii. One of our favorite restaurants is Mekong II on King Street right across from Washington Intermediate School and Zippy’s. What I like about this place is that the food is delicious, the prices are reasonable, the service is good and there is a very nice ambience. Nice Thai décor. Interesting to note that this restaurant is owned by Keo Sananikone and his family. Keo is perhaps one of the pioneers of Thai cuisine in Hawaii. Funny to know that he’s from Laos, not Thailand. The fresh spices, herbs and vegetables used in the dishes at Mekong II must come from Keo’s farms in the North Shore of Oahu.

Besides the standard Thai dishes that many of us love so much, Mekong II is known for their Evil Jungle Prince which comes with a choice of meat or seafood, basil, coconut milk and red chili. It is served over a bed of chopped cabbage. It’s a terrific blend of taste and texture, spicy, sweet, hot (temperature wise) and crunchy from the cabbage. It tastes super over sticky rice!

Spring rolls. Wrap the hot spring roll in fresh lettuce with sprig of mint and slices of cucumbers. Dip in vinaigrette sauce. To die for!

Crispy noodles (mee krob).
Another wonderful appetizer.

Spicy lemongrass soup (Tom Yum) with kaffir lime leaves, green onion, cilantro, lemongrass, mushrooms and seafood.

Crispy Calamari

There’s so much to choose from, plenty of vegetarian dishes too. Enjoy!

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Keiki O Ka `Āina Family Learning Centers, deep in Kalihi Valley

I had the opportunity to visit an organization located deep in Kalihi Valley called Keiki O Ka `Āina Family Learning Centers. KOKA is a non profit organization that was established in 1996 for the benefit of parents and preschool children aged 0-5 of Native Hawaiian communities. KOKA develops and educates families through culturally appropriate “new” Native Hawaiian programs emphasizing literacy and mental wellness.

The name of the organization means “Children of the Land” in the Hawaiian language and truly reflects the Hawaiian value that children are our future. I have this book called “A Little Book of Aloha” by Renata Provenzano. It is full of Hawaiian proverbs and inspirational wisdom. It says, “Traditionally, a bowl of poi sits in the center of the kitchen table in Hawaiian homes. Children are taught to only take from the center of the bowl of poi and never scrape the sides of the bowl. Perhaps this teaches children the principle to always take the best of what is offered to them in life.” And that is exactly what KOKA exists for, to give keiki the best in early childhood development so that they will be prepared with the proper attitude and skills for school and a successful future.

I can truly relate to the Hawaiian value of giving priority to our children. Other cultures display similar values. There is the book written by Dennis M. Ogawa called “Kodomo No Tame Ni-For the Sake of the Children: The Japanese American Experience in Hawaii.” This book clearly explains the importance of children from a Japanese perspective.

KOKA believes in building strong communities by building strong families, confident families that can take care of themselves. And they do this through emphasis on educating and supporting parents so that they may be their child’s first and best teacher. This enables families to flourish and become leaders in their communities. The foundation of KOKA’s program is the Hawaiian language, traditions and culture. The organization services over 2,000 children and parents at 40 different sites in Oahu and Maui.

Momi Akana (center, with Leilani and Earl) is the founder and Executive Director of KOKA. She is a beautiful person inside and out. She started her program with very little. As a single mother on welfare, Momi used her food stamps to buy snacks for the children and used her own home to develop her programs. With the support of many people and federal grants, KOKA was able to expand their programs and purchase land for a new center. A wonderful blessing was having the popular television program "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" select KOKA as their Hawaii project in 2007 during their 50 state tour. It is wonderful how hundreds of local companies and thousands of volunteers joined together in building a large plantation style home and an office building in seven days. What an amazing feat!

One of the special features of KOKA is their Outdoor Classroom. At the center of this outdoor classroom is a natural spring that supplies the taro patch (loi) with water. More than 1000 Native Hawaiian plants have been planted in this area including banana, kukui, ilima, pikake, gardenia, aloe and sweet potatoes. A medicinal plant that caught my eye was a hearty ginger plant (awapuhi) that felt like a rubbery sponge full of liquid. You squish it and the slimy juice just oozes out. It has a clean refreshing smell. I rubbed it all over my hands thinking that it will get sticky but to my surprise the liquid disappeared leaving my hands very soft. I have been told that this plant is used to make shampoo and conditioner. You can even drink it. The plant is also used to cure stomach aches and toothaches. Wow!

This outdoor classroom will teach keiki and families about the method, value and cultural significance of Native Hawaiian plants. They will learn how to take care of and use these medicinal plants as well as make leis from the Hawaiian flowers. The goal is to carry on these traditions at each family’s homes and yards thus perpetuating the Hawaiian culture.

So much is happening at Keiki O Ka `Āina. The dedicated staff of gifted educators and workers use this place as a home base to work every day to serve the needs of the keiki of Hawaii. It’s also a wonderful place for the Native Hawaiian community and those like us who appreciate Hawaiian culture. Aloha!

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Keiki O Ka `Āina


"Julie and Julia" and French Cuisine in Hawaii

“Food” seems to be a very important topic in a lot of people’s daily thoughts and conversations. I thoroughly enjoy eating, but I also enjoy cooking. The Food Network is one of my favorite TV channels. But besides that, I love cookbooks, especially the Japanese ones with all the colorful pictures. My husband goes to Japan about once a month on business and he always brings back the cooking magazines called Orange Page, NHK Kyo no Ryori (Today’s Dishes) and Harumi. Trying to decipher these Japanese recipes has helped me become a better reader of Japanese kanji! That is definitely killing two birds with one stone. I learn cooking and the language simultaneously. Well, got off on a tangent.

What I really wanted to blog about was that because of my interest in food I went to see the movie "Julie and Julia." It’s about Julia Child and her life in Paris, how she began her career which led her to become one of the first and most famous celebrity chefs in the world. You know when you think about it, The Food Channel owes her a lot and so do all those chefs like Emeril, Mario, Bobby and Paula. She was truly a pioneer and so unique in delivery and appearance (tall). According to the movie there were no French cookbooks written in English until Julia Child published hers in 1961. That is amazing. I suggest that all you foodies go watch this movie. It’s very entertaining. You will also learn to appreciate French cooking. Personally, when dining out, I am not one to choose French. But this movie has made me want to explore it more. I recall having many opportunities to eat at Halekulani’s La Mer when I was employed there as a sales manager. My important clients enjoyed Chef Padovani and Chef Mavro’s delicious meals. I wish I had appreciated it more then. But it’s never too late. This got me thinking, so what exactly is French cuisine and what sort of restaurants in Honolulu are considered French? It is very difficult to define French cuisine in a nutshell except to say that it is the style of cooking derived from the nation of France. But this style has changed through the years based on the country’s social and political climate. But if I may attempt to explain, French cuisine may be considered the origin of much of the dining that we have become accustomed to in America- appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts. Even the concept of restaurants, dining service and organization of kitchens are originally French. French master chefs created their cuisine to please the palate of the kings and queens. This haute (high) cuisine was then influenced by regional dishes and new techniques, thus creating nouvelle (new style) cuisine. There is classic and then there is bourgeoise (for the common folks, family style). French cuisine uses fresh products that are in season, wine, cheese, butter, cream, herbs and spices. It is famous for sauces. I know that my explanation sounds trite but this will have to do for now. The more I research the definition of French cuisine, the more I respect it. And once again, it all boils down to culture. Culture is what creates traditions, even cooking traditions. I am constantly talking about the cultures of Japan and other Pacific Rim countries and its relationship to the development of the Honolulu Festival. Somehow I feel that talking about French cuisine is somehow related to this too. French cuisine was created by its people and their culture.

So I found a list on the website that lists the “French” restaurants in Honolulu. And to my surprise I have eaten at more than half of the restaurants that were on the list. The list includes La Mer, Chef Mavro, Elua Restaurant, Michel’s at the Colony Surf, Nico’s at Pier 38, Chai’s Island Bistro, Du Vin, Duc’s Bistro, Le Guignol, Café Miro, Le Bistro, Petite Garlic and Sammy’s. Which makes me think that although I said that I prefer not eating French food, that I was enjoying it all along. And it doesn’t have to be expensive or considered “fine dining” all the time. So much to learn. My most recent experience of enjoying a fine French influenced meal was at Le Bistro for my birthday. My brother’s treat. C’est Magnifique! I thoroughly enjoyed my meal that included escargot and barbequed lamb chops. I will leave you with a few pictures that I took of some of the food prepared there for our dinner.

Watching "Julie and Julia" has opened my mind to something that I never thought about before. French Cuisine. The good news is that I can explore this in Hawaii-French Cuisine Hawaiian Style. I hope that I have encouraged others to do the same.
Bon Appetit!
P.S. Good news, Chef Mavro has created a special three course dinner menu as a tribute to "Julie and Julia." This special movie menu will only be served on Fridays and Saturdays in August. The entrée is bouef a la bourguignonne and it is reasonably priced at $59. You can read more about it at www.chefmavro.wordpress.com

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Chef Mavro
La Mer
Elua Restaurant and Wine Bar
Michel's at the Colony Surf
Nico's at Pier 38
Chai's Island Bistro
Brasserie Du Vin
Duc's Bistro
Le Guignol


Soft Gau Gee Mein (with cake noodles) at Golden City Restaurant

Golden City is a small restaurant in Kalihi on North School Street near Houghtailing that makes a delicious soft gau gee mein. My daughter and I get a craving for this particular dish every so often. We order it with cake noodles. The extra dollar is well worth it. The cake noodles are pan fried so that it is crispy on the outside and soft in the inside. Yummy! It is served with a large portion of soft gau gee (ground meat wrapped in large won ton skin), some char siu and plenty of healthy vegetables including broccoli, choi sum (leafy green vegetable with hearty stem), bamboo shoots, mushrooms, carrots and onions. The topping is cooked to perfection to make a gravy dish and poured over the cake noodles. A large plate of this costs $7.60. This is a great lunch or even dinner. Golden City serves a variety of Chinese dishes but this is one of my favorites. The place is open for lunch and dinner, you can do takeout too. The parking lot gets packed during lunch so try to avoid the noon rush. Please try this dish. You won’t regret it.


Sunset at Kaka'ako Waterfront Park

One of our favorite pastimes on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Honolulu is to watch the sunset at Kaka'ako Waterfront Park. There is something very relaxing and enjoyable about this place. We bring a cooler with our favorite drinks, some pupu (usually edamame) and our goza. There’s usually plenty of parking there even when the waves are perfect and all the surfers are out in the water. We take our dog Mulan with us. It’s a good place to walk your dog. Find a nice place to sit on top of the knoll and watch everything that is happening around you. Lots of people walking for their exercise, some with children and many with dogs. Lots of families having their barbecue get-togethers. Folks with their bento. Surfers catching their waves. Fishermen. Skateboarders. Wedding couples and families having their pictures taken. The planes flying over. The parasailers. Sunset dinner cruise boats. Catamarans. Sailboats. Matson barges. Tugboats.

Yes, Kaka'ako Waterfront Park is a great place to spend a few hours with friends and family. And the sunset…so perfect, so beautiful. You can’t beat it. Lucky we live Hawaii!

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