Aloha [ə lo.hə]: hello! E komo mai (welcome to) Aloha Kitchen.
This Hawaiian word aloha means so much. It means love and affection, kindness and compassion, mercy and sympathy, pity and grace, and is also used as a greeting or farewell. It’s a feeling, a state of mind, an attitude, and a way of life. It’s even Hawai‘i’s official nickname—the Aloha State! The aloha spirit, as defined by a state statute, “is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others.” Aloha must be extended with no obligation in return, and to live aloha, you must “hear what is not said, see what cannot be seen, and know the unknowable.” This guiding principle of friendliness and acceptance of ideas and cultures extends to all aspects of life in the islands, from friendships to family and even to the kitchen. This way of life—placing the aloha spirit at the core of relationships and actions—is what truly makes Hawai‘i a special place. This spirit is the core of these recipes and this book.
When I set out to write this book, I wanted to capture the spirit of aloha through practice. So I opened up our kitchen and home to friends (new and old), family, and really anyone who wanted to come. We hosted nofrills, paper-napkin dinners almost weekly. Our friends and family tried most of the foods in this book during various stages of development. Sometimes the recipes didn’t exactly work out; other times they were much better. But no matter the case, we got together and made a great night out of it. There is a very long island between my kitchen and the dining room, and I am thankful to each and every friend who sat on the kitchen stools, chatting, while I toiled away at the recipes. Many parties, throughout the yearlong process of writing this book, were graced with aloha kitchen treats. At the end of the process, Aloha Kitchen felt like the only title worthy of this book and our shared experiences represent the spirit of Hawai‘i and why this tiny archipelago has captivated the world.
When you close your eyes and think about Hawai‘i, what comes to mind? Do you see the brilliant sapphire and turquoise ocean glistening in the sun? Maybe you think about the feeling of the warm, soft sand between your toes? Do you hear gently rustling palms? Or is your perfect moment when you feel the cool, breezy trade winds collide with the warm, light blanket of humidity that hugs the Hawaiian Islands chain? Even if you’ve never been to Hawai‘i, you have an idea of how these iconic islands— Hawai‘i (the Big Island), Maui, Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i, Kahoʻolawe O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, and Ni‘ihau—look, smell, and feel.
For me, it’s the way the islands taste. The first thing that comes to mind is my mother’s mochiko chicken, triangle musubi (onigiri), and potato mac salad. A close second might be a Spam musubi, but let’s talk about that later. My Hawai‘i is the smoky and sweet smell of a pig roasting in an imu, a traditional outdoor underground oven. That distinctive aroma is built upon layers of kiawe wood, sopping wet banana stumps, hot lava rocks, and, of course, all the delicious meats cooking oh-so-slowly. I haven’t lived on the islands in recent years, but I can still recall who makes the best pork and peas or chow fun, and I know where I was when I tried my first malasada. That’s my Hawai‘i, the Hawai‘i I remember best.
I enjoyed many of these beloved foods as a sun-kissed, salty-skinned, and barefoot child growing up in Hawai‘i. I can trace my earliest years through the many constellations of freckles that paint their way across my face. I was an eighties baby who grew up on the island of Maui, part of one of the most isolated island chains on Earth. I spent my days running around the Kamaole Beach Park in my fluorescent, ruffled two-piece, tiptoeing my way into the bluer-than-blue ocean, breaking past that foamy white shore break with my boogie board. I dedicated hours hunting for crabs in the sugary white sand, and countless more collecting white beach naupaka (half-flower) berries as ammunition for my beach-berry wars. Pretty sure the latter was my equivalent of snowball fights; those little berries stung just as much as their colder-climate cousins.
When I was seven years old, I chased a soccer ball up and down a field and rollerbladed around my parents’ garage, dreaming of becoming the next Kristi Yamaguchi. I also had weekly hula lessons where I learned oli (Hawaiian chants) and the dances that helped tell their stories from my kumu hula (teacher). I was ten years old when I learned to play the ‘ukulele behind my back, which felt like the absolute coolest thing in the world at the time and still kinda does. When I was thirteen years old, I lost track of how many lei-making-induced finger pricks I’d collected, because those lei for my hula hālau (group’s) weekly performances didn’t make themselves.
All these Hawaiian traditions (hula, ‘ukulele, lei making) probably have you saying, “Oh, wow! You’re Hawaiian!” Well, no—it’s a bit more complicated than that. My mother is sansei, or third-generation Japanese American. She was born and raised in Hilo, Hawai‘i. And my father is northwestern European, born and raised in Los Angeles, California. That makes me hapa haole, which loosely translates to half white and has come to mean a person of mixed ethnic heritage. While I’m from Hawai‘i, I don’t have any Hawaiian ancestors and am therefore not considered Hawaiian. I understand that’s a bit confusing, since my dad, for instance, is a Californian because he was born and raised in California. However, in Hawai‘i, people identify ethnically rather than geographically. Only people who are ethnically Hawaiian are considered Hawaiian. We’ll get into the ethnic breakdown of Hawai‘i and the origins of various groups later, but for now, I hope that you’re still with me.
Because of this geographic identity, the idea that I’m writing a cookbook encompassing the history and cultures of my favorite place in the world is honestly something that terrifies me. It’s hard enough to represent yourself, never mind your entire state, and for this reason, I did not embark on this journey lightly. I’m a home cook. I grew up in Kula on the island of Maui with parents who both love to cook. French, Pacific Rim fusion, and local Hawai‘i flavors were abundant. With their influence, I learned to love a diverse range of cuisines and, at a young age, spent time helping them prepare dishes. I started with salads (which my father playfully scored for presentation, creativity, and flavor) but quickly graduated to building pommes Anna and roasting chicken. I remember how my mom kept all of our family recipes in a giant folder, and I loved pulling all the pages out and doodling on them, usually in pen.
I was a typical teenager who was desperate to go to college across the all-expansive Pacific Ocean, so my love and appreciation for all things Hawai‘i didn’t really come until after I had moved away and no longer had access to my mother’s amazing mochiko chicken, teriyaki beef sticks, and beef stew. I remember moving out of the dorms for my sophomore year at the University of San Diego and being shocked that many of my friends didn’t cook. Most of my friends in college were also from Hawai‘i— funnily enough, all of us who couldn’t wait to leave home behind ended up hanging out with one another on the mainland. I made a quick call home for help and my mom sent me recipes from her special folder so I could cook up my favorite dishes.
After school, I returned to my island home for a couple of years before meeting and falling in love with my boyfriend, Moses, a Kailua boy living in San Francisco. It was a Hawai‘i boy who took me away from the islands again. When I moved to the Bay Area with Moses, I worked at Williams Sonoma, coordinating all the photography for the company’s website. I spent my nights and weekends baking my favorite treats, packaging them up, and gifting them to my coworkers. I loved surprising them and genuinely reveled in bringing delight to others through food. In the spring of 2014, the director of sourcing and product development pulled me into his office and demanded that I tell him what I wanted to do with my “gift.” The thing was, I had already begun to consider diving deeper into food on my own terms. A year before, Moses had gifted me a gorgeous set of classic cookbooks and the domain name of FixFeastFlair.com. The site had sat idle until that conversation, and that night I went home and officially started my food blog, Fix Feast Flair, where I’m able to share a part of myself and my love for the culinary world with others.