Try this the next time you’re having dim sum at Four Seas on Grant Avenue in San Francisco’s Chinatown or Jade Villa in Oakland. When the server wheels the cart by, ask for one order each of manapua, pepeiao and pork hash, the “Dim Sum Trinity.” While you’re at it, place an order for a side of minute chicken cake noodle.
Odds are, you’ll get a blank look from the server, even as plates of these savory treats are piled high on the cart, in plain sight. When it first happened to the Two Japanee Bruddahs, we thought that maybe the server didn’t speak English, so of course, we repeated, “ma-na-pu-a, pe-pe-iao, pork hash,” but this time, slower and louder.
As we eventually discovered, it wasn’t the befuddled server who didn’t speak English – it was us. Apparently, people on the Mainland, in a dastardly attempt to confuse kama’aina (residents of Hawai’i), have disguised the names of some of our favorite treats.
To set the record straight then, the Two Japanee Bruddahs insist that all Chinese restaurant employees reading this use the proper names: manapua for char siu bao, pepeiao for har gao, and pork hash for siu mai. (Or, for you Punahou School graduates, barbecue pork buns, shrimp dumplings and pork dumplings, respectively. Sorry, brah, inside joke.)
And there’s another term that kama’aina use frequently: “Mainland.” Immediately after moving to the Bay Area in November, Japanee Bruddah Keith received smirks and puzzled looks when he referred to California as the “Mainland.” “It’s like you’re from Taiwan, talking about China,” chuckled one person.
Sure enough, the word’s definition is “a continent or the main part of a continent as distinguished from an offshore island or sometimes from a cape or peninsula.” At a distance of 2,500 miles, Hawai’i cannot be considered “offshore” by any stretch of the imagination. In any case, you can forgive the next Hawai’i expatriate who says “Mainland” – we all grow up with it in our vocabulary.
It is now obvious that kama’aina must constantly be vigilant with language here, “on the Mainland,” even in movie theaters, where patrons apparently do not clamor for fruit punch. Instead they settle for an inferior imitation known as “Hawaiian Punch.”
To the untrained palate, a taste test between the two drinks might not reveal the true difference. But anyone from Hawai’i, where the three primary soft drink choices are cola, lemon-lime and fruit punch, can readily tell the difference. We know that fruit punch is lighter and less sweet – and therefore more refreshing.
Kama’aina also understand enough about Mainland peculiarities to not be shocked by the absence of “arare” or “kakimochi” (rice crackers) at movie theater snack stands. For some reason, no one here mixes kakimochi with popcorn. That’s too bad, because it’s almost as essential to popcorn as salt and butter. Some entrepreneuring kama’aina made up a name for the combination, “Hurricane Popcorn,” probably thinking it’s what happens when popcorn and kakimochi encounter a hurricane. Ooh, we almost forgot the furikake as a key ingredient. If you’re reading the Nichi Bei Times, you should be familiar with furikake, so we won’t get into that.
Revisiting fruit punch for just a bit, it’s probably one of the most popular drinks at McDonald’s in Hawaii. Also on the board at McD’s is saimin, a version of ramen with a Hawai’i twist. How come no can find saimin in San Francisco?
Unlike ramen, saimin has curly noodles, a konbu (kelp) and bonito fish stock, and for true kama’aina, it is always topped with generous servings of green onions, char siu, and kamaboko – a pink-and-white fish cake. Spam is also a favorite topping. Over the years, the Two Japanee Bruddahs have consumed countless steaming bowls of saimin at Zippy’s, Boulevard Saimin and the old Shiro’s Saimin Haven – where one can find over sixty variations on saimin. (At least dey nevah make one li hing mui version. Tank God. Everyting else get li hing mui.)
We forgot to mention that kama’aina also love to use “shoyu” in saimin. Shoyu is soy sauce, and the fact that many Mainland Nikkei don’t say “shoyu” puzzles us buddhaheads (Hawai’i Nikkei). In Hawai’i, only Punahou grads wen say “soy sauce.”
If we haven’t made you dizzy yet with the abundance of Hawaiian-style food names and the liberal use of Pidgin English, e-mail us with your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. We might also share with you why we like to tease Punahou School alumni. It couldn’t be jealously: we could wear slippahs to school (or go barefoot); they couldn’t.
Kyle Tatsumoto wen go Castle. Keith Kamisugi wen go Mililani. So wot? Two Japanee Bruddahs is a monthly column in the Nichi Bei Times.