Holiday in Hawai‘i: Family & Food Traditions

Hawai‘i is a place populated by people from all over the world, and sharing cultural foods plays an important part in our celebrations. For me, it’s ‘ahi sashimi that evokes warm memories of my Japanese mother’s holiday table. For my husband, Chris, it’s his mother Florence’s biscochito—a traditional recipe that traveled over the Atlantic to Mexico with Spanish conquistadors, migrated north to New Mexico, then across the Pacific Ocean to Maui. When I asked friends, recently, about their favorite throwback indulgences, this is what they said:

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Lani Eckart Dodd, owner, Ola Mau Farms

A farmer and entrepreneur, Lani spent holidays and special occasions on her family’s estate in Hau‘ula, on O‘ahu’s North Shore. Lū‘au were a special time for everyone to laulima, work together. Lani says, “We would hukilau [fish with a seine] to make poke and grill over charcoal, pick limu  [seaweed], and ‘opihi [limpets]. My dad taught me how to pound squid for lū‘au [a long-simmered dish of octopus, coconut milk and lū‘au (taro) leaf]. We’d complain about the itchy hands from the leaves . . . but if you wanted to eat, you helped out. I have the laulau steamer pot that my dad made, engraved with his name, Charles Gerlach, and the year he made it, 1944.” Lani adds, “Teaching my family, my sons, to mālama ‘āina [care for the land] is important to me. Preparing the food, eating the food is important, but what’s more important is connecting to and caring for our natural resources so we can pass [them] on to our children and our children’s children.”

Leoda's dessert
Here’s another reason to celebrate: Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop just turned five years old — five years the little Olowalu eatery has been dishing up great comfort food and, of course, Aunt Leoda’s famous pies. Who’d guess that with four successful restaurants, co-owner Michael Moore had less than stellar food beginnings? Read on as Mauians share their holiday food memories.

Michael Moore, partner, Nā Hoaloha ‘Ekolu

“I’m hapa haole [Japanese mother, Caucasian father] and I grew up in Oregon. This is bad, but what I remember is my Nebraska grandmother making a ‘glorified rice dessert’ with Uncle Ben’s rice, cherry Jell-O and whipped cream . . . it was horrifying.” As we laugh, I quip that maybe that dish was the reason for owning four successful Maui restaurants: Star Noodle, Aloha Mixed Plate, Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, and Old Lahaina Lū‘au. Michael says, “For me, my memories are not about the holiday foods, but about the family, the extended ‘ohana [family] . . . about being together and sharing the moment. My favorite way to spend the holiday is on a trip to some exotic place, traveling with close friends . . . or simply playing a board game with them. The tradition is precious time together. And living in Hawai‘i, away from my immediate family, this fills the family niche. It’s nontraditional, but I’m a nontraditional guy.”

Be not a guilty eater. Be the eater you were meant to be this season.

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