Sunday dinners in Hawai’i means family gathered around grandma’s table. Her long oval table seats eight, enough overflow for four more with chairs from the patio table. The number of people at each dinner varies, but you can always count on my presence.
Grandma goes to the temple in the mornings and comes back early afternoon to start prepping dinner. The meals come from a repertoire of about thirty dishes she cooks on a regular basis. It’s an impressive number, and what’s even more impressive is that even in her 80s, she still does everything herself. Shopping, cooking and cleaning. Offer to help and she’ll immediately turn you down.
Grandma is famous among relatives for her Shark Fin Soup, which she makes twice a year: Christmas Eve and Chinese New Years. Here she separates big cuts of pork out of the broth. All the flavors of the pork is now in the soup and there is no point to keeping the meat. This is very good news for Buddy the dog who loves nothing more than these “pork scraps!”
…and the complete soup ladled into individual bowl. A splash of red vinegar, white pepper and cilantro, and this is how we celebrate the holidays. It’s considered a “lucky” soup meant to bring health and prosperity.
The soup is followed by a parade of dishes. This may include a hot plate of Fishcake Stuffed Peppers. She makes the fishcake paste from scratch, stuffs it into halved green peppers and and pan-fries till well browned on each side. Most of the peppers are sweet, but every once in awhile you’ll bite into a crazy hot pepper that stings you for all of dinner. The fishcake paste is seasoned with nuoc nam, salt, and plenty of pepper.
Frying time. Grandpa built an outdoor stove/grill in the backyard so anything that needs to be grilled or deep-fried can be done outdoors. The ventilation in her kitchen isn’t the best, so this is really a lifesaver.
Sometimes we have noodle soups as the main course – my favourite of these dishes is chou boun, which translates to Stinky Noodles. Shrimp paste is blended into the broth making for a very pungent meal. Served with sliced pork and shrimp.
For dessert, we’ve come to count on mochi balls in a sweet ginger soup. Young ginger, skinned and sliced, boiled in water, with palm sugar to sweeten. Grandma brings it to the table in one large pot and we ladle it out. Sometimes she prepares black sesame dumplings in ginger soup. Or pairs the plain mochi balls in an azuki bean soup.
At the end of the night, everyone is sent home with a little something for breakfast the next day. More often than not, it is this noodle dish that translates to Mouse Tail Soup. A clear pork-based broth, with chubby pork meatballs. The dish is so named for the short and round noodles which are tapered at the end and resemble mouse tails. What a very fine way to start Monday morning.