Helena's Hawaiian Food
Hawaiian food is pretty simple and straight forward. No fancy ingredients, and no special spices. When I think of Hawaiian food, I think of only 2 places...today, I made a trip to the one that stands out in my mind the most, Helena's Hawaiian Food.
Why do I remember this place? Well, it was actually the first place that I had ever eaten Hawaiian food at about 27 or so years ago, and although the shop has moved once since the first time I was here, the food is still the same. Helen Chock, owner of Helena's, has been in business for almost 60 years and is the owner/chef of first Hawaii restaurant to be honored with the James Beard Foundation's Regional Classics Restaurant Award in 2000. Mrs. Chock, who's in her late 80s, still works at the restaurant daily...how's that for dedication?
Today, the restaurant is quiet. There are a few groups of people eating here at 1:30 pm and a few tourists have just happened to walk in, mentioning that they had read about the place in the Zagat Survey.
After I'm seated, the waitress comes over to take my order with a smile and a glass of ice cold water in hand (thank you)! Gosh...it's hot outside today! Since I'm eating alone, I can't order too much (otherwise I won't eat it all), so instead of ordering something on the pre-set menu, I order dishes ala carte.
First, I start with a bowl of poi (small bowl, US$1.75).
Poi is a staple of the Native Hawaiian diet, much like rice is a staple in most Asian diets. Poi is made by first steaming, baking or boiling the taro corm/tuber and then pounding with water to produce poi. There is a distinct taste that's very hard to describe, but other than that, there is very little flavor to this at all.
Second on my list to order is the luau squid (US$2.75).
I know what you're thinking...what is that? Well, squid luau, is squid that has been cooked with luau (taro) leaves and coconut milk. That said, this is one of the best that I've ever tasted. Smooth and creamy, with not too much coconut milk, but just enough to enhance the flavor of the luau leaves. There were generous portions of melt-in-your-mouth squid to be found in this dish as well!
The last dish that I had is probably one that this place is most famous for, the pipikaula-style short ribs (small order, US$3.50).
Pipikaula is similar to beef jerky. Traditionally, it's prepared by first rubbing strips of beef with coarse salt and hanging to dry until the outside is dry and the inside is still juicy (normally about 2 days). Helena's makes the pipikaula-style short ribs in a similar fashion, hanging the pieces of short ribs over the stove in the kitchen to dry. My guess is that right before serving, the short ribs are quickly pan fried to give it a bit of "crunch". The outside was crispy, the inside moist and tender, and the meat had just the right amount of fat to make this a winner! As far as flavor, this had just the right hint of salt, not too much and not too little! Ahhhh.......
The meal is rounded out by a small serving of raw Maui onions, red alae salt (the red color comes from clay) and haupia (which is a coconut flavored dessert, similar in texture to a really firm pudding).
All in all, this was a simple, yet satisfying meal. As I left the restaurant, I wondered why I don't come here more often. Since I couldn't answer that, I guess that means that I will be here more often to enjoy more of this fantastic food!
Helena's Hawaiian Food
1240 North School Street