SOK’s Autumn Vacation, Part One: Pig Ears and Haute Dogs

5 Oct

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a whole month since my last post! Vacationing is hard work. And what did SOK do on summer autumn vacation? Why, eat New Things, of course.

Much of my time in Hawaii was spent fulfilling filial obligations like being my mom’s lunch date. (It’s a hard life.) My mom was keen on having xiao long bao, and has recently become hooked on the Yelp app, which is how we ended up having dim sum at a nearly empty Shanghainese restaurant at a strip mall in Kalihi. (Note for my non-Hawaii-resident readers: Kalihi is one of the quasi-industrial, non-gentrified parts of Honolulu. Let’s just say that this is the scene that Lost filmed in Kalihi, if you get my drift.) As I’ve written before, Shanghai dim sum is a bit different from the dim sum we’re familiar with in the US, so there were lots of unusual items on the menu, like . . .

Maybe you can't make a silk purse, but you can make a mean salad.

. . . Pigs’ ears. I’ve actually had pig ear before, but in fried form. Here, the ears are boiled until tender and then sliced thinly, making them much more recognizably ear-like.The results were actually pretty tasty, with that crunchy-chewy-jelly texture that seems to be prized in Chinese cuisine. (I have to admit, though, we ended up taking a good bit of this home, and it tasted a lot better doctored up with more herbs and lemon juice.)

In the spirit of the occasion, I also introduced my mom simultaneously to durian and bubble tea. I’m not sure how my mom had managed to live in a state with the largest Asian population in the US for over a decade and avoided bubble tea, but there you go.

Another lunch excursion took us to Hank’s Haute Dogs, purveyor of gourmet sausages, as well as the only place to get a true Chicago dog this side of the Pacific. (They even ship in Vienna Beef franks.) If the concept sounds similar to Hot Doug’s in Chicago, that’s because Hank (also known as Henry Adaniya) lived and worked in Chicago as the owner of the renowned (and now closed) Trio, which launched the careers of famous chefs like Rick Tramonto (Tru) and Grant Achatz (Schwa, Next). Tom and I actually had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Adaniya at the Hank’s outlet in Waikiki, where we discussed the pleasures of encased meats, as well as our favorite hot dog places in Chi-town (Huey’s, if you’re wondering). The Hank’s store features ephemera from many of these, including Hot Doug’s — arguably the pioneer of the highfalutin dog, and possibly the catalyst for the gourmet fast food craze — and Superdawg, which has the best mascot of any fast-food place I know.

Left, the clever packaging and logo; top right, the lobster dog with takuan and "very green relish"; bottom right, the surprisingly healthy-looking Fat Boy

First, let me mention that I love Hank’s packaging. So retro-cute, right? My mom got the day’s special, the lobster dog, which was the impetus for our visit. She’d read some article that claimed that it was the closest thing you could get to a lobster roll in Honolulu. If that’s the case, I’m going to personally start a food truck selling real lobster rolls, because as tasty as Hank’s seafood concoction is, it has no relationship with an actual lobster roll other than the presence of lobster. The (sea?) dog came topped with garlic aioli, the aptly named Very Green Relish (as the menu board proclaimed), and julienned takuan, or Japanese pickled daikon, an unexpected but tasty addition. I got the Fat Boy on the strength of the cashier’s recommendation: a bacon-wrapped frank, deep-fried, topped with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Hank’s seems to have taken inspiration both from the BLT and the Mexican hot dog, a concoction I always meant to try while in Chicago but never made it to Little Pilsen for. For being a deep-fried sausage wrapped in cured pork belly, the Fat Boy was not greasy at all, but surprisingly light on the palate. I’m hoping the large mound of lettuce it was garnished with counteracted its effects on my cardiac system.

Next up: adventures with a prohibited food substance, pop-up restaurants, and what “home cooking” means in my mom’s kitchen. I’ve got a lot to catch up on . . .

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