By Jan TenBruggencate
I was standing at the seafood cooler at Safeway the other day, amazed at the array of prepared seafood dishes.
And I’ve had a similar experience at the Times store. And at Fish Express and Konohiki Seafoods in Kapaia.
If you’re not from the Islands, you need to go to one of the many seafood purveyors and sample a bunch of the options. Ask the person standing next to you for recommendations on which ones to try.
The just outrageous selection of poke and related dishes is available all day, every day.
For young folks, that might just be the way it’s always been.
But for those of us with a few miles under our belts, it’s an embarrassment of riches.
You’d often get a small taste of one or two dishes in the old days. Fishermen would whip up one or two favorite kinds of poke after catching the right kind of fish. You’d sit around a low table, many of the adults drinking Oly or Crown Royal or Seagrams Seven, and kids dipping into the plates of food with well-worn chopsticks. And you’d grind on the day’s catch.
But for the kind of variety that we see daily at the fish places today? That was special.
I can remember growing up on Molokai, when flavored dishes of fresh, raw ahi and tako and salmon and he`e were special delights of weddings and funerals and what we used to call luau … before it become politically correct to call them either lū`au or — even more proper, but perhaps not entirely accurate for a really big party — pā`ina.
You’d have great platters of various kinds of limu. Today, I don’t see many of the varieties that graced those Molokai parties of a half century ago. And all kinds of different poke from all kinds of different kitchens.
This wasn’t the result of a commercial venture.
When one of those parties was scheduled, the planning started long in advance. Teams of friends and relatives were sent out to begin preparing.
There were the limu gatherers and the `opihi pickers, who’d brave the shoreline surf to seek out their secret beds of the best kine.
Other teams with hissing Coleman lanterns would head out at night on the reef for what might be available.
And folks would clean the cobwebs out of the homemade, wood-sided glass-bottom boxes they used to spot the octopus on the flats.
Guys would dive for reef fish, and try to spot schools of akule to net or catch on damashi hooks. Shoreline anglers would get time off from shift work on the plantation to cast for ulua.
And the folks with boats would head out to troll for the various tunas.
It was a community effort, and the whole community came together both for the preparation and the feasting.
So, it’s a little different to walk up to a window and order any kind of seafood you like, any time. Good, but not as special.
- Jan TenBruggencate is a Kaua‘i based writer and communications consultant.