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Food of Paradise, The

by: Rachael Lauden

Honolulu HI: University of Hawaii Press 1996, $24.95, Paperback
ISBN: 0-8248-1778-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(3) page(s): 14 and 16

Enjoy a tasty and terrific treatise about Hawaii's culinary heritage. Visit with Lauden as she looks at books and cooks, haoles (white persons), kamgaina's (well-to-do long established families), 'locals' (non-haole but born and raised on the islands), others, and the foods that make up the culinaria of her paradise. Travel with her as she offers memoir, history, narrative, and recipes about Hawaii on a wide-ranging tour from the author's first and critical encounter until she gets a handle on Creole language and cuisine. The latter is a mix of Pacific, European and American culinary influences. Savor the invaluable resources for food historians, cooks, and Hawaiiana buffs.

You will enjoy all of the above as the author draws upon her well travelled past and uses expertise from her University of London doctorate. She mixes both with her innate curiosity about food and its origins to learn about Hawaii. In the eight years she spent there as professor of Science and Technology, she explored and traced origins and influences of one of the richest culinary heritages in the United States. The Food of Paradise records her attempts to decipher what she calls 'culinary babel,' yesterday and today's thriving ethnic culinary traditions, and what the first Polynesian immigrants brought with them and what they found here.

Lauden's 'Paradise' starts with her first encounter, meanders through regional cuisine, discusses local food, explores ethnic foods, Kanaaina food, and Hawaii's first immigrants. If Creole and Kanaaina need definition, history, or other explanation, use the glossary of local and Hawaiian terms, bibliography of Hawaii's cookbooks, other valuable reference works, or the general index or one ethnicity or by food category.

On a scale of ten to one (best to worst), this cookbook rates ten-plus-plus-plus. It has won one major cookbook award and were ASFS giving honors, it would garner another (their Board members should consider this). What makes it fantastic is that Lauden personalizes her contacts, delights in solving food puzzles, traces origins and influences in Hawaii, and gives us one hundred fifty out-of-the-ordinary Hawaiian recipes. The latter can be used to learn ingredients and preparation techniques and taste the foods.

The book is well-written, fascinating, and an invaluable resource; the chapter on crack seed but one example of this. As an owner of almost two thousand Chinese cookbooks and hundreds of articles about that cuisine, less than a handful address this Chinese snack food and fewer still offer recipes. Lauden provides five such recipes and the two I have made I highly recommend. They were preserved fruit and seed snacks exactly like those that originated in Guangzhou (Canton) and came to Hawaii in the nineteenth century. These are the very ones sold today along with dozens of newer on varieties in thin two gallon glass cany jars in Hawaii's crack seed stores. If you want some off the island, ask for see mui which is what they are called on the mainland.
Pineapple Kanten
1/8 to 1/4 ounce kanten or agar agar
1/4 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 cups pureed ripe pineapple, peeled and trimmed
1. Soak kanten for fifteen minutes to soften. Heat one cup water and the sugar and when dissolved squeeze and shred the kanten into this sugar solution. Cook for five minutes until all gel is dissolved then remove from the heat source.
2. Prepare a muffin pan, and for convenience, line six of them with paper. Add pineapple puree to the liquid and pour into the liners and allow to stand until set, about half an hour.
3. Use immediately or refrigerate, peel of the papers, invert on plates and serve.

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