By Hieu Gray
Hawaiian food in the Bay, and in America in general, has long been synonymous with poke and musubi, but Chef Eric Pascual and culinary host/producer Lanai Tabura are here to show diners a different side of Hawaiian cuisine. Their sold out pop-up dinners, “Hawaii: A Culinary Crossroads” weaves a bite of history with each plate.
Hawaii has long been a melting pot of different cultures. Beginning as early as the 1800s, most of these immigrants came to work on the island’s plantations and have been influential in shaping the island’s cuisine ever since.
Tabura explains it was essential to describe the dinners as a culinary crossroads “because it was the immigration to Hawaii that created our menu, and that crossroads between the Chinese and Hawaiian and the Japanese and the Filipinos and the Hawaiians. Hawaii was really a crossroads to America.”
Diners can expect the menu to be filled with cross cultural dishes. For example, a recent pop-up dinner included a Korean dish of braised short rib kalbi, Filipino dish of salmon sinigang (a sour and savory soup), and Japanese dish of chicken katsu breaded with mochiko rice flour. Where else can diners become globetrotters in one night?
The connection to Hawaii is a personal one for Chef Eric. Though he was born and raised in the Bay Area, he would spend his childhood in Hawaii where his grandparents lived. Originally from the Philippines, Eric’s grandparents immigrated to Hawaii after World War II. His earliest culinary memories revolve around his grandfather’s cooking. Those island flavors have stayed with him. A real estate broker by day, he spends his free time cooking and the pop-ups allow him to explore his culinary heritage.
The duo met two years ago at one of Chef Eric’s pop-up dinners. “We kind of hit it off because Eric spends a lot of time in Hawaii because his family is from Hawaii and he really understood what I was doing and our taste is very similar,” says Tabura.
With these pop-up dinners, the pair hopes to broaden diners’ definition of Hawaiian cuisine. As Tabura explains, there is a definite distinction between Hawaiian and Hawaiian-style food. Native Hawaiian food is characterized by simple dishes of freshly caught fish and everyday staples like poi (a paste made from taro).
“Hawaiian-style food really became what it is because of the immigration to Hawaii. So, when the Chinese came and the Japanese came and the Filipinos came, they introduced us to all these new ingredients, so the food really changed. So that’s what we call Hawaiian-style food,” Tabura says.
Storytelling will play an integral part of the experience and Tabura is no stranger to telling a captivating story, having spent over twenty years as a stand-up comic and TV personality as host of Cooking Hawaiian Style. He will be the host for the night leading diners thru an oral journey of the chapters of immigration that have shaped the island’s cuisine. Diners will not just be eating a meal but having an educational experience.
The dinners draw upon the Hawaiian concept of “mo’oleo.” As Tabura explains, “In Hawaii, we love to ‘talk story.’ We are going to tell you the story of where your food came from, not just the garden of where it came from, but the history behind it. So we touch your soul, and we touch your stomach.”
Recently Tabura, who is of Filipino and Hawaiian descent, had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines on a two-week culinary tour where he was able to rediscover his own culinary roots. The trip has stirred up his own creativity to push the envelope a bit more. “We are working on a couple of surprises,” hints Lanai about the upcoming menu.
Their latest pop-up will focus on what one would find at a Hawaiian holiday feast. Dishes on the menu include festive classics like turkey and pie, but with an island twist.
For More Information:
Hawaii: A Culinary Crossroads (Holiday Edition)
Seatings at 5p & 8p
Seating at 6p