Wednesday, January 24, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Island Pantry
Chinatown markets sell abundance of foods

By Kau'i Philpotts
Advertiser Staff Writer

As we celebrate the Chinese lunar new year, which begins today, the streets of Chinatown are filled with things red: lanterns, lion head decorations, li see (money gift) envelopes and good luck papers of all kinds. Outside Kim’s Fashion on Maunakea Street, a girl arranges bunches of curly bamboo of every size in pots of water.

As I pass near Nam Fong, a man expertly wields a cleaver, chopping roasted chickens and ducks into serving portions and layering the pieces in a Styrofoam container. It’s early on a weekday, so it’s still cool, and the markets aren’t nearly as hectic as they are on the weekends. It’s one of my favorite things: grocery shopping in Chinatown.

I turn the corner at North King Street and head for Lee’s Pastry Kitchen, where the custard pies taste homemade and the custard is so soft and rich you think you’ve reached nirvana. On weekends, Lee’s pies go out so quickly I never even attempt to buy one.

Then I head for the Kekaulike Mall and the large market filled with vegetable stalls. It doesn’t matter how often I come to Chinatown, the array of produce always dazzles me. It’s not just the fresh plumpness of the vegetables, it’s the variety and availability of things you can’t find anywhere else (at least, not in very good shape). It is because of this produce that I say Chinatown is not just for cooking Asian food.

There is fresh okra, and there are tiny limes for fish or drinks. The leafy mint is abundant, stuck in next to the lemon chives, and wild-looking cherry tomatoes that look as if they were harvested from someone’s backyard. It occurs to me how nice the banana flower, used in cooking Asian dishes, would look as a centerpiece on my dinner table. I settle for some French green beans, long beans and baby won bok.

Out the door, I walk past the best-looking papaya and apple bananas I’ve seen in a long time. I’m surprised at the ripeness of the pineapples, too. There’s a small line at the noodle factory as people pick up freshly made look fun noodles.

In Oahu Market, I stop by the Nakazato Fish Market, stall 18, where they are selling nine different grades of very fresh ahi. It’s pricey, but rarely do you see fish as fresh. As I eye the really costly stuff, perfect for sashimi or poke, the friendly woman behind the counter asks how I plan to prepare it. When I tell her I’m just going to pan-fry it and serve it with a little mango salsa, she says I don’t need nearly that expensive a grade. I trust her.

If you decide on Chinatown grocery shopping any time soon, here are some recipes to help you use the things you haul home. The recipes are from the "Oahu Market" cookbook (published in 1984 by Oahu Market Associates Inc.).

Bitter Melon Stuffed with Pork

  • 2 large bitter melons
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 4 water chestnuts, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 tablespoons green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon shoyu
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fermented black beans
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

Cut the bitter melon crosswise into 1-inch pieces, discarding the ends. Remove the seeds. In a bowl, combine the pork, water chestnuts, ginger, green onion, sugar, salt, shoyu, egg, 1 tablespoon sherry and 1 teaspoon cornstarch. Mix thoroughly. Fill the cavity of each piece of bitter melon with the pork mixture.

Arrange on a plate and place the plate in a steamer, cover and steam over boiling water for about 20 minutes. Prepare a sauce while it is steaming by heating the oil, then frying the garlic and black beans for about 1 minute. Add the stock and remaining sherry, stir well. In a bowl, combine the 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch with the sesame oil and blend. Drain the liquid from the bitter melon plate into the sauce. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the sauce and stir constantly until thickened. Pour the sauce over the bitter melon. Serves 4.

Stir-Fried Duck With Snow Peas

  • 1 pound fresh snow peas
  • 3 tablespoons shoyu
  • 2 tablespoons shaohsing wine, or sherry
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 cups slivered, cooked duck meat
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 thin slices fresh ginger
  • 1 can (15 oz.) whole straw mushrooms, drained
  • 1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots

Remove the strings from the snow peas and rinse. Cut each snow pea in half and set aside. In a bowl, combine the shoyu, wine, cornstarch and sesame oil and blend well. Add the duck and toss lightly to coat. Cover and set aside. Just before serving, heat a wok with the vegetable oil over high heat. Stir-fry the ginger until browned and aromatic, about

1 minute. Add the duck mixture, mushrooms and bamboo shoots, stir fry about 1 minute. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

Long Beans Saute

  • 1/2 pound long beans
  • 2 slices bacon, sliced
  • 1/4 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and cut the long beans to desired length. Put into a pot of salted, boiling water and cook until tender, about 2 or 3 minutes. Rinse in cold water. In a wok or frying pan, brown the bacon. Add the onions and garlic and continue to fry until the onion is clear. Add the long beans and saute until they are hot. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 servings.

Kaui Philpotts, a former Advertiser food editor and an Oahu-based free-lance writer, writes a weekly column for The Advertiser, alternating between Entertaining and Island Pantry.

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