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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

When you're pressed for time, takeout is the answer

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By Kaui Philpotts

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Our Hawai'i tradition of marking every occasion with potluck spreads isn't changing, but what is becoming more common is a tendency to pick up the potluck from a deli, okazu-ya, takeout operation or restaurant because we're just too time-pressed to cook at home.

"I'll bring something if I can pick it up," said Charlene Kim, who says she often finds takeout food more economical, too — there's no waste in estimating ingredients, no pans to be bought and discarded.

Kim works at Zippy's; in May the local fast-food chain started selling a line of 8-pound bags of prepared food at six of their locations (Kahala, Vineyard Street, Kapolei, Waipio, Pearlridge and in Manoa at the Hawaiian Bagel shop). In addition to its already-popular chili, Zippy's offers pre-packaged beef stew, chicken curry, spaghetti sauce (add your own pasta), teriyaki sauce (marinate your own meat), spareribs, mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as 4-pound containers of the health-conscious Shintani Cuisine line of dishes based on Dr. Terry Shintani's HawaiiDiet.

"We were thinking of clubs and organizations that needed to feed lots of people and have it affordable and convenient," said Kim. The bags, which feed 15 to 16 people, have started to catch on. The Shintani Cuisine is popular with mature patrons watching their diets.

Campers during the summer made use of the volume bags by putting them in their ice chests as they headed for the beach. At mealtime, the bags can be immersed in hot water and the contents warmed up for dinner.

"It just gives people a choice," said Kim, "Most people would rather spend their time doing other things, like being with their kids."

That's the case for Patty Kealoha of Mililani, a family counselor with her own practice, a husband and three children and a large extended family. "From my own experience, and that of my family and even what I hear from my other Little League moms and clients, it's become much more accepted to bring store-bought stuff. It kinda started with noodles — everybody always bought noodles. Who needs to be chopping all that stuff and trying to stir-fry for 50 people when the Mililani Restaurant does it so much better? But then it kind of extended to other things — mochiko chicken, like that. Used to be, if you didn't bring something homemade, you felt shame. Now, everybody understands. And, as a psychologist, I think that's a good thing: It means we're focusing on the people, not the stuff."

Kealoha said she does tend to try to buy the kinds of foods she would have made herself: favorites such as stir-fried corned beef and cabbage with onions, hekka-style stir-fries with veggies, meat and shirotaki noodles, baked chicken or fish to go over rice.

Her rule of thumb for whether to make or take: "If I can make it cheaper, if it won't mean staying up until midnight and not getting enough sleep, if it's a special occasion like somebody's birthday, then I make. Otherwise, I take."

Kealoha said the tough part, sometimes, is knowing how to choose a takeout spot: She relies on word-of-mouth from friends, but sometimes also calls around to check prices.

Brenda Tanaka of The Food Co. lays out a spread of takeout platters, including musubi, pupus, potato-macaroni salad and mixed chicken. Most of Tanaka's clients are women on their way to potlucks after ballgames, or parties at home.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Brenda Tanaka, owner of The Food Co. in Kailua, has a more traditional, local-style approach to takeout food. Soccer moms and office workers stop by her business near the Enchanted Lake subdivision in Kailua for pans of mochiko chicken, chicken katsu, Spam musubi and teri beef.

They are on their way to potlucks after ballgames or parties at home, she said. The majority of her clients are women (only about a quarter are men) who need the convenience at a reasonable price. During the summer, when the children are home, and during the holidays, she sees a marked increase in business.

"You can order a pan of food to feed anywhere from eight to 100 people and spend as little as $10 to $85 for it," said Tanaka.

When Gary Chang was a boy, he remembers that his family's Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory at 505 Kalihi Street sold lots of fresh noodles in bulk for people to cook up at home when they had large gatherings. Today, the noodle business is down; instead, customers order Gon Lo Mein already prepared and ready to eat.

"It's the perfect thing for celebrations or to take to the beach," said Chang. "Then, all you have to do is throw barbecue meat on the grill and you have a meal."

Chang said Chun Wah Kam has lots of competition now; more businesses are catering to people with little time and lots of appetites to satisfy.

Chun Wah Kam's primary location (there is another one in the Waimalu Shopping Center) in a commercial district in Kalihi allows it to serve many businesses. Salespeople often stop to pick up boxes of manapua for their clients (Chun Wah Kam offers an assortment of 12 fillings). "People on their way off-island stop for manapua when they are visiting their family and friends, too," he said.

Chun Wah Kam's most popular fillings are the classic char siu pork in steamed or baked buns, shoyu and garlic chicken, kalua pig, nikuman (pork hash with shiitake mushrooms) and sweet potato. Other popular takeout dim-sum items are pork hash, pepeiao (A Chinese meat-stuffed cake, shaped like an ear), half-moon, rice and taro cakes.

When the party is at home or in an office, Chang says people are more likely to order dishes such as beef and broccoli, oyster-sauce chicken, or sweet and sour spareribs.

Costco has become a boon to busy entertainers. With little or no effort, a swing through one of its outlets will net you jumbo pizzas, roasted chickens, barbecue ribs, pans of frozen lasagna. Chicken sausages with designer fillings are cooked and ready to heat up on a grill, and flats of berries in season make dessert a snap.

Kozo Sushi outlets have been so successful with their party trays of deluxe sushi that even Zippy's now offers the service at some locations.

If plates of fresh sashimi or poke are needed, all you have to do is make a call to a local fish market, such as Tamashiro Market on North King Street. If a poi supper sounds like too much work, call Haili's Hawaiian Foods in the Ward Farmer's Market and have your event with all the trimmings.

The point is to gather and have a good time, no matter what the occasion. In Hawai'i, that means you have to have food — serious food.