Big Island Candies sweetens ika
It started with an innocuous hypothesis: If it tastes good plain, can you imagine it dipped in chocolate?
This gave the world chocolate-covered iso peanuts, chocolate-covered mochi balls, and chocolate-dipped sakura arare.
Then, Allan Ikawa, owner of Big Island Candies, dared to ask ... what about ika?
Whoa! Get your head around this: A bundle of dried, seasoned cuttlefish strips (commonly called "squid" locally but actually more like a cousin), chewy, salty and as pungent as dried seafood can get, hand-dipped in Big Island Candies' special blend of chocolate. The result looks kind of squid-like with a rounded chocolate head and stringy legs.
This isn't the unsweetened cocoa that people put in chili or other savory dishes. This is gourmet chocolate, like the kind they dip their famous shortbread cookies in. Sweet, sweet chocolate and stinky, stinky ika.
Weird? Maybe. Daring? Sure. Perhaps a little sexy — the forbidden, decadent pairing of hauna squid and milky chocolate. Naughty. In any case, chocolate-dipped ika has become more than a novelty item for Hilo's beloved candy and cookie company.
"The ika is extremely well received and there are times during the year like Christmas and Merrie Monarch where we can barely keep it on the shelf," says Lance Duyao, director of retail operations and special events for Big Island Candies.
The product debuted at a Liberty House chocolate-themed event in the 1980s. However, it remains a secret pleasure, a surprising discovery for those who visit the company's chocolate factory and gift shop in Hilo. There, you can watch the painstaking hand-dipping process through glass windows. All the cuttlefish pieces are sorted by hand before being gently dunked into the melted chocolate. Like a squid fondue.
"Visitors from Japan are very open to trying it and usually squeal, 'Oishi!' " Duyao reports. Some think it's gross, but those who try it often become converts. "We knew we had a hit when we saw some local men eating it while downing some beers at an area bar," Duyao says.
Part of the mystique of chocolate ika is that it's a little hard to get. You can buy it online at www.bigislandcandies.com (an order placed with a credit card was delivered to Honolulu two days later wrapped lovingly in a cold gel pack) or visit the Big Island Candies gift shop at 535 Hinano St. in Hilo. You could ask a friend with Hilo connections to hook you up, but gotta be a good, good friend. You can't just ask ANYBODY to bring you chocolate squid.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or email@example.com.