Cooking up a storm at Koloa Plantation Days

Kekaha – raised, local – kine kitchen exp.ert Esperanza “Espe” Gabriel Garcia, showed off her skills to about 60 locals and visitors at the Old Koloa Town courtyard, telling stories about plantation life and how each culture’s foods mixed together, creating a rainbow of flavors unique to Hawai‘i.

“My trademark is that I’m a ‘kiss the cook’ kind of person,” she laughed. Knocking jokes about the many races of people she met in the plantation camps, she showed the canned foods they all used to eat: Vienna sausage, chorizo, Spam, tuna, and the ultimate dessert: Peanut butter and guava jelly sandwiches on sliced white bread. And the spices: Salt, first and foremost. Oyster sauce, patis (fish sauce), soy sauce, pepper, garlic. Cinnamon, too, a “secret” ingredient used in a lot of meat dishes.

Dessert came first for the audience: Ice cake, a frozen concoction made with sweet condensed milk, condensed milk and Malolo juice syrup. Sal Garcia, of Montebello, Calif., said he remembered the treat from years ago in the Philippines, where he spent 28 months in the armed service.

The demonstration table was set up with pans of pork gisantes (also known as pork, peas and pimientos); blanched sweet potato leaves with tomato and onion; chili with macaroni.

She demonstrated cooking one dish, lup chong with vegetables, an easy and colorful stir-fry including carrots, onion, celery, broccoli and three colors of bell peppers.

“This chef will give you an idea of the many tastes the kids growing up in the plantation experienced,” said Old Koloa Town manager Lei Saito.

“When I cook I don’t only use my nose and my tastebuds, I use all my five senses,” Garcia explained. “Mama told me, ‘You gotta use ALL the ingredients,” she said, shaking a few more drops of oyster sauce into the wok. Garcia, who lives in Waipahu with husband Marcelino, works as a docent at the Hawaiian Plantation Village, and cooks up her local delicacies for her church camp and friends and neighbors. This is her 10th year doing cooking demonstrations at Koloa Plantation days.

One bite of the pork gisantes, and Bryce Newman, of Los Angeles, was hooked. “Excellent,” he said.

Darcee’ and Michael Moreno, of Ocala, Fla. said they came to the cooking demonstration because it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn about local culture, lifestyle and history of Kaua‘i.

“We wanted to stay off the tourist track and do a lot of what the locals do, shop and eat,” Darcee’ said while scooping up chili and rice with her chopsticks.


Koloa Plantation Days Schedule

Wednesday July 23 – Friday July 25

WEDNESDAY, July 23

  • Pao‘o Headlands Hike, from CJM Country Stables sign, Po‘ipu, 10 a.m. Guided easy hike explores the pristine shoreline of Maha‘ulepu. Meet guide at CJM sign, 1-1/2 miles past Hyatt Regency Kauai. Hike takes about 2 hours; bring drinking water and wear hiking or sturdy walking shoes and sun protection. Bring picnic lunch and stay at Maha‘ulepu if desired. (246-9067)
  • Traditional Hawaiian Games, Lawai Beach Resort (across from the Beach House Restaurant), 10 a.m. – 1p.m. Children and adults have fun trying the spear throw, foot race, coconut toss, bowling, chicken fight, string game, club toss, and tug-o-war. Prizes for the winners. (240-5161)
  • Historic Video, Koloa School Library, 7 p.m. Showing of a video about Koloa and sugar plantations, with display and discussion of historic photos, maps, documents. (332-5201)

THURSDAY, July 24

  • Plantation Days Putting Contest, Poipu Bay Resort Golf Club, 2 — 4p.m. At the home of the PGA Grand Slam, test your putting skills. Prizes. (742-8711)
  • Luau & Polynesian Show, Hyatt Regency Kaua‘i, Po‘ipu, 6p.m. Enjoy a delicious buffet dinner of luau and local foods in a beautiful oceanfront garden setting. Musicians and dancers perform music and dances of Hawaii and Polynesia. 15% discount for direct booking, $65 per person. (742-1234)

FRIDAY, July 25

  • Old Koloa Town Historical Walk, from Koloa School Library, 5:30p.m. Guides and long-time residents “talk story” about the former uses of historic buildings and anecdotes about the town during the plantation days and the whaling era. (332-5201)
  • Rodeo Roping Preliminaries, CJM Stables (1/4 mile past Hyatt), 4p.m. Teams and individuals compete to move on to rodeo on Sunday, July 27. (742-6096)
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