People can smell the chicken for miles, says Thomas Muraoka of Hanapepe Hongwanji Mission.
Muraoka served as the chairperson for the chicken and sushi sale at the mission on Sunday.
The process started with the gathering of kiawe for firewood. This time they were able to get the wood from the Pacific Missile Range that had cut down kiawe trees to clear an area. Usually the workers have to go to a pasture and cut the trees themselves.
“Most of the helpers are in their 80’s,” Muraoka said. “Someday we may have to stop doing this.”
On Friday, the chicken needed to be cut, salted and stored. Because the mission does not have the necessary cold storage, the chicken was stored in the Kaua‘i Kookie refrigerators, thanks to Lyle Kobashigawa.
On Saturday morning, the equipment was set up. A 4-foot by 10-foot charcoal pit was constructed with corrugated iron sides. A chain attached to a motor ran along the length of one side of the pit. This chain would turn three racks that contained four “wings” each. Each wing would hold three to four split chickens, depending on the size of the chickens.
The cooking area and tents for the sales were set up on the temple grounds close to the Kaumuali‘i Highway. There were no ticket sales, so a sign announcing the sale date and time and the sight of the men cooking the chicken were the only advertising they used to sell the chicken and sushi.
At midnight on Saturday night, the fire was started. It took about an hour for the wood to burn to charcoal. A smaller half-drum also burned wood so the charcoal could be added to the pit as needed.
Each batch of chicken took about an hour to cook. One person basted the chicken. Another person controlled the fire with a water hose.
Although the sign said the sale started at 7 a.m., people stopped to buy chicken as soon as they became available at 2 a.m.
Harry Akazawa said a group of them started the chicken sale about 30 years ago. The unique cooking system was designed by Nobu Hiranaka. The basting sauce recipe was borrowed from another Hongwanji mission, and is still the one used even if the other church has since changed its sauce.
The racks are stored without cleaning to prevent corrosion. All the cleaning is done before the next use. Masami Kojiri, who takes care of repairs and maintenance of the equipment, burns off the oil and cleans the racks with an acetylene torch.
“The black stuff cannot be taken off, but it doesn’t go on the chicken,” Muraoka said.
The Hanapepe Buddhist Women’s Association took care of the sushi. The preparation started the week prior, but the main work started on Friday with the preparation of the ingredients, said Irene Muraoka.
On Saturday ladies cooked the “gu” or inside ingredients of the sushi like the tuna, carrot and egg strips. Kiyoko Shimokawa, president of the women’s association and chairperson of the sushi sale, was also the person, along with Shigeko Masuda, to mix the “su” which is the vinegar solution that seasons the rice.
“They don’t use a recipe,” Irene Muraoka said. “They just go ahead and do it.”
At 3:00 o’clock on Sunday morning, they started to cook the rice. The ladies started to roll the sushi at 5:00 a.m.
“People are getting older,” Irene Muraoka said. “So far with help from all the ladies, we’re doing okay.”
Hanapepe Hongwanji does the chicken and sushi sale twice during the year, once in April and once in October. Proceeds go towards temple activities.
“After it’s all done, we go home, take a bath and we still smell like chicken,” Thomas Muraoka said. “We don’t want to see chicken for a long time” — until October.