POIPU — Food is an effective bridge of cultures, said Chef Mark Arriola of Merriman’s Fish House.
“There are 22 ethnic groups of people who were imported to Hawaii to serve on the labor force,” said Bill Fernandez, retired judge and Hawaiian novelist and historian. “Each of the groups brought their food with them.”
This formed one of the bridges that brought the cultures together and resulted in the food that is popular with local residents today, said Arriola.
“You go to someone’s house, and he serves you food he’s familiar with,” the chef said during a Plantation Days cooking demonstration at the Kauai Culinary Market. “You have the food and discover you like it. Who can say ‘no’ to good food?”
Arriola said the plantation style cooking is a result of these food bridges.
It also forms the roots of Pacific Rim cuisine, which is finding popularity among diners in Hawaii restaurants.
Arriola said the most common demonstration of this concept is the local plate lunch where each component of the lunch has its roots in different ethnic cultures.
He added since he has an abundance of banana right now, he modified a dish with Portuguese ethnic roots, the malasada, to create Banana Malasada which effectively takes care of the surplus fruit and yields a tasty morsel.
The Portuguese brought over the malasada, soups, and stews, he said.
“This was effectively incorporated into the plantation lifestyle where mom and dad needed to work in the fields,” Arriola said. “You put the dish on the stove, and following a day of slow cooking, the stew, or heavy soup is ready to eat.”
This practice of food efficiency continues in today’s Hawaii lifestyle where Aletha Thomas of Monkeypod Jam says her (Wild) Guava Butter is created using guava harvested by 4-H students from their pastures where livestock is kept and raised.
“Buying the guava from the students helps them with some spending money,” she said. “And, nothing goes to waste because the (Wild) Guava Butter is made using only the guava the 4-H students bring me.”
The Koloa Plantation Days celebration continues through Sunday with the big parade and celebration taking place Saturday at the Anne Knudsen Park.
Sunday, the 10-day celebration closes with a Family Fun Run hosted by the Kukuiula Canoe Club starting at 7 a.m., and the Ukes in Paradise keiki ukulele contest hosted by Keoki’s Paradise in the Poipu Shopping Village starting at 10 a.m.
• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.