Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono.

Post 17.04

 From an old cookbook, Hawaii Cooks by Maili Yardley, first published in 1970, comes this vivid memory of Honolulu's old Chinatown fish markets.

The colorful old fish markets in Chinatown are disappearing, but I can remember going there as a child with my mother.  As proprietors raze the sagging, smelly sheds, they replace them with spanking new modern buildings which may look stylish and grand but, oh, how they lack the atmosphere of yore.

The vendors knew they were dealing with shrewd housewives so they sold only the freshest seafood, the turnover was quick, and competition was keen.  The crabs and lobsters were still crawling and the fish were still wriggling and jumping.  Right from the ocean or private ponds came the colorful sea life onto the bed of handcracked ice on marble counters.  

Behind the glimmering array stood the fish mongers in their bloody, dirty, butcher aprons and sleazy t-shirts . . . always on the alert for a sale.  The buyer would look to be sure the eyes of the fish were clear, the gills red, the scales moist and not easily removed, and if still in doubt he would make the fisherman poke the fish see that the flesh was firm to the touch.  If, by any chance, you hesitated over John's mullet, Harry in the next stall seized the opportunity to offer in loud tones the same fish for a dime less. 

There were the Hawaiian stalls, too, and each kamaaina seemed to have his own favorite vendors even though they sold exactly the same thing.  Steaming hot laulaus, pipikaula, red salt, white salt, limu of all kinds (now you are lucky to find one variety), kukui nut balls, hot chili peppers mixed with water, vinegar, and Hawaiian salt in an old catsup bottle, gorgeous fat-belly fillets of salt salmon, generous portions of cut-up raw fish, occasionally kalua pig, and always poi that was really poi.  The poi was dispensed from a huge wooden barrel and was very hard and dough like. 

Hamburger Counter, Wayne Thiebaud (1961)


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