He still puts on a white linen suit every morning, rides in a chauffeured white Cadillac, visits Kentucky Fried Chicken’s white column headquarters and plugs his “finger lickin’ good” chicken around the country.
But Harland D Sanders, everyone’s favourite Kentucky colonel, is disturbed about what has happened to his chicken and to America’s dining habits.
While it sounds like an alternate history from Adbusters archives, it’s from an interview with Sanders in The Milwaukee Journal, 1975. You know something has gone terribly wrong with food when the mascot starts decrying it.
My favourite trait in Americans is the lack of fear. It spawns an infectious entrepreneurialism. It tempts them to cook a patty of ground chuck to medium-rare over fire rather than safely char it to a risk-free tasteless puck. The above was hands down my favourite hamburger of 2010, from Teddy’s Bigger Burger in Waikiki, Hawaii.
Teddy’s is a short walk from “the Wall” surf break, just near the Zoo at Waikiki, a right-hand reef break that gets packed with local bodyboarders even in the smallest swells. It is a convenient break to bodyboard: you can just walk to the end of a pier and jump off straight into the midst of the action, catching waves that propel the fearless alongside the concrete jetty. Tourists line up to take photos. It’s the first place that I’ve ever been alongside someone on a paipo board, the wooden precursor to the modern foam bodyboards; a portly, grey-bearded Hawaiian who looked like he was carved from a brown leather banquette with an uncanny knack of picking the finest wave even from the poorest sets, riding a beautiful slice of polished timber.
Teddy’s is so close that my boardshorts were still moist. I could taste sea salt dripping from my holiday stubble.
Squishy bun, a patty that tastes of pure barely-cooked beef, pickle, sliced onion, an in-season tomato and a decorative frill of lettuce. There is no meal better.
Apologies about the photo. It’s rubbish.
Sierra Nevada is the brewery that probably gets most craft brewers hooked on the idea of American Pale Ale; there is no end to the pale imitators and delightful, almost flawless copies. Their India Pale Ale, the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, will with any luck spawn another round of duplication.
Pours amber, the aroma is like releasing a depth charge in a pine forest. The flavour is hoppy to the point of being almost sticky like pine tar with a bitter, astringent finish, hops covering the 7.2% alcohol entirely. This is over-the-top American brewing, pushing as much floral hoppiness into beer as possible.
Kona Brewing Company calls this a “Hawaiian-style” pale ale rather than an American pale ale, the only differentiator being that Hawaiian style pale ales must display an active volcano on the label. This lava-filled terroir holds no influence over the beer itself. I don’t imagine that any of the ingredients grow anywhere near the island, but this is hardly an excuse to avoid drinking local. I imagine that hops are dropped in as part of a periodic resupply drop.
Pours copper with good lacing, not the most flowery of pale ales but strikes a fine balance between hops and malt. There’s not much complexity there, but who cares? Beer made on a tropical island is never close to this good.
I’m starting to think that I may have gone a bit soft over the past few weeks.
I called this non-beer surprisingly refreshing. I enjoyed this slice of spam strapped to brick of rice and served at roughly the temperature generated by salmonella having hot and dirty sex. Frankly, I’m loving hawaii for none of the right food reasons and it is blurring my judgment altogether.
The “spam musubi” (above) is big, dumb fun – it’s the eponymous potted spiced ham fried with teriyaki sauce then bound to rice with a belt of nori. It comes with the endorsement of at least one American president and is available around the Hawaiian islands from sushi counters and convenience stores.
I’m surprised that there seems to be no clear history of spam musubi: Was it an innovation that started with the influx of US troops in a similar fashion to the start of budae jjiggae in Korea? Did it come via Okinawa where a similar dish is served or did the two co-evolve? Why was the honorific “o” dropped from “omusubi“? This dish can’t be more than sixty years old, and so its birth is possibly still within someone’s living memory.
The Hawaiian “plate lunch” is an excuse to anchor any protein to an icecream scoop or two of sticky rice. They seem to be both cheap filler and endlessly variable. I’d imagine that you could quite easily write about nothing but the numerous variations on the polystyrene clamshell filled with Hawaiian lunch, forever. At least until a heart attack took you out of the game before you reached middle age.
Kalbi – Korean beef short ribs on rice with kimchi from Me Barbecue in Waikiki.
Two hamburgers submerged in gravy, celery and onion with rice and macaroni salad, from Sueoka Snack Shop in Koloa, Kauai
Some very bready tempura prawns with mayonnaise, macaroni salad and rice from Sueoka Snack Shop in Koloa, Kauai
Until now, the only thing that I knew about Hanalei was that it was the birthplace of Puff the Magic Dragon, which is apparently, a lie.
Some of the best food in America comes in shacks, lean-tos, vans, makeshift structures cobbled together from plywood and tarpaulin and fryer grease. The American food that Americans aspire to eat and inspires the most column inches in this decade seems to sit either at the bottom or at the top, either food van or haute cuisine, but rarely in the middle.
Talking about the middle seems to be more about despairing about the industrialisation of food, big corn, the banality of the corporate chain restaurant and the emptiness of the American home kitchen. American food is hollow in the centre. As a result, the food that Americans aspire to eat from other cultures tends to sit in the middle – home-cooked is shorthand for “authentic” if some other culture is standing in front of the household stove. Your locavoring Alice Water-y folk will argue otherwise.
It bookends neatly with my approach to food: that strange mix of street food and top end – although I am a bit tempted by the taro pie on McDonald’s special Hawaii menu here in Kauai because it combines two things that I despise made good by the deepfryer. I’m more here to surf than eat but food from a shack beckons.
The Shrimp Station in Waimea sits alongside the highway en route to Waimea Canyon and picks up the day-tripping crowd in either direction – it’s almost opposite the faded beachside deco majesty of the local cinema and market.
The drawcard is dealt straight from the deep fryer: Coconut Shrimp. Prawns in a crispy batter with shreds of local coconut, on fries. They’re top notch.
The shrimp taco is a little less inspiring – tasty, fresh salsa but a bit light on the prawn.
Location: 9652 Kaumualii Highway, Waimea, Hawaii
Tel: (808) 338-1242