I indulged my homesickness yesterday, and asked Ted to take me to L & L Hawaiian Barbeque for my birthday dinner. I'd heard about this place from my pal Anela, who was also raised in Hawaii and travels in some hula and Hawaiiana circles. She highly recommended it for its totally authentic menu and ambiance.
Sure enough, it looks and feels for all the world like a fast food lunch counter in any little town you might visit in Hawaii. There's no such thing as haute cuisine in Hawaii - it's all a hodgepodge of lots of ethic foods served up on a styrofoam plate - Hawaiian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, American, Korean, and more. And I love it. Some of my favorites are featured at L & L: saimin (like ramen, only a million times better), teriyaki everything, barbeque everything, seafood, and the best snack food ever - musubi. And not only do they have musubi, but several different kinds: Spam, chicken katsu, and bbq chicken! Now we're talking. The food is a touch pricey, but cheaper than a plane ticket.
And in my mind, the food takes a back seat to the folks who gather there on Friday nights: real ethnic Hawaiians or folks like me who live in Texas, but have a Hawaiian history, and have left a big piece of themselves back in the islands. Anela tells me that it's a regular, run-of-the-mill specialty menu kind of place most of the time, with people coming and going who enjoy the dishes or think the touristy Hawaiian thing is novel. But on Friday nights, everything changes.
It's family reunion time.
We got there early to beat the crowds, and to get our food and table before the fun broke out. On Friday nights, the regulars show up with amplified ukuleles, mics, and their hula pals. The longer I sat there, the further from Plano, Texas I felt. I texted my sister in Kaneohe. Yes, she said, there are a bunch of L & L's near her - they're everywhere, "like 7 Elevens," she said. Next thing I knew, the guys were playing Happy Birthday for me on their ukes (sneaky Ted). And before long, some spontaneous hula had broken out up by the counter. It was a blast.
I used to know how to hula a little bit, but I'd completely humiliate myself if I tried today. So I left it to the professionals. It's very engaging and fun to watch...
We met a lady there who makes it a point to greet everyone and seems to know everyone. I just called her Tutu Diane. What a sweetie. Everyone has their Hawaiian shirts and jewelry and pidgin accents and tattoos, and anything else that might signal that they're "one of us." Me, I wore my Matsumoto Shave Ice t-shirt, which proves that I know what's cool on the North Shore. It's good to belong.
For dessert, Ted picked out a beautiful chilled taro root cake for us from their glass case - bright purple like the root from which it is made. FYI - taro root cake is much better than poi. Just sayin.
And just like in Hawaii, the trash cans teach you manners - "Mahalo" doesn't mean garbage, like I assumed for months after arriving there... it means "thank you." Thank you, L & L for allowing me to return for a brief mental vacation to my island past. I'll be back.