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A Trip to Chinatown with Grandma

March 15, 2007


My grandma does all her food shopping at Chinatown and whenever we have the opportunity, she picks me up on her way so that we can go together. The first place we always stop at is Sing Hing Market for meats. I’m not exactly what sure what she buys but it seems that at least three types of meats comes home with us each time. And by the end of the evening, these meats will be turned into wonderful dishes that only a grandma could make. I’ll show you them towards the end of the post.

As she frequents this place quite often since before I was even born, the butcher is somewhat of a family friend. When I was small he used to cut me bite size pieces of charsiu and wrap them in butcher paper so I could eat it as I walked with my grandma around Chinatown. As I grew older, he upgraded me to slices of roast pork, crispy skin and all. And now that I’m really old, well, I’m treated like an adult, which means no more bite size pieces of meat to nibble on.

We make our way to various stalls, picking up two cucumbers here, Korean pears at a another place, and bean sprouts and melons at yet another. The place you see above is where we get our herbs like mint and basil. They also carry a good variety of ches. Nothing like what you can find around San Gabriel, but good enough for me!

My sister this stall for fresh fruit juices and boiled peanuts. They’ll do almost everything from sugarcane to lychee juice. The convenient location right next to the bus stop sure helps business!

If you’ve come by Chinatown recently, you’ll quickly notice that there seems to be policemen everywhere you turn! And that is because there is. Hawaii’s been having an unusually high number of pedestrian accidents lately, most involving senior citizens. So the Honolulu Police Department has decided to put policemen at nearly every corner of Chinatown’s street. We were at the market for no more than an hour and within this time period, I saw at least five people get tickets. “Be careful,” my grandma told me in Cantonese, “$75 every time you jaywalk!”
“What? That’s crazy! How do you know it $75?” I asked.
“Ehh, people talk, you know…” she lowers her voice, “my friend just get one last week.”

I saw one policeman pull aside an old Chinese guy who jaywalked out of the crosswalk, “You know what, I really no like do this, but it’s my job…Eh, I give you warning this time, but don’t do it again okay? It’s not safe for you!” You gotta like the Honolulu policemen :)

So, Lesson of the day: be careful when you walk the streets of Chinatown!

Our family goes to grandma’s home for dinner on Saturdays and Sundays. But on the weekday, she sometimes comes by and drops off dinner for us. See how nice my grandma is? The dish above is insanely good even though it does not look like much. Salted fish with chili peppers, ground pork and eggs are all mix together and steamed for 20 minutes or so and out comes a savory custard. It’s very salty from the fish, somewhat stinky, but in a good way, and a little goes a long way, though we always end up eating a ton by the end. Which is why there is never any leftovers when grandma cooks. The more she cooks the more we eat and that is life.

We also had a dish of eggplant sautéed with lots of garlic, pork and mushrooms. I think this is a new dish she’s trying out – I haven’t had this one before, but it’s quite good!

If we go over to her house on weekday mornings, we’ll be offered a simple bowl of jook with duck eggs, minced pork and ginger and green onion to taste. On weekend mornings, we often get the added bonus of a fresh you tiao.

And because she knows that my favorite dish (actually there are many favorites!) of my grandma is her jai, she cooks this at least once every time I come home. I like my jai heavy on the funsee, with lots and lots of tofu and fried bean curd sheets. Sometime I think I can do without the mushrooms, but then she leaves it out, then I miss it very much. Go figure.

When it comes to salads, the family favorite is goi, a Vietnamese salad involving chopped romaine lettuce tossed with cucumbers, bean sprouts, mint, cilantro and basil. It’s then topped with shrimp, ground peanuts, fried onions and lots of chopped onions. Right before eating, pour plenty of nuoc nam to go around, and viola, my grandma’s salad!

I wish I could show you everything my grandma cooks. It’s really amazing! I think she knows I really enjoy her food because every time I fly back for school she always packs me 100 of her gyozas, divided into 10 ziploc baggies. They make for heavy carryon baggage, but it’s well worth it!

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