Sunday, May 09, 2010

Char Siu Memories of Honolulu’s Oahu Market

Looking back at my childhood, I marveled at how my mother kept us entertained. I mean, there were five of us, all within one or two years of age of each other. We were like our own roving pre-school.

Our days were simple with my mom walking us every morning to the elementary school down the street from where we lived in Honolulu, then meeting us in the afternoons and walking us past the neighborhood grocery store where she’d either treat us to one piece of candy or a Popsicle if it was a typical hot day in Hawaii.

But it was the weekends that I looked forward to. Not because I could skip the homework and play, but because that’s when my mom went shopping in Chinatown. We’d all have to tag along, of course, because being the watchful mother hen that she is, she’d never let any of us chickies out of her sight.

My mom and dad had their specific duties when it came to weekend shopping. My dad would split off to deal with the heavy-duty errands like picking up bags of rice (a Chinese family of seven can go through a lot of rice!) or shopping for live chickens, and my mom — with all five of us in tow — would handle the fish and meat markets, looking for her ingredients for a week’s worth of family dinners.

Past the counters of crushed ice and fresh fish with bulging eyes and colorful scales, we’d always end up at the meat market with the BBQ items hanging on metal spears. My mom went to the same stand at the Oahu Market, bustling with customers on a Saturday morning, and every week the owner would wave a familiar greeting to my mom and quickly pull a slab of char siu — the roasted Chinese BBQ pork.

With a quick flick of his large butcher knife, he’d masterfully chop the piece of char siu into several bite-size slices and hand them over to my mom, who would then hand one piece each to me and my brothers and sisters. I can’t eat a whole plate of char siu, but for some reason that one piece of pork (probably because it was free) tasted so sweet and satisfying — the pork still warm from the roaster and passed gently through the butcher’s hands to my mom’s to our mouths.

That was the highlight of my trips to Chinatown with my mom. Staying home all week taking care of five children, my mom could see how the rest of the world lived during her Saturday shopping trips. And short visits with familiar merchants, like the friendly butcher who gave us free char siu when he saw us coming around, was her way of connecting with friends.

The sweet char siu pork with the slightly burnt edges would bring a smile to my face. And watching us enjoy it while she chatted away with the butcher brought a smile to my mom’s.

Happy Mother’s Day to my Mom and all the mothers out there!


Hungry Dog said...

I love this post. My favorite blog posts are the ones that reveal something about the writer, and this certainly fits that bill. Plus, you have a great writing style. Also: I want some char siu.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Thanks for the happy memory of Oahu Market. I used to walk through there, "small kid time", and gawk at all the fresh fish on display.

agent713 said...

I agree with everything Hungry Dog said :)

What a sweet post!

Jenster said...

Aw, what a sweet memory for Mother's Day. I remember shopping at that market with my mom, too, and getting the free little piece of char siu from my mom's regular butcher. She always picked up a small container of ground fish for fish cake and made a point of asking for the fresh batch. The guy always replied that he would give her the fresh batch, which completely befuddled me because all the ground fish was scooped out of one giant bowl. And if we were really good, she'd pick up a box of Chinese beef jerky. I don't remember the name but it came in a white box with some designs on it and it had a moist, sweet texture to it.

There were usually four of us in tow and I don't know how my mom did it. I only have two and sometimes taking them to the supermarket for more than three items just pushes me off the edge! ;)

foodhoe said...

What a lovely walk down memory lane... it all sounds so picturesque and quaint, unlike us shopping for plastic wrapped convenience foods! Your mom sounds like such a sweetheart...

*Mom's Best Bets said...

I love Oahu markets and especially shopping in China Town early in the a.m.