Island food to warm the winter
Anytime Hawaiian offers simple, hearty Hawaiian flavors
I find it very easy to imagine the beginnings of Hawaiian cuisine. It doesn’t start in ancient Polynesia, because except for poi almost nothing in modern Hawaiian cuisine is eaten according to that tradition. Rather, it begins in the late 1800s when laborers in cane fields sat down for lunch, and somebody curiously asked, “Hey, what do you have there? May I try some?” Tastes are exchanged, the workers go home and integrate those ideas into their cooking, and after a few cycles of this a new cuisine emerges.
Those workers came from Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines, as well as Hawaii, where there were already influences from the Portuguese, Spanish, and other Europeans. It’s a hearty, simple style of dining that has unfortunately often been made very badly on the mainland, with heavily sweet sauces disguising low-quality ingredients. Happily, a restaurant that opened early this year in Redondo beach has been doing an above-average job of bringing island flavors to the Beach Cities.
Anytime Hawaiian is at the east end of the shopping center at the corner of Beryl and Prospect, and is owned by a family from Oahu. Though the company was established this year, they now have five locations, which shows remarkable energy and optimism in a problematic year for the dining business. They don’t offer that most popular Hawaiian item, poke, preferring to focus on the “plate lunches” and other items that are inexpensive, everyday island fare. This includes teriyaki, of course, and they do a good job of that with a sauce that isn’t heavily sugary, but also some less common dishes.
Among the items you might try as a starter or snack is musubi, a huge sushi roll with almost anything but raw fish inside. The most famous musubi is made with spam (and more about that later), and they have that but also rolls with pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, hot dogs, Portuguese sausage (linguica), and Filipino-style eggrolls. We decided on the eggrolls, which have a great variety of textures in every bite – cool seaweed snap, moist rice with bits of seasoning, eggroll crispness, and the vegetable and pork filling as a final note. After finishing the first one I easily could’ve started in on another, because I wasn’t tired of the flavors, but we had ordered many items to sample so I moved on.
The seafood combo, composed of six medium-sized fried shrimp and a big chunk of breaded mahi mahi, was about what you might get from a pier seafood shack but better made and more generously portioned than most. The main Hawaiian aspect was the bed of chopped green cabbage under the fish and the white sesame sprinkles and chopped green onion on top. It would have been nice to have a little dipping sauce of some kind, but none was offered. The sides were pure Hawaiian and typically carb-heavy, two rice balls topped with Japanese seasoning and some unusually good macaroni salad. Many Hawaiian-style macaroni salads taste of little more than sugar and mayonnaise, but this had a nice balance with more than a hint of mustard. Those trying to cut down on carbs are out of luck, because unlike some other Hawaiian restaurants they don’t have an option like salad or vegetables.
Those same sides come with the kalua pork laulau, which is pork wrapped in a ti leaf and slow-cooked. This was traditionally accomplished in an underground oven called a lovo or umu, and when done that way the meat develops a rich, smoky flavor. The version here doesn’t have the smoke taste but has a rich, concentrated porkiness accented by the light bitterness of the ti leaves, which are reminiscent of black kale. It’s hard to find the traditional underground smoked version, so this is as close as we can get unless we’re invited home to dinner by a Hawaiian.
The spam fried rice doesn’t come with sides, because even to a Hawaiian having rice with more rice with macaroni is a bit much. Spam entered Hawaiian cuisine during World War II when it was issued in military rations and widely sold to local citizens. In an era before refrigeration was widespread the canned meat filled a need. Chinese-Hawaiians started frying it into rice with soy sauce, eggs, and onions, and at some later point someone added slices of kamaboko fishcakes, and a classic was born. The spam with soy sauce can be cumulatively salty, so have some water ready, but give it a try.
We also tried the Ali’i saimin, which is a fancy name for a mild Chinese noodle soup with fishcakes, egg, green onions, spam, and tempura shrimp. The Ali’i were the royalty of Hawaii and never tasted anything like this, because only the shrimp were around when the first foreigners arrived. The broth with noodles, spam, and fish cake is fairly mild, and the tempura shrimp are served on the side as much for dipping as anything else. It’s typically Hawaiian in that it’s a simple hearty meal that would give you the strength to do farm work with a smile for the rest of the day.
That’s what Anytime Hawaiian does – serve up the classics the way they’re supposed to be, without fuss or pretension. You can fancy up Hawaiian food, and sell it for several times the money here, but that’s not what they’re about. If that sounds good to you, this is the place to go.
Anytime Hawaiian is at 1252 Beryl Street in Redondo. Open Wed-Mon. noon – 8 p.m., Closed Tues. Parking lot. Contactless delivery. No alcohol. (424) 237-2834. AnyTimeHawaiian.com. ER
by Richard Foss