New coobook offers true taste of Hawaii

Alana Kysar must cringe whenever she sees “Hawaiian pizza” on a menu. Not because she objects to the taste of the ham and pineapple topping, but because it’s not Hawaiian. And whenever she hears that association — a creation, she says, of the tourism industry and pineapple companies — it “crushes my heart a little.”

The Maui native and food blogger hopes to set the record straight with “Aloha Kitchen: Recipes from Hawai’i,” a fascinating and visually stunning homage to the foods of her heritage: rainbow-colored shave ice with mochi balls and ice cream; her mom’s Portuguese bean soup and cornbread; and Spam musubi, an iconic snack of lightly fried slices of the compressed ham product wrapped with short-grain rice and strips of nori.

True Hawai’i food, she writes, is an amalgamation of influences of its early immigrants, beginning with the Polynesian wayfinders who arrived around 300 A.D., followed much later by Westerners who built fortunes in the sugar and pineapple industries, and then by laborers from China, Japan, Portugal, Korea, and the Philippines who joined the burgeoning plantation workforce.

Only descendants of the original immigrants are considered Hawaiians and, as the daughter of a Californian and a third-generation Japanese-American (sansei), that does not include herself. Kysar takes care to respect these distinctions, marking each recipe with a symbol representing the ethnic group who inspired it.

Kysar’s use of the okina — the diacritical mark between the two i’s in the spelling of Hawai’i – further reinforce to her intention to remain true to her native culture from cover to cover.

She uses a diagram of the ubiquitous Hawaiian plate lunch to explain this complex cultural melting pot, consisting of a protein, vegetable, carbohydrate such as rice, and a “mayo-y carbohydrate” like macaroni salad. These components inspire many of her recipes: Teriyaki Beef Sticks, Chicken Adobo, Kalua Pig. Most look easy to replicate at home, though some may require a trip to an Asian market for ingredients.

In addition to these homey entrees, you’ll find recipes for lomi salmon, poke, Macadamia Nut Cream Pie and other fixings for a fabulous luau you can recreate right here in Atlanta. No one will miss the pineapple.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at


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