Hawaii truly is a special place not only to visit and live, but also to grow up in from childhood, as I have. With that, while I was in the supermarket grocery shopping the other day, as I passed by the juice aisle, I noticed Malolo syrup (I’m admittedly not an observant shopper), and I was like “Dang, Malolo Syrup! I haven’t had that in DECADES!” Which brought back so many fond memories growing up.
Before continuing, as an FYI, “kaukau” is a Hawaii pidgin slang derived from
Cantonese that means “food”, “eat” or “let’s eat”, and “keiki” is a Hawaiian term for “child” or plural as “children”.
So there it was, gallon-size jugs of Malolo Syrup in every flavor on the store shelf, which was a regular part of my childhood, or as we like to refer to in Hawaii as “Hanabaddah Dayz”. I’ll explain what that means in comments if you ask. For those of you not familiar with Malolo Syrup, it’s essentially concentrated artificially-flavored sugar water that we make “juice” out of, with the most popular being Fruit Punch and Orange mixed together. Flavors available include Fruit Punch, Strawberry, Orange, Lemon-Lime and Grape. You can also use the concentrated syrup straight-up for Shave Ice.
Not only did we drink Malolo Syrup mixed with water as “juice”, but more popular, we always made “Ice Cake” out of it. “Ice Cake” is simply a higher concentration (sweeter) of Malolo Syrup to water, poured into paper cups and frozen ice-hard. To eat it, you pop-out the completely frozen cup-shaped “pop” and place it back in the paper cup upside-down (inverted) where it sticks out the top so you can lick away at it. Remember doing that? I sure do!
Speaking of concentrated sugar water, another drink popular with the keiki when I was a young boy way WAY back in the 70’s was Exchange. More so than the tiny steel can it was packaged in, those of you who remember Exchange probably most fondly remember their catchy jingle performed by Herb Ohta’s Termites band sung to the tune of “Round and Round” by Perry Como that goes like this:
The exchange goes round round round
and down down down
in your glass glass glass
makes your mind
think yum yum yum
It’s that Orangeade called Exchange
I grew up near Kaneohe Bay Shopping Center, where all the neighborhood kids would buy their snack chips, candies and Yick Lung “Crack Seed” (Chinese preserved seeds) from either Longs Drugs, or this tiny toy store called Play World. There after school I’d get my daily fix of Yick Lung Nibb-its Bar-B-Que Potato Curls, along with an Icee to wash it down. My favorite combo’ at the time!
Another favorite made in Hawaii snack chip of mine when I was small one keed (kid) were Hilo’s own Maebo One-Ton Chips, which back then were much more commonly sold on Oahu, whereas now you have to look a little harder to find them.
Also more commonly sold on Oahu back then were Maui’s own Kitch ‘n Cook’d Potato Chips, those kettle style chips that came in the clear bag with red and yellow labeling. Now you can only get those chips on Maui. To be honest, back then I didn’t care for them, thinking they were too greasy, however now I LOVE them!
Ah yes, candy, every child’s favorite food group! Some of my faves when I was a keiki included the Astro Pop (remember that?!), Pop Rocks, and when I played baseball in Little League, grape flavored Bubble Yum bubble gum. Oddly, I also liked Violets, only because my grandmother always had them in her purse.
DA’ MANAPUA MAN
Yup, everyone who grew in Hawaii most definitely remembers the neighborhood Manapua Man. While way back in the “olden days”, the Manapua Man would walk around with steam kettles hung on two sides of a bamboo pole straddled across his shoulder, in my younger years, Manapua Man usually drove around the neighborhood in an older faded white Chevy, Dodge or Ford cargo van with an open window on the side or back. From there he’d sell his onolicious Chinese Dim Sum, including steamed Manapua, Pork Hash, Chow Funn, Crispy Gau Gee, Honey Wonton Twists and Rice Cake. Along with that, he’d have a whole assortment of candies, chips, ice cream and cheap @ss Chinese plastic toys. My favorite being the Green Army Man with Parachute. We also loaded up on a Chinese candy called Haw Flakes from Manapua Man because they were so cheap.
Our neighborhood also had an Ice Cream Man, who was also Chinese, driving the same type of white van, except all he sold was ice cream and ice pops. You knew Ice Cream Man arrived thanks to his tinker bell music blasting to the point of distortion out the bull horn loudspeaker on his roof. Classic!
At least once a month on Sundays we’d have dad’s favorite Beef Pot Roast with all the fixinz (mash potatoes, rice, corn on the cob and salad) and the whole family sat and ate together at the dinner table. My grandmother’s signature dish was her Fried Chicken with the most onolicious White “Country” Gravy, which I’ll share the recipe with you later. She also made a kick @ss beef stew and fantastic garlic pork chops. She was an overall great cook of all-American diner style comfort food, and did most of the cooking in our home when I grew up. Contrary to that, I must also note, thanks to my mom’s insistence on it, we ALWAYS had a bowl of poi in the kitchen. Not a day without poi, my boy!
Speaking of poi, an interesting dish my grandmother used to prepare for me when I was a REALLY little boy was Warm Milk and Poi, which was good for tummy aches and just overall satisfyingly ono on a rainy day!
My grandmother also used to make her own lemon peel, leaving lemons out in 1 gallon glass jars on the roof to ferment. Was mo’ bettah ‘den da’ crack seed store!
An inlaw of mine used to work on the classic Kula Kai “Hawaiian Sampan” Aku fishing boat back in the late 70’s. And almost every time he came back from a fishing trip, he’d bring us one or two fresh-caught whole Aku (Skipjack Tuna) that we made sashimi and dry aku out of. Ever since then, I got hooked on raw fish, preferring it like that over cooked fish.
Regular readers here know that other than at home, I was practically raised on Mui Kwai Chop Suey, and then Kin Wah Chop Suey Restaurant in Kaneohe. So much so, the regular waitresses memorized what we were going to order, which never failed, was always: Abalone Soup, Sweet ‘n Sour Shrimp, Beef Broccoli, Sweet ‘n Sour Spare Ribs, Cold Ginger Chicken, Egg Foo Yong, Duck Egg and Crispy Gau Gee. Always the same thing, every time. That’s why I HATED Chinese food for years as an adult, being totally BURNT OUT. Thankfully I’ve made a comeback and now LOVE Chinese food. Yay!
Other than McDonald’s in Windward City Shopping Center, my dad’s favorite burger joint was Lee’s Drive In near the Kaneohe Post Office, who has only recently closed, now taken over by a Sushi joint. Thankfully, in honor of Lee’s long run in business there, the Sushi shop still makes Lee’s hamburgers in honor of them. Yay!
Other restaurants and takeout joints in Kaneohe my family frequented when I was a kid were Spencliff’s Tiki Tops in Windward City Shopping Center, Zippy’s (the restaurant in back with the juke box!), Tasty Treat (in front of Mui Kwai) and for birthdays, either Shakey’s Pizza in Kaneohe (corner Kam Hwy. & Lilipuna Rd.) and Farrell’s, when they were located in front of Kaneohe Bay Shopping Center. The latter of which is were all us neighborhood kids played video games (I was a “mastah” at Space Invaders and Galaxian!). For fancy dinners in town, we made many return visits to Jon Dominis and La Ronde revolving restaurant atop the Ala Moana Building. Remember that?! On the windward side, our favorite finer dining spots were Haiku Gardens Restaurant (now called Haleiwa Joe’s) and Kimo’s, which was on the 3rd floor of what was then HonFed building on the corner of Kam Hwy. and Kahuhipa Street.
Our next-door neighbor was a nuclear sub commander, and he used to often take us to his favorite place simply called Mongolian Barbecue at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station.
My sister attended Kamehameha School from Kindergarten through 12th (grad). And every year after the song contest during her high school years, we’d take her to celebrate with the Prime Rib buffet dinner right across the street from the NBC Arena at Flamingo Chuckwagon, at the corner of Ward Ave.and Kapiolani Boulevard.
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I’ve got a bunch more Keiki Kaukau Memories to share of grinds and places that I’ll add in comments.
Let’s hear from you! What are your most fond (and perhaps not so fond) Keiki Kaukau Memories when and where you grew up in Hawaii? And If you didn’t grow in Hawaii, share them anyway!