tl;dr – Find out where food/dishes came from. Eat more kalo.
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I’ve been inspired recently by Dåkot-ta Alcantara-camacho who is opening up conversations about the Chamorro language – pointing out influences of Spanish colonization and promoting the actual indigenous word/phrase.
So here’s my bit for today about food words/names used in Hawai`i:
Today a haole bought a grab-and-go noodle dish, and asked if it should be eaten hot or cold, “because I know sometimes saimin is eaten cold,” he said. The type of noodle was 米粉… which is never eaten cold (unless it’s leftovers and I’m too lazy to warm it up). I was confused.
Finally looked it up. First, he was wrong. In all the ways.
But also got some cool background – the name comes from the Cantonese pronunciation of 細麵 (literal translation “thin noodles”), the food saimin is similar to ramen…which is apparently is itself a Japanese pronunciation of Chinese 拉麵 (la mian – in Guoyu not Cantonese).
So…saimin, manapua, spam musubi, chicken long rice, stuffed uhu, etc. All twists on dishes from immigrant/settler’s cuisines, making do with what was available and influenced by the melting pot. Possibly similar to American Indian frybread.
I know a lot of locals are proud of these foods, but as Jack Gray put it, “Being ‘proud’ is not the same as being ‘cognizant’. Collapsing cultural complexity into a happy brown puddle is akin to erasure.” Jack was responding to a Chamorro person who was saying Chamorro people should embrace and be proud of their Spanish last names because “it is a part of who you are.” …ok. (for the full conversation, click here. It’s in the comments.)
In the case of food in Hawai`i, I assume that most people just use those names without knowing the origins and stories behind them (and also sometimes use names in the wrong situation, like mandoo for any dumpling even if it’s not Korean, or mochi for anything made with glutinous rice) – which ends up reductively representing or erasing the distinct and diverse cuisines/cultures that inspired those foods. Same thing happens stateside – with the erasure of the African origins of “Southern” cuisine and white people claiming it…also tacos, bagels, pizza, etc. And all over the world…yay globalization.
So what to do? Learn the stories behind these food, acknowledge their origins, and how different names/phrases are used in the actual language. But honestly, these foods still perpetuate settler colonialism and erase Native Hawaiian culture, by maintaining dominance of settler food instead of promoting Native Hawaiian food.
Conclusion: We can just avoid this whole “happy brown puddle” mess by eating more kalo.
(image source: https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g60623-d493044-i77774506-Hamura_Saimin_Stand-Lihue_Kauai_Hawaii.html)