Hawaiian snacks are a blend of the many cultures who have immigrated to the Hawaiian Islands over the past centuries. The Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, and Portuguese have all left their unique mark upon the Hawaiian culinary landscape. While many people who are new to the Hawaiian culture are a bit hesitant to pop a strange piece of dried up, salty fruit in their mouth or tackle that odd piece of leathery, fishy smelling cuttlefish…the locals always have a hankering for the salty, sweet, delicious flavors of their favorite kakimochi, li hing mui, or dried seafood and it’s a craving that grows exponentially stronger the farther or longer away they are from their beloved Islands.
Crack Seed, Li Hing Mui, & Dried Fruit – For thousands of years, the Chinese used preserved dried fruit to supplement their meals when they traveled over the mountainous terrain of China. Fruits such as plums, lemons, and ginger were preserved with salt which naturally replenished the salt lost through sweat over their long journeys. The salt also helped their bodies retain water and lessened muscle cramps. When the Chinese immigrated to Hawaii, the dried fruits provided a cheaper alternative to the expensive fruits and vegetables on the island. The Chinese snacks found a home in the shops of Chinatown originally being shipped from Mainland China. But it wasn’t long before local shopkeepers began developing their own crack seed or li hing mui to suite local island tastes. The name “crack seed” refers to the seed in the dried fruit that had been cracked to add more flavor while the Chinese term “li hing mui” literally means traveling plum.
You may notice that a lot more than dried plums have the name Li Hing to them…Li Hing Gummy Bears, Li Hing Popsicles, and Li Hing Arare to name a few. Hawaiians love this salty, sweet licorice taste that is intensified with artificial sweeteners. A whole repertoire of Li Hing recipes have been developed to satisfy the Li Hing craze…Li Hing Margaritas, Li Hing Cake, and Li Hing Mui Vinaigrette…the list goes on.
Kakimochi, Arare, & Senbei – One of the most popular local snacks, the Japanese rice cracker was brought to Hawaii by Japanese plantation workers in the 1900’s. This crunchy cracker made of glutinous rice comes in a variety of flavors and styles. It is usually baked and a mixture of salty soy sauce and sweet, but can also be fried, or wrapped in seaweed, have a peanut in the center, or flavored with sesame seeds. In Japan, arare or osenbei, ranges from the cheaper bags found at convenience stores to the individually wrapped ‘art forms’ found expensively priced at department stores. The locals use the term kakimochi (literally fire glutinous rice paste) for this favorite island treat. Senbei refers to the sweeter baked crackers having a fortune cookie like flavor. Kakimochi mixed with hot buttered popcorn at the movie theaters is a local standard. One of our most popular types of Kakimochi, the Wasabi Iso Peanut is even served in bottomless bowls at many of the Four Seasons Hotels.