For Ravi Kapur, the Spam-championing chef of San Francisco’s Liholiho Yacht Club, frequent trips home to Oahu are like a soul-food reboot.
What’s the first thing you notice when you set foot in Hawaii? People just dress, look, talk, and act so differently. They aren’t rushing around on their phones and sending emails. Everything around you says, You’re in Hawaii now. Chill.
Where’s your memory lane? My mother is Native Hawaiian–Chinese. I used to visit Honolulu’s Chinatown with my grandmother when I was a kid. She went there every day to shop and would haggle with the vendors to get the best price. I definitely picked up some of that.
Sounds like the making of a chef. Yeah, growing up in an intense daily market environment made me so comfortable in that world. It taught me not to think of food as something that you buy large amounts of for a long period of time, but as something you shop for every single day. Farmers’ markets are a part of life in Hawaii, whereas in San Francisco it’s kind of a newer thing.
What dishes are on your checklist when you go home? I always seek out Ying Leong Look Funn Factory. For two bucks, you get Chinese rice noodles rolled up and served with diced barbecue pork, scallions, and black vinegar. I also look for menpachi—a flaky, sweet fish that is simply panfried with a little oil and Hawaiian salt.
What does a dinner party on Oahu look like versus one on the mainland? Oh my god, it’s crazy! On Oahu, if there are going to be 10 people, that means you’re cooking 10 pounds of pork, 10 pounds of poke, and around 30 fish. You always plan on more people showing up, and they always do. Everyone brings something to share. It could be anything—say, taro that you got from your friend who has a farm.
Any common threads between these feasts and your restaurant? Probably the warm, genuine, welcoming spirit of aloha that we try to bring. That and the portion sizes.
Ravi’s Cheat Sheet: When on Oahu, you must eat these three specialties.
Plate lunch: A base of two scoops of white rice, topped with meat (say, Portuguese sausage or Kalua pork) and gravy, with a side of macaroni salad. Try it at Sugoi’s.
Lau lau: Pork, chicken, fish, or veggies wrapped in several layers of taro leaf and then steamed. Ravi’s favorite is served at Ono Hawaiian Foods.
Pipikaula: Beef short ribs that are salted, then dried like beef jerky. At Helena’s Hawaiian Food, they make it even better by panfrying it.