ALA Annual: First night, stunning food and people


As I mentioned before, I resorted to writing blog posts on scraps of paper during ALA. Here is the first post I wrote:

I’m severely jet-lagged – it’s 2 a.m. NYC eastern time, but I had to record tonight’s events…

Here I’ve been reading Gastronomical Me and My Life in France, and I’ve been envying Julia and MFK for their writing skills and travels. They experienced so much of life and food, where it seemed I had done neither. Well, no longer.

A member of my Emerging Leaders group, A__, is a native Hawaiian and lives on Oahu. He invited our group (four of us) over to his suite tonight to work on our poster session. His wife, his wife’s cousin, and his “Hawaiian sister” were there, and they surprised us with what can only be described as a feast. Two kinds of seaweed from the islands that tasted exactly like the ocean: briny, salty, living. Raw crab! Dumplings – some fried, some baked – filled with taro, pork, and all kinds of seasonings I couldn’t identify. Raw onions sprinkled with Hawaiian sea salt made by A__’s relatives. Smoked marlin and dried tuna, caught, dried, and smoked by his family. Limpets, dead and uncooked, in a bowl – they were chewy and tasted like the sea too. He gave us the detailed account of how difficult it is to master the art of getting the limpet detached from the rocks. He told us that he had wanted to prepare a traditional mango dessert but, alas, the agriculture people seized those at the airport. He rattled off the Hawaiian names of everything, rapidly and fluidly, hardly taking a breath.

I was voracious. I couldn’t eat enough. I couldn’t remember the names of anything.

But there’s more. When the feasting was winding down, A__’s wife played the ukulele and sang a Hawaiian song with him. Then his cousin sang a heartbreaking song a cappella about Hawaii’s queen* locked away in her own palace by the white settlers. I was already feeling blessed and overwhelmed…but there was still more! A__ danced a hula while everyone sang a song in Hawaiian, which was apparently all about sex, according to our hosts. A__ kept storytelling throughout, explaining the origin of each song. I felt full, content, satisfied.

Tonight, in a Residence Inn suite, I felt like I saw the Real Hawaii: warm hospitality, full hearts, endless giving, sadness, complicated flavors and emotions, love, community. I’ll never forget it my whole life – the day I flew to Anaheim to experience Hawaii.

Eat, drink, and a warm-hearted mahalo nui loa to A__ and the rest of my Emerging Leaders group for an unforgettable experience.

* I did some research because I couldn’t remember the name of the Queen…however, I came up with a couple names and I don’t want to offend anyone by printing the wrong name here.

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