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01 September, 2011


Maybe you knew about it all along, but it was not until I was fully grown that I learned about the Hawai'i - Northwest connection. Cook and then Vancouver sailed (and ailed and aled) between these places in the late 18th Century, and there are those who feel that certain petroglyphs in Bella Coola may demonstrate that the Hawaiians had already done so before. The Hawaiian islands provided sandalwood and firewood, provisions and crew (weary and horny Anglos jumped ship in Lahaina, and adventurous Hawaiians took their places) during the fur and silk trade. Maybe because they both loved kings, the Hawaiians and British took to each other, among the expressions of which was a minor migration of Hawaiians to the Columbia and points north, in country that was then more Brittanic (or Gallic, maybe Russki).

I moved to Hawai'i before I knew any of this, and so I was a little surprised to find that a favorite dish there, and pretty much the only local kine grind with land-based non-starchy vegetables in it was something called lomi salmon. Tomato (hard to grow in the islands since diseases and fungi caught up, but historic sources indicate it did alright soon after introduction), onion, and salt salmon. It looks like this (but tastes even better):

"Lomi" derives from lomilomi, the Hawaiian art of massage. You need to turn the ingredients together with your hands to get the  tomato juice on the salmon, to bleed onion spice into the tomato, and to spread the salmon salt throughout. 

I made this last week with the trimmings from a king salmon I'd inexpertly filleted. Salted and drained and resalted and redrained and salted again the bits o salmon. Rinsed and dried and added a diced Yakima tomato and homegrown progeny of Walla Walla onion. 

None of the girls would share it with me, because they figured the salmon was raw. True, it was never cooked, but the salt basically dehydrates it, so it does not seem so raw. Not exactly jerky tough, but the salmon ends up being a salty, slightly chewy nugget in the soft tomato matrix. The onions add crunch, sweet allium crunch. I had no ogo, but may try to get some next time. 

This dish marries the Northwest and Hawai'i Nei, transcending a swath of the world's largest ocean. To eat it is to consume history, to break open the barrel of salt fish in a Honolulu house, to hybridize cuisines in a Kanaka Village kitchen on the Columbia. To have it here and now, with a sun-ripened tomato, a sweet onion from my yard, and a salmon that swam the morning before it was salted, is delicious beyond description.

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