Top | Cronewolf Howls — Blog

Bringing an Island Tradition Home to the Great Northwest

(post, DawnHeather Simmons)

I lived in Hawai`i for six and a half years before moving to southwest Washington state.  When people here ask me where I came from, I might mention California (where I was born, and mostly grew up) or Colorado (where I lived for almost 25 years before moving to Hawai`i), but when I tell them I moved here from Hawai`i, the response is always one of total shock.  The most commonly-asked question is, “Why?”  The answer is complicated, and not really in the scope of this website.  Suffice it to say that Hawai`i is a beautiful place, and I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be there for an extended time, and that I am just as happy to be back on the mainland.  But, I suspect, I am like a lot of people who have lived in the islands in this respect:  Some things I learned there will never leave me.  One of those things is the Hawai`ian (by way of Japan) tradition of "omiyage."  

It’s my understanding that "omiyage" means, in a very general way, “souvenir” or “gift.” I’m also told that, as practiced in Japan, it is a highly structured tradition.  In the islands, like many things, it’s a lot more casual.  At its most basic, the practice is one of making sure to remember those at home when you have been away to another place, as if to share some part of your trip with them.  Or, to take a little bit of home to those you visit on another island.  Therefore, the gift must be fairly specific to that place, as well as be something the person you’re giving it to would find pleasant to receive.  And, in Hawai`i – I don’t know about in Japan – it is almost always a gift of food, and more often than not, something sweet.  Great "omiyage" is generally a specific and unique food item from a specific location or vendor on each island.  And each island has its things it’s known for.  When Krispy Kreme® opened its first – and only – store in the state on Maui, it was common to see people flying back from Maui with a dozen boxes of Krispy Kreme® doughnuts!  But more often, it was actual “island kine” things that were specific to each island.  On my rock, it was usually Lilikoi (passionfruit) Chiffon Pie from Hamura’s saimin stand in Lihue (not an easy thing to fly with), or maybe some Kaua`i Kookies®, or lilikoi preserves from Auntie Lilikoi, or a little something from the Guava Kai plantation.  If anyone went to Hilo, they were expected to come back with armloads of shortbread cookies, diagonally dipped in chocolate, from Big Island Candies.  There was a variety of favorite things from Honolulu, my favorites being “cocoa puffs,” a type of cream puff filled with rich chocolate custard from one of a couple of bakeries, and the pork hash (a variety of siu mai) and manapua (basically, a somewhat breadier version of char siu bao) from a specific bakery in Honolulu’s Chinatown.  I’m not sure anyone else would count this, but I, especially, liked the pineapple wine available from Maui’s Tedeschi Winery and the many lavender goodies (not all food) from Ali`i Kula Lavender (also on Maui).  

Here in the Northwest, I’ve found such a wonderful variety of local foods!  Sometimes when I’m thinking about all the tasty treats that abound in this region, I like to stop awhile and imagine what my favorites will be to take as "omiyage."  Because, you can be certain, I will continue this tradition I learned in Hawai`i, at least when visiting the most important people in my life who haven’t the privilege of living here.  Will it be an artisan cheese?  Maybe some apples, or hazelnuts or dried huckleberries – or, at least, something made with those ingredients?  A hearty microbrew?  Some Washington Riesling?  Maybe some luscious smoked salmon?  There are so many fine choices, and I am still far too new to this area to have discovered them all and figured out whose or what’s the best, even after almost three years!  

I am writing this as a sort of challenge to all of you.  Whether you are in the Northwest, or in any other part of the country, please share 1) where you are; and 2) if you were to begin practicing the tradition of "omiyage," what would YOU choose?  

And then, because it is such a lovely tradition, I would encourage you to begin!