How to up your bon dance cred

I’ve been a bon dance fool. I’ve danced backwards when everyone is going forward, I’ve been too busy scoping out the fresh corn and andagi to remember my grandparents’ ashes right there in the temple columbarium. And Buddha forbid, I think I’ve even dressed little kids for picture-taking in the style reserved for dead people.

I’m living proof that growing up Buddhist and going to bon dances doesn’t fool-proof you at the summer festivals Hawaii has come to love. So here are some tips to help you look good, or at least like you know what you’re doing, at your next bon dance.

11033127_913644018695691_7069473390703419593_nGo early. Yes it’s hot, but you’ll find parking and food. Early is when temple priests will chant to open the bon dance, which is held to assure spirits of the dead that we’re all OK. If there are special performances, like taiko or lion dances, they’ll happen at the beginning.

Leave the center ring to the pros. A circle of women in identical yukata means this dance troupe is demonstrating the moves for everyone else. No ladies in identical yukata? Go for it.

IMG_3389Yup, those are yukata, not kimono. Yukata are made of cotton for hot summer weather; kimono are often made of heavy silk and are reserved for formal occasions. Show your cred: Don’t say ‘kimono’ at a bon dance.

More cred: That yukata is always worn left over right. Right over left is how corpses are dressed for funerals.

Don’t even worry about having a yukata or happi coat. Bon dances stopped requiring them a while ago. A lot of times you’ll find these for sale at the temple, though.

Look around. Basements, social halls and annexes of temples hold attractions that up the bon experience. Hawaii Shingon Mission has a tiny bazaar with food and craft vendors. Honpa Honganji, my home temple, has people like me dressing bon dancers and their kids in yukata and obi for professional picture-taking.

11667537_913643122029114_2527834885027924293_nGo easy on the baked goods and pickles. A lot of times, all the homemade butter mochi, corn flake cookies and old-fashioned Japanese pickles for sale are made by temple ladies like these, the group who made Honpa Honganji’s Spam musubi this past weekend. Baking and slicing vegetables for pickles is labor intensive, and there’s a limit to how much they can make. Given the appetites of excited foodies like me, these simple treats run out fast. Please don’t hoard. Let others taste the flavors of the past.

1472834_913644775362282_6994172304823083013_nLook for politicians. In election years, they’re often passing out fans.

That dance that everybody rushes to join? The recorded number? That’s ‘Tanko Bushi.’ It’s a miner’s song, so yes, you should make like you’re digging with a shovel.

If you don’t know the dance with the sticks, don’t dance with sticks. These may have a tendency to fly out of your hands. Trust me on this.

Wear soft shoes. Tell all your friends. Except for the Okinawan Festival at Kapiolani Park, bon dances in Honolulu are on asphalt or indoors. You won’t believe the number of moves where everyone stops suddenly and starts dancing backward. Your dancemates will thank you.

— Photos courtesy of Ruth Tokumi

Kakaako street food scene hits 2.0

Those tables, tents and food trucks you see at the old Fisherman’s Wharf? On Ala Moana just across Ward Warehouse? That’s Kakaako’s new street food pod.

Not only that, it’s a permanent thing, and the start of something much bigger. Those five trucks and tents will rotate every day at lunch and dinner, seven days a week, so the lineup is always changing. And with much of the area being converted to semi-permanent built-out stalls, elevated decks, a bar area, a space for movie nights, a doggie rest area and parking, the rotating lineup of five vendors at a time will triple by late summer. You can find out who’ll be there when at

What else? Even bigger news ahead for Eat the Street, already one of the country’s largest street food fests: It’s doubling in size, and it won’t be monthly any more. Here’s Poni Askew of Streetgrindz, driver of all these happenings, with details of what’s coming.

Streetgrindz Kewalo
1011 Ala Moana Blvd.
Lunch 10am to 3pm
Dinner 5 to 10pm

Something new: OMG, Honolulu finally has Korean chain chicken

Do you know Korean chain chicken? I mean, do you really KNOW Korean chain chicken?

I don’t. But the one time in my life I had some, in Seoul four years ago, was mildly life-changing. It was Kyo-chon chicken, twice-fried and deliciously coated in a shoyu-garlic sauce. Two years later in New York a Kyo-chon chicken truck rumbled by and my hand shot out toward it, as if trying to call back that fleeting moment of light, crispy shoyu garlic.

So when my friend Mike, a Korean-American chef, told me about Von’s, a new Korean chain chicken counter in Kalihi, I was right there.


What: Von’s Oven Chicken
Where: Far back left corner inside Palama Market, 1070 N. King St. (at Kokea), Honolulu 96817
Phone: 808-845-9510
Tip: Call ahead or be prepared to wait 15 minutes while chicken is cooked
Better tip: Use the wait time to buy rice and sides. Palama Market sells kim bap, fat sushi rolls stuffed with minced garlic beef, carrots, spinach, takuan and egg; plus shoyu potatoes, choi sum, kimchee and other sides at a banchan bar

OMG, the fried chicken. The menu is small and there’s only one kind of fried: plain crispy. Von’s is known for somewhat healthier baked Korean chicken in flavors like Von’s special sauce (deep, sweet and spicy), garlic, and honey mustard roast.

FullSizeRender-12But guess what’s been the No. 1 seller in the month since Von’s opened? Crispy fried chicken! As in incredibly crispy and light, fried once for eight to nine minutes in a simple seasoned flour batter. I’m allergic to fried chicken, but who can resist a No. 1 seller? So I picked up an order and drove it over to a friend. I only inhaled one drumette while I was waiting for her to come outside. OMG. I inhaled another.

“It’s so delicious, I’m crying,” my friend said.

If you go, forget the stuff on the menu about wings and drumsticks. There are none. It’s all drumettes, in mini orders (10 pieces, $11.99) or full (20 pieces, $20.99). And look for the extremely friendly franchise owner, Jay Park. He’s a fount of info.

FullSizeRender-9Look! Here’s this year’s top 10 Korean chicken chains, ranked by market share. BBQ is in the lead with an incredible 20 percent, followed by Kyochon. KFC is No. 7 with just 2.6 percent of the Korean market! All this is according to Park, because I can’t read Korean.

“Korean people like chicken,” Park says. “Almost 200 chicken chains in Korea. If you go, you’ll see a chicken shop, then Starbucks, maybe another shop, then another chicken shop. This year Von’s introduced a new direction with chicken sandwiches so it’s not on the list. Last year it was No. 11.”

“Local people like chicken,” he continues. Of course we do. “KFC, Jollibee, everybody fries chicken. But these days people want well-being, well-being, well-being.”

Not me. I want more crispy fried.

Something new: Bellini Bistro

belliniOn a cool and breezy night I wanted the hominess of a simple chicken — nothing Asian, nothing battered and as close to roasted as I could get. Which is why, Friday night last week, I was on my way to Kincaid’s with a friend when we drove by Bellini Bistro at Ward and boom! saw that it had opened.

Bellini is the townside creation of Maile Sengoura of Hawaii Kai’s Maile’s Thai Bistro. Rustic Italian menu, casual upscale vibe, and who, I ask who, can resist a restaurant named Bellini? Cancel the Kincaid’s reservation (it was Friday night) and bring me the bellini menu.


Beef carpaccio, $17: roll up all, drizzle with sauce. More wine-friendly without the lettuce

Beef carpaccio, $17: roll up all, drizzle with sauce. More wine-friendly without the lettuce

What I like: You can sit outside. I don’t care that this al fresco arrangement fronts Auahi Street across garish, monolithic Pier One, it reminds me of relaxing afternoons and evenings in other, bigger cities, talking and eating in the shade of buildings as people go by and the sky changes colors. I liked the signature bellini, which adds elderflower liqueur and seltzer to the prosecco and white peach puree. I liked that it was $7 at happy hour instead of $12 regular. And I loved my chicken.

Lest you think my chicken simple, it was. A burst of salt on crisped skin, the fragrance of anchovies, soft morsels of garlic. While I was eating, Sengoura and another staffer stopped by to tell me this was their favorite dish. If I could, I’d have it swimming under a mound of tomato-rich pasta; I had mine with fluffy potatoes. I’m still thinking about it.

Pollo alla aglia soia, $26: a.k.a. crispy skin-on chicken thigh pieces sauteed in olive oil, anchovies and garlic

Pollo alla aglia soia, $26: a.k.a. crispy skin-on chicken thigh pieces sauteed in olive oil, anchovies and garlic

Oxtail osso bucco with pasta, $27: Rich, simmered in a layered tomato sauce, fall-off-the-bone tender

Oxtail osso bucco with pasta, $27: Rich, simmered in a layered tomato sauce, fall-off-the-bone tender

Bellini opened just last Thursday and has yet to grand-open. You’ll see dishes you might recognize from the style of Assaggio and Paesano, both owned by members of Sengoura’s family, but it’s a more streamlined and slightly more expensive menu. There are twists like an oxtail osso bucco, a full bar and a happy hour (bellini time!) between 3 and 5 p.m.


Bellini Bistro & Bar
Ward Centre
1200 Ala Moana Blvd. (Auahi Street side)
Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 4 to 11 p.m.

Ladies vs Gents: Whose cuisine will reign supreme?

So MW Restaurant is putting together a benefit dinner with a male vs. female lineup of culinary superstars. Which is heart-stopping enough (I know who I’m putting my money on), but I wanted to know more.

“It all started because Lee Anne wanted to do a girls dinner, so last month we did one with Les Dames d’Escoffiers,” MW’s Michelle Karr-Ueoka says. That’s Lee Anne Wong of Koko Head Cafe, who famously soared to national prominence when she made the final four in season one of Top Chef.

“We had so much fun,” Karr-Ueoka was saying. “Wade (Ueoka, the other half of MW) goes, when’s the boys dinner? I said we should do a boys vs. girls. Then Lee Anne says, that sounds cool! So Wade got his team together and we said let’s go.”

DSC_0001_edited-1Up for the women: Wong, Koko Head’s new chef de cuisine Nicole Anderson, Karr-Ueoka, Pig and the Lady pastry chef Rachel Murai and Roy’s Restaurants corporate chef Jackie Lau. Their mixologist is Chandra Lucariello of Southern Wine & Spirits.

For the men: Chris Kajioka of San Francisco’s Mourad and formerly of Vintage Cave, Mark “Gooch” Noguchi of the new Mission Social Hall & Cafe, Sheldon Simeon of Migrant Maui, Pig and the Lady’s Andrew Le and Ueoka. Mixologist is Bevy’s Christian Self.


With each chef making one canape and cooking one course, every diner gets 10 canapes, 10 courses and two cocktails, all featuring local ingredients. The catch? You won’t know who cooked what.

“Let’s say Lee Anne is competing against Gooch, they’re gonna have the same ingredient,” Karr-Ueoka says. “You’ll get five pink tickets, five blue tickets. Let’s say the first dish is made with kampachi. You’ll know which kampachi is from the female and which is from the male. That’s all. If you like the boy dish, you give the blue ticket to the server.

“It’s like a people’s choice award. At the end, the team who has the most tickets wins. It’s a friendly competition, and we wanted the guests to be the judge.”

Ladies vs Gents copyHa so. Proceeds benefit the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation, which helps culinary programs throughout the state with funding and professional resources. This fundraiser is created and brought together by chefs, to help give a leg up to chefs of the future.

Ladies vs Gents
A Culinary Farm to Table Battle

Sunday, May 3
Cocktails 6 p.m., dinner 6:30
MW Restaurant
1538 Kapiolani Blvd.
Tickets: $200 for dinner, $250 with wine pairings, available online at