When Alexander Payne's new movie opens today, the scenery will be familiar to a fair-size contingent of students at Creighton University.
The film, "The Descendants," takes place in Hawaii. And for a landlocked school on the Plains, CU has more than its share of Hawaiian students.
Those students would tell you that their state's lush greenery, mountains and sparkling beaches are unlike Nebraska, especially in winter.
And they'd also tell you that food in Hawaii is different from our beef-loving culture.
In honor of the film — which is getting plenty of Oscar buzz — and because Wednesday is traditionally food day on our pages, we're offering a look at Hawaiian cuisine, including recipes.
In the islands, a casual party menu might may have Filipino lumpia (super-size egg rolls), shoyu chicken (a Hawaiian version of Japanese teriyaki chicken), a pineapple-upside down cake and a fruit platter piled high with mango, papaya and strawberries.
The mix of cultures on the islands creates an eclectic style of dining that melds Asian and Polynesian cuisines with some elements of dining on mainland America. Add pineapple, papaya and other tropical produce and you have the foundation for an exciting menu.
"If you go to a party, somebody will make something different and you want to try it," said Arron Min, a CU student from Hawaii. "People definitely try new, different foods from different cultures."
The same is true at home with family.
"We don't eat one kind of food," he said. "One night it's Japanese food, another night it's Chinese. You may have Hawaiian food for lunch. There are so many varieties of food you can enjoy them all."
Min, a junior, is president of the university's Hawaiian multicultural association, Hui O Hawaii. The club flies in a chef from Hawaii once a year to produce a luau. Club members assist in the kitchen and classmates eagerly await an invitation.
"It's definitely an experience from home that we create here," he said.
Min said the way cultures mix in Hawaii has a long history, even in his own family. Min's mother is full-blooded Japanese. His father is full-blooded Korean. His mother makes Korean dishes such as barbecued beef and miso soup to please his father. She also cooks Japanese, Hawaiian and Mexican food very well. And she makes a great lemon meringue — a dessert with roots in mainland America.
When Min visits his mother's family they eat a lot of food with a native Hawaiian heritage:
Y Lau lau, steamed leaf-wrapped bundles of seasoned meat and leafy greens.
Y Slow-cooked pig with a smoked flavor.
Y Poke (pronounced poh-keh), a mixture of cubed raw ahi (tuna), seaweed and/or green onion, soy sauce and maybe sesame oil.
Y Poi, the starchy staple of the islands, derived from the taro plant.
Y Lomi salmon, a mixture of cut-up raw salmon, with tomatoes, onion and green onions.
One of Min's favorite desserts, butter mochi, is a cross-culture blend of the Japanese candy-like sweet mochi and a butter-based cake.
Maorong Jiang, director of the Asian World Center at Creighton University, has fond memories of living and studying in Hawaii in the early 1990s and the early 2000s. He is a native of mainland China who completed his master's and Ph.D. degrees in religious studies at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
"There is a saying in China: 'Food is heaven,'" he said. "Imagine, having great food in beautiful Hawaii. No wonder it took me a longer time to finish my degrees there."
A leafy bundle of lau lau is one of Jiang's favorite main dishes and his filling of choice is a combination of butterfish, pork and chicken.
"It is delicious and juicy," he said.
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