The Hawaii Obon season has already started in remote locations on the Big Island and starts on
the rest of the islands from next weekend. What once was traditionally a Buddhist festival to
remember those that have passed before us, the annual festivals have attracted both Buddhist
and non-Buddhist alike. Some attend for the spiritual reconnection with the deceased, others
simply to engage in cultural activities that aren’t their own; some simply enjoy the rhythmic
dances and taiko drums while others are just trying to keep cultural traditions alive. And then of
course, there’s the food. Chow fun served in conical shaved ice cups. Skewered and grilled
teriyaki meat. Grilled corn. Shave ice. Of course, I’d never attend any event simply for the
food… yah, right!
For the past 12 years, Shinnyo-en and the Na Lei Aloha Foundation have sponsored a toro
nagashi or lantern festival off of Magic Island at Ala Moana Beach Park. The toro nagashi
traditionally concludes the Obon season and lights the way for deceased spirits to find their way
back. However when there’s a blending of multiple cultures, change is usually inevitable and in
the case of the lantern festival, it now coincides with America’s remembrance of the deceased or
Memorial Day. Which means the lantern festival now occurs before the Obon season starts. I
guess the lanterns now help to guide spirits for their Obon arrival. In any case, the festival now
draws in excess of 10,000 people to Ala Moana Beach Park and is usually televised live on the
local television stations.
The Only Constant is Change
While this idiom is usually true, there are changes that I agree with and others that well,…
Should we always remember the deceased ? Definitely though it shouldn’t simply be an annual
ritual. We should care for gravesites, adorn family alters with flowers and remember deceased
loved ones throughout the year, not just during the Obon season. Should the Tanko Bushi
always be a part of Obon? Most definitely, especially since that’s the only dance I can remotely
perform. What about the Baseball Ondo? Err… well.. And as for those brightly adorned priests
and priestesses that wear lime green, orange and baby blue robes, I’ll let you decide for
yourselves on that one.
However, I see nothing wrong with making small changes to the usual food served at Obon
festivals. While copious consumption of butter, saturated fat and cholesterol may have been
okay years ago (mainly because we didn’t what they were or what they did), moderation while
consuming these foodstuffs are the key. Therefore in Gochiso Gourmet tradition, I propose my
own personal changes to Obon foods that I hold in my memory banks.
Hawaii style chow fun is very simple to make with just four basic ingredients; packaged chow
fun noodles, ground pork, chop suey mix (mainly bean sprouts with a little cabbage and coarse
grated carrots) and Memmi. However ground pork does carry its fair share of fat and we should
always try to consume more whole grain carbohydrates so I substituted whole wheat flat pasta
for the chow fun and ground turkey breast for the ground pork. That’s why it’s Chow Funny…
no actual chow fun but just as delicious. Serve in a conical shave ice cups for memories of past
Bon Odori at Wailuku Hongwanji.
1/3 lb whole grain linguini or fettuccini
1 tbsp Canola oil
1 clove garlic, slivered
½ lb ground turkey breast
½ tsp five spice powder
2 cups raw bean sprouts
¼ head small cabbage roughly chopped
1 carrot coarsely grated
2-3 tbsp Kikkoman Memmi
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Break pasta in half and boil according to package instructions. Drain and set aside. Mix five spice
powder into ground turkey and set aside. Heat oil then add garlic slivers and sauté until just
beginning to brown. Add ground turkey over medium heat breaking up turkey into small pieces.
Add veggies and cook just until veggies start to soften. Add Memmi, salt and black pepper and
toss. Drizzle with pickling liquid from spicy pickled peppers if desired.
Grilled Tandoori Chicken
While the classic skewered teriyaki meat brings back Obon memories, teriyaki meat also carries
its fair share of fat. Therefore substituting chicken breast reduces that to a minimum. But
Tandoori? Isn’t that Indian? Yes it is but since Obon is a traditional Buddhist festival, what
better food to savor than delicacies from the land where Buddhism originated?
1 tray of boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced lengthwise to 1 inch strips (for skewering)
1/3 cup plain fat free yogurt
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp peeled and grated or crushed ginger root
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
1 tsp salt or to taste
Prick the flesh of the chicken all over with a fork. Then, using a sharp knife, cut slashes in the
flesh to allow the marinade to penetrate. Place the chicken in a sealed zipped plastic bag.
Combine the next 11 ingredients then add to the chicken. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. (Do
not marinate for longer than 2 days.) Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 30
minutes before cooking. Wipe excess marinade from chicken then skewer for grilling. Place on a
hot grill and cook on each side for 2 to 4 minutes until the juices run clear.
Grilled Corn Salad
The grilled corn I remember was either slathered in butter or a shoyu based sauce or a
combination of the two. Corn, good. Butter, not so good and it gets your mouth and hands a
little greasy. Try this grilled corn salad that still has dairy albeit fat free sour cream and won’t
give you that greasy feeling.
3 cup fresh corn kernels (about 5 ears)
¾ cup fat free sour cream
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
¾ teaspoon smoked salt (available at gourmet markets)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped green onions
Peel back corn husk (but don’t remove), remove corn silk then pull husks back up the cob.
Place on a hot grill and grill for 2-4 minutes on each side. Combine next 4 ingredients in a large
bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add corn and remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Cover and
refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.
A Final Word
Making small dietary changes like those highlighted above may help prevent our own family
from dancing on our behalf during the summer months of Obon. Of course, as in anything in
life there are no guarantees. Other than death and taxes. But it may just delay the time that the
Grim Reaper pays you a personal visit. And while it’s important to remember and honor our
ancestors, I think it’s just as important to do the same to those that are still with us. This little
orb would be a better place if we all tried to accomplish that. Namu Amida Butsu.
Old Bon Odori, New Food