Food Box

Image: Penny Kumagai Atcheson

Fluent in Flavor

Say tsukemono and watch people’s reactions.

You’ll note the experienced tsukemono eater, particularly one who likes salt, will immediately salivate. A raised brow accompanied with a drool means, “Yes, mmmm…” A crunched expression with a squished nose and curled lip means, “Umm, no not for me.”

So when someone at a Honpa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple mini-market offered a sample of their chayote tsukemono with a wrinkled li hing mui, my delight was expressed all over my face.

A typical tsukemono recipe uses vinegar, salt, sugar and often cabbage or cucumber. The processing time is minimally 24 hours. Variations occur when adding extras like chilies, lemon or shoyu. The result is a sweet, salty, briny, sour, crunchy pickle eaten with rice.

Chayote is fascinating itself, but basically it’s a squash native to Mexico. Grown here and made into a Hawaiian/Japanese/Mexican fusion item makes chayote tsukemono seem über-local. Finding it at a church, sold by the ladies who made it with aloha. Doesn’t get more local than that.

Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, 1727 Pali Hwy., Sun., 2/19, 522-9200