If you’ve ever been married, you know it’s not easy planning for the big day. One visit to a wedding expo will have you seriously considering that 24hr drive through in Vegas. But if you thought planning your Waikiki wedding was tough, try doing it on Moloka’i.
We were recently invited to such an event. With no major hotels on Moloka’i and with no real wedding industry to speak of, the party was held in the bride and groom’s backyard with the help of family and friends. When we arrive, the reception is already taking shape under large canopy tents. My husband disappears to help with set up and I wander off to the kitchen.
The air is upbeat and intense. Family members busy crafting the evenings menu, made up of recipes practiced and perfected for years. Head chef, sous chef, and line cooks, everyone in their roles. Not knowing what to do, I jump in and stage. Part intern, part historian and unofficial taster, I do my best to stay out of the way and help where I can.
Outside, first course. Whole Kaua’i shrimp with basil. Stems removed, leaves chiffonade. Tossed with a healthy serving of minced garlic. Finished in butter.
Next smoke meat. Slightly cured, sweet and salty with a hard smoke on the edge, and lighter softer smoke throughout the meat.
Inside, chef and owner of Cafe 565, Aunty Adorna makes her famous tambo tambo. Coconut milk cooked with sugar, mochi balls, and tapioca. Made purple with sweet potato. Warm, comforting and not too sweet. It’s the perfect bed time story for your stomach, after a big meal.
Refreshing summer rolls. Shrimp, peeled and cooled, clear noodles, thin and snappy, with iceberg lettuce and cucumber in rice paper. Dipped in sweet chili.
Back outside a light drizzle and the beginning of a classic battle.
To the side, a barrel of kiawe ready for the grill. Crackling and smoky from the rain.
One of the perks of hanging with the cooks. Kiawe grilled venison.
Caught earlier in the week. Sliced thin, marinated in shoyu sugar and garlic.
Tender and smoky. The meat has a natural sweetness brought out by the marinade.
Along with potato mac salad. Made ahead. Kept cold and served in small batches.
Tents up and tables out. Lights strung. Lanterns hung. Drinks cold and rice washed–all 37 cups!
Everyone working calm but deliberately. We finish with just enough time for a quick clean up and costume change; while a few lucky dogs take a nap.
After a brief appearance, the rain holds back. The clouds part for a gorgeous beachside ceremony. Vows taken under a kiawe tree, Moloka’i red dirt underfoot.
Followed by a stunning sunset.
As guests trickle back to the reception, others arrive. When we return, the reception is in full swing, a line already started for pupus–sashimi, namasu, kimchee tako poke, and ahi poke…
Cubes of fresh caught ahi. Served cold with limu kohu, inamona, and alaea salt. A classic combination that never gets old. You could stand here all night, but the kitchen is calling.
Backstage, dinner is starting. Woks firing in every direction. On one side, the smoke meat. Browned and caramelized. Glistening from the heat. The wind carrying the mouthwatering smell of smoke.
On the other, basil butter garlic shrimp. Unlike others that stick to the shell, the shrimp slide out easily. Sweet, plump, and perfectly cooked.
Vinha d’alhos ahi, marinated in vinegar and spices. Dredged in flour and flash fried. Like vinegar in adobo, the acid tenderizes the meat. But rather than running ahead, it lingers in the background. Deliciously crisp and grainy edges. Seasoned perfectly.
‘Oio fishcake. Caught and scraped by hand, mixed with baby clams, seasoned baby carrots, onion, water chestnut, corn starch, and egg. Fried until golden brown.
Nothing like the cold dense blocks you find in the store. Bite size savory pillows served hot, straight from the wok. Light and fluffy on the inside with a delicate and crispy skin.
A truly impressive performance, as the rest of the wedding party continues through the night.
Guests happy and full, blissfully unaware of the months of planning and preparation.
When you think of some of the best meals of your life, it’s most likely not at a wedding. Getting the flavors just right, served at the exact temperature and perfect moment for 200+ people is near impossible, or so I thought.
In the end, when all the plates were cleared, it was not only the best food at a wedding, but some of the best food anywhere. Shaped by tradition, executed to the highest standard, and most importantly, made with love. A love for the land, love of food, and love for the happy couple.
Watch the entire event from start to finish