Crack Seed Store 1156 Koko Head Ave. Open Mon-Sat 9:30am-6:00pm
After ordering my all vegan sprout salad, my sweet tooth pulls me to the store next door. The sign out front reads simply “Crack Seed Store.” I can’t decide if it’s meant matter of fact or staking its claim as The Crack Seed Store.
At the entrance, a young mainland couple tries talking story with the man behind the counter. “You always see those pictures of Honolulu and these glass jars so we wanted to check it out” he laughs. “How long have you been doing this?” Forty years. The man says. “What made you want to do this?” Dunno. He shrugs and smiles, looking puzzled by the inquiry. With neither knowing where to go with the conversation, there’s an awkward pause. “Ok. Bye. Thanks!” They turn to the door and exit empty handed.
Thinking back on that scene I can see how it could be intimidating. Glass jars filled with who knows what. Dried, shriveled, and salted, floating in liquid, with names like king mui, football seed, and olive cake. But for us that grew up in Hawaii, a visit to the crack seed store is just second nature. It’s the go-to after school spot. The obligatory stop for a good report card or no cavities after the dentist–the latter of which never really happened for me. Go figure.
As we walk in I ask if a lot of people come visit. “Oh yeah” He says. “Andrew Zimmern been here” He points to where I’m standing. Apparently I’ve been living under a rock. The man behind the counter turns out, is also the owner, Mr. Kon Ping Young. And the shop, now neighborhood landmark, has been in the same spot since the 1940s.
While not the original owner, Kon Ping has dedicated his life to crack seed. Coming to Hawaii from Hong Kong when he was 12, he took over the shop at the age of 29. Since then, he’s become a master of crack seed, even making his own recipes for the tangy salty snacks.
Like your local deli, the crack seed store has something for everyone. But you have to sample a few to find what you like. My husband quickly jumps in “Can I try that salted ginger?” Not exactly what he was looking for. “Can I try the one next to it?” he points. No shame. Just ask.
The list of options is endless and Mr. Young’s shop is particularly well stocked. Crunchy asian crackers, dried squid and jerky, li hing flavored everything, japanese sweets, chewy peanut bars, all kinds of mouth watering mui, four different icee flavors. And if you still don’t know, you can play it safe with the standard chips and candies. I decide on a package of haw flakes, sakura and spicy kaki mochi and some tamarind candy.
Waiting for our total, we meet customers John and his son Collin from Pearl City. It’s clear they came for more than just a look. No rookies here. John used to go to school across the street at Liliuokalani Elementary and now brings Collin to make some memories of his own. My husband leaves to pick up our order next door and I hang out to see their hit list.
Second generation customer, Collin isn’t as much into the crack seed as he is the sour gummy worms, but the experience is just as sweet.
For dad and crack seed vet, it’s teri beef jerky and quarter pound of dried red li hing, along with a large li hing coke icee.
While I was already in agreement with their selection, this last one was new to me. Instead of the powder I’m used to, Mr. Young mixes his version with li hing sauce and tops it with a single wet mui. The liquid gives it a more rounded flavor and a better consistency, which means no more pockets of powder and air between sips. The attention to detail is on every shelf.
My husband returns with our lunch. I pick up my bag of goodies and thank them for the pointers. Heading back to our car, I glance at the sign once more. No doubt about it. Definitely THE Crack Seed Store.