Saturday, September 01, 2007

'Imu Me This

Doug and his buddy from DC digging the 'imu.

Sometimes you wonder if you've come full-circle to the things in your past. I just returned from Springfield Farm where, tomorrow, we will be dropping a 55lb. pig into a hole Hawaiians call an 'imu and turning it into that magical feast known as Kalua Pig.

Actually, you can kalua just about anything. Turkey is a favorite. Beef is unexplored. Taro and breadfruit are tasty items. Got an extra dog you don't need? Kalua that too!

Reality is that I make Kalua Pig on a somewhat regular basis with my handy-dandy Fast Eddie smoker. Pour mesquite pellets into the hopper, add a big pork shoulder picnic and sixteen hours later: Kalua Pig. No muss, no fuss. Just good eating.

I think we're coming full-circle because it's been about nine years since the last time I was involved with a real 'imu. Back then I was helping out the Imua Canoe Club during one of my visits to Honolulu. There's nothing like sitting around with friends all day while the pig cooks and then standing around shredding the meat later. It's wholesome. It's wholistic. It's healing. Until you burn yourself.

For those of you interested in making an 'imu at home, it's a lot of work. Better to just go to Costco and buy a tub of Keoki's Kalua Pig. Much easier, if you live in Honolulu. For the rest of us, it's a major operation.

First, pull out the backhoe from the barn. No backhoe? Then you, some friends and a shovel for each of you will do the trick. You will dig a hole that's about twice as large as your pig and about two feet deep.

Next, gather some lava rocks. No lava rocks? Then non-permeable river stones will do. None of those either? Then hustle yourself down to the fireplace store and buy yourself a lot of fire bricks. However, if you do go with natural rocks, make sure they don't explode. This is kinda important.

Traditionally, the Hawaiians used Keawe wood to fire the 'imu. If you're not in Hawai'i you're S.O.L. (Shit Outta Luck) but happily, mesquite can be used in a pinch. No mesquite? Then a nice hard wood will do. We don't have mesquite for tomorrow so we'll probably go with maple or whatever wood is sitting in the barn.

Pile the rocks and the wood in the 'imu and light that sucker on fire. You want to burn that fire hot. It can't get too hot. Keep that fire blazing for at least two hours. You want the rocks to be white hot. This is why you need non-porous rock. If water has penetrated the rock, the heating of the rock will cause the water to steam, build pressure and explode. There's nothing more disrupting to a party than your guests being burned, injured and perhaps killed from exploding rocks.

A major part of making the 'imu is the camaraderie. It's a great time to sit around with friends, drink beer, talk story, play music and talk about chicks. However, before you get too drunk, there's more work to be done.

Previously, you've gathered lots of burlap bags (enough to cover the 'imu twice) and you've chopped down about six banana trees. No banana trees? Corn stalks or soaking wet shredded cabbage will do. You've also got a wet canvas tarp that will extend about 12 inches over the edges of the imu. Keep all of those nearby because it's almost time.

Now to the pig. Of course, you've already killed, gutted and cleaned the pig, right? If not, slaughtering the pig is relatively easy, if not a but queasy. Hold the pig down and drive a large knife into its' throat. The pig will scream, kick, run and try to get away from the fate it can't imagine but is already succombing to. It's not a pleasant task but think about all the happy people you will be feeding. That may help. If not, go to confession.

Once the pig is dead (it would be nice to save the blood for something like dinuguan), have a pot of hot water at the ready. Now, pour some of this very hot water over the animal and start scraping the hairs off with whatever tool you have available: knife, hands, brick, whatever. Then take that same knife and cut lengthwise along the belly of the pig, removing all internal organs.

The nice thing about a pig is that most of the internals can be used. Liver, heart and even the intestines. If you're intrepid enough, clean the intestines thoroughly, cut up into bite sized pieces and deep fry until crispy. It's what Filipinos call chicharon bulaklak. Of course, if you don't clean it as thoroughly as you should, there will be "gritty" bites - and you don't want to know what's causing the "grit"...

Rinse out the inner cavity and make sure the pig is clean inside and out, and it's ready to go! If you're using a pig from a butcher, be sure to let it sit out for a couple hours to come to room temperature.

Now you're ready to get down to it. Rub the inside of the pig with a very generous amount of ala'e- the traditional Hawaiian red sea salt. Don't have it? Well, go get some, pinche cabron. Es muy importante!!! Still no? Okay, then use large grain kosher salt instead. Note: don't bother rubbing the skin with salt. The skin and fat will not absorb the salt and you'll just be wasting your time and good salt.

Go back to the 'imu and pull out any remaining wood chunks and spread the hot rocks in a pattern loosely resembling the pigs' silhouette and grab several rocks to use inside the pig.

Take the pig, throw the rocks in the body cavity and wrap it in chicken wire. If you don't do this, the pig will fall apart when you try to take it out and you'll be cursing yourself - not to mention looking pretty dumb and lame in front of the chicks.

Line the imu with the corn stalks or crushed banana tree trunks. You want a thick layer of wet plant material as this will provide most of the moisture to steam the meat. Criss-cross the material to interlock the layers. If you can line the top layer with banana leaves (fresh or frozen) all the better. Add a few ti leaves from Hawaii and then drop the pig on top.

Once the pig is in, continue layering with the banana or corn stalks until it's thoroughly covered. Keep covering with interlaced wet burlap sacks and then drop the wet canvas tarp on top. Cover everything with dirt. Watch for steam escaping around the edges and cover with dirt. You don't want any steam escaping.

Once you've got it covered, kick back and start drinking. For a 55lb. pig, it should take about eight hours. Eat, sleep, drink and flirt with the chicks until it's time to pull it out of the 'imu.

Oye, guey!

Some of the tomes and CDs para estudio Espanol.

For the last two weeks, I've been on a tear to brush up on my espanol before my trip to Mexico City on Monday to attend the Sexta Compentencia Mexicana de Baristas, or to us gringo types, the Sixth Annual Mexican Barista Championship.

Sure, I studied Spanish in high school. Three years worth. But that means nada in the real world when you've limited your spoken Spanish to the menu at Taco Hell: "Dohs tahcos, por fay-vor..." Jeez, I shudder at the thought.

Learning a new language is difficult. Trying to learn it in two weeks is nearly impossible. I'm still trying to remember the basic verbs of donde, que, quien, por que, cuando, cuanto y como. Luckily, my background in high school Spanish, along with my ability to speak pickup line Tagalog gives me an edge in the pronunciation department. It's not much, but it's something.

In my quest to learn, my first stop was the library language aisle where I picked up a Michel Tomas CD on basic Spanish. It was helpful but his pronunciation is much different than I'm used to, so I headed to the local Border's Books to find alternatives. While at Borders, I stopped this elderly gentleman who proceeded to quiz me on what "kind" of Spanish I wanted to learn. Conversational, please. Then he took me on a tour of the books and CDs available.

Martha Higareda as Renata getting pissed in the movie Amarte Duele.

Now, I'm sure all of you have had the experience of meeting someone who just wouldn't shut up. That person, in their earnest, just keeps going on and on about some nonsense you couldn't care less about. At first, I thought this was one of those times, but as he continued asking questions and guiding me through the tomes I learned that he's an old university language professor from the United Kingdom and his recommendations were on the money. In other words, I got the right guy to do the job.

To bolster this learning experience, I've been listening almost exclusively to the local Latin radio station, where I've discovered that they have the same rotation of music over and over again, which is what I hate about the English-speaking pop stations. Then there's the movies. The available selection (to me) of Spanish language movies has been limited to: Y Tu Mama Tambien, El Crimen de Padre Amaro and Amarte Duele, with the occasional jaunt onto YouTube to watch clips from Le Hija del Mariachi, a Colombian telenovela.

An even more pissed Renata.

However, since these are modern-day films featuring regular people doing somewhat regular things, the spoken language is very colloquial, meaning filled with slang and "expressive" language. And since the fun way to learn a language is by learning the "bad" words first, the Spanish in my mind is peppered with idioms such as: guey (dude), cabron (brother or asshole), pinche (fuck), chingar (to fuck), pendejo (asshole), or just general slangs such as: carnal (brother), que onda? (what's up?) or oye (yo).

This means that I can easily come up with: "Que te paso, pendejo?" (what's your problem, asshole?)

But then it's difficult for me to remember something proper, like: "Buenos dias. Senora Garcia. Mucho gusto."(Good day, Mrs. Garcia. It's a pleasure to meet you).

Daniela Torres as China about to attack while Armando Hernandez's Genarotries to hold her back.

The Sushi A-Hole of Tsukiji

More on my visit to Tokyo...

Sushi A-Hole
Can't read the name but be on the lookout for it!

Nestled in the outer buildings of the Tsukiji Market is a haven for sushi aficionados. It's a small, one bar establshment run by a surly Japanese dude who won't hesitate to kick you the fuck out.

During our visit to Tsukiji, Bronwen had it in mind that we would eat only at a place frequented by "rubber boots." Don't know if that's an accepted colloquialism or merely Bron-slang. The idea being that the "rubber boots" were the working denizens of the Tsukiji Market and the place frequented by them must be a good place to eat.

Our joint wasn't quite a "rubber boot" kind of place. In fact, I think everyone in the joint were merely shoppers and gawkers. However, they were shoppers and gawkers of the Japanese variety, rather than the run-of-the-mill gaijin tourists, like ourselves.

I had noticed this little shop as we wandered through the outer market after the auction. A long line of Japanese people had formed before the opening. I made a mental note that this must be "the joint" and even snapped a photo so I would remember later.

Sushi A-Hole
The line before opening.

By 9am, Bronwen, Teija and myself had seen just about everything and were ready for a proper breakfast of raw fish. Well, at least Bron-chan and I were ready. Teija wasn't keen on fish for breakfast. Perhaps it's her Finnish nature or perhaps they just don't do that in Zambia, but she hung with us throughout.

I'd love to tell you the name of the place, but my reading comprehension is poor and while I can sort of figure out hiragana and katakana, when it comes to kanji, I'm a lost cause. The place is bright and airy - in spite of its' small size. There's a large poster board at the front that shows pictures of all the dishes. Me with the chirashi sushi and Bronwen with a crab dish and more sashimi. That's one for me and two for Bron-chan.

Sushi A-Hole
The menu. Mine is on the right for Y1600. Bronwen ordered the two on the left.

The place was packed. Well, it's really just one long bar that probably holds about fifteen people of so. Before the shop opened, the line was long so we came back later, only to be scolded by the staff for who knows what. They only spoke Japanese, we only spoke English, so it was left to pointing at the pictures.

Remember now, that's three meals we ordered - even if it were for just two of us.

Oh, you know what? I was trying to find a nice way to talk about this place, but there really isn't - the people who work behind the bar are complete and total assholes, especially the guy. Yelling at people for holding a camera - as though we're going to steal the "secret" behind their success. The bottom line here is just that the guy is a fucking asshole - no and, if or but about it.

But we're here for food so we press on. First he makes us walk around to the back entrance to sit at the far end of the bar - okay, this is understandable as the place is fucking packed and there's very little room between the backs of the people sitting at the bar and the wall. We get seated but he's yelling at us some more to sit in the "right" seats and that Teija has to leave because she didn't "order" anything. Never mind the fact that we've got three dishes coming.

You know, it's his joint and I hate to act like a Fucking American, so we go with the flow and Teija waits outside.

Only a few minutes have passed and the food comes. Now, I work in the coffee business and there's a lot of "baristas" out there who comport themselves with a lot of attitude but don't have the chops or the coffee to back up their chutzpa. Because he's such an asshole, I'd love to tell you that the food was plain and mediocre, but this fuckin' guy has got the fuckin' fish to back him up. The tuna was phenomenal.

I'm guessing that they buy from the frozen tuna lots. Because the tuna we saw at auction is frozen solid and it's still pretty early in the morning, I'd say this fish was from yesterday's auction, but it was so unbelieveably good. Crisp, icy cold goodness. The taste, the texture - it's nearly impossible to describe other than to say it was immaculate. Fatty, succulent and delicious. I could have eaten three bowls of this stuff. This guy is an asshole and it didn't matter. It didn't matter how much we had to pay because it was worth it. This guy knows his fish and I thank him for it.

But sushi is nothing without the rice, and this rice was beautiful. Warm, fluffy and with the right amount of mirin and sugar to make it complete. It was heavenly. It was the meal we had been looking for.

Bronwen's two bowls were also excellent, although I have to say that I had the better choice. As much as I love fish, I prefer tuna and this was the Spades of Tuna. I can't stop raving about how good it was.

Sushi A-Hole
The Unbelievable Tuna. Sublime. Immaculate. Delicious.

In the end, we finished our meals and I took a surreptitious shot of my bowl just to spite the guy. True to form, he remained an asshole to the end. While I departed out the back, he made Bronwen squeeze behind everyone else as though we were going to stiff him on the bill.

In the end, I bid him a fond and happy "Thank you, Cocksucker!", they responded back with a hearty thank you as well and we parted ways with Bronwen, Teija and myself disappearing into the crowds around Tsukiji.