If you are looking for the movie version of Hawaii with swaying palms and fruity drinks, then Lana’i is definitely not the spot for you. The smallest island in the state, Lana’i is like no other place. Populated with axis deer and huge Cook pine trees, the feeling is decidedly more Pacific Northwest than South Pacific.
Lana’i has had a decidedly odd past, most notably as the one-time largest pineapple plantation in the world. Even today, the island is principally owned by one person. It was during the plantation days though that the small speck of land became a tiny melting pot of cultures, from Filipino to Japanese. This multicultural influence is still felt today and can be found everywhere, but most notably in its cuisine. With only four non-hotel related restaurants, it’s hard to identify a cuisine, per se, yet a distinct culinary style is found in the islands’ homey meals. One of my favorite Lana’i plates was the tonakatsu and chicken katsu.
Originally of Japanese origin, the tonakatsu, which refers only to the pork version, is popular throughout Hawaii, but especially so in Lanai. It is decidedly simple, but hearty and filling – the classic definition of a family meal. The fact we kept going back to the two restaurants serving this Lanai specialty exemplifies what has made it a popular dish for generations of Hawaiians.
Katsu is made by frying a scaloppini chicken breast or pork cutlet, similar to a schnitzel, and served with a tonkatsu sauce. Sides almost always found with the katsu are a portion of rice and macaroni salad.
I truly enjoyed my meals taken at the Lana’i City restaurants, as it was an opportunity to leave the homogeneity of the hotels and really experience life on the island. So prepare this simple yet important dish, sit back and always think of the quiet streets of Lanai when you do.
Tonkatsu Sauce Recipe – there are many variations, but here is a classic version
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup sake
2 tablespoons ginger
2 tablespoons garlic
1/4 cup sugar
Put all above ingredients in sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat stirring occasionally. Reduce to a simmer for 25-30 minutes skimming any foam.