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The luau stew from Heeia Pier

A recipe that will take you back to old places and times — even if you’ve never been there

Posted September 21, 2012 by Mari Taketa

I am a townie, and grew up as such, though I have scattered memories of long weekend drives in the old white Impala. We ended up one time on an empty beach in Waianae with our dog, Kiko, a short-legged corgi bouncing away from the waves, and another time on a road by a wall of cane, gnawing on lengths of sweet, peeled stalks. And one time, only once, we happened upon a hukilau.

It’s the memory of that that makes me grateful for the short recent chapter in the life of Heeia Kea Pier General Store and Deli, when Mark Noguchi helmed the kitchen and Ricky Goings was his sous. Never in my life have I had such simple food, so local and expertly prepared, that it threw me back to places and times I’d forgotten.

Like that hukilau. Probably the last time I went to Heeia Pier, about a year ago now, Noguchi put in front of us a dish of freshly caught fish seared tataki-style, on crispy fried paiai with sliced grape tomatoes, hoio fiddlehead ferns and limu. We all melted. And tasting together those elemental flavors, for the first time I remembered the hukilau, standing on a beach watching the adults, my parents included, hauling in a heavy, heavy net, realizing we didn’t know anyone there, the air filled with the smells of fish and brine and limu, and then the fish they gave us in the spirit of sharing. Even that small, I understood the significance of community and inclusion, though I didn’t know then that was the last time I would see a hukilau.

There were other dishes, like that, that made me understand Hawaii better. I saw glimpses of old times, brought back with love and framed for me that way. Those ice cakes, florid blue and red and green, that apparently all the other kids bought during recess but that I never realized existed until Noguchi popped one out of its wax paper cup and held out to me. The simple old-fashioned cheeseburger, juicy local beef with the bun grilled, too, and the homemade thousand island.

And this luau stew. There’s not much more I can say about it, except that like the ice cakes, I never knew it existed until I had it at Heeia Pier, and then it was the one thing I had to have every time. When you taste it you’ll know immediately that it’s old school, as Noguchi told me, a recipe from his uncle in Waipio Valley. It’s so easy you can tell it to your aunty over the phone in two minutes.

And it will make you remember … I don’t know what. But I hope it’s something good.

Shinsato Farms Luau Stew

Recipe courtesy of Mark Noguchi

2 lbs luau leaves, stems removed and stemless leaves coarsely chopped
2 lbs Shinsato Farms pork shoulder, cut in 1 1/2″ to 2″ cubes
1 lb yellow onion, sliced thin with the grain
Finger-size knob of fresh ginger, smashed
1 Hawaiian chili pepper, minced (optional)
1 pint water
Salt, to taste
Black pepper and soy, to taste (I left out the chili, black pepper and soy)

Set a large, heavy-bottomed pot on the stove and get it ripping hot. Meanwhile, toss the diced pork in a bowl with about 1 Tbsp of salt.

Add just enough oil to the pot to lightly coat the bottom. When the oil is hot enough to shimmer and give off wisps of steam, add the pork in small batches to avoid overcrowding and brown well. Remove cooked pork, add next batch and continue until all pork is browned.

Pour out most of the rendered pork fat from the pot, leaving just enough to coat the bottom. Add onions and ginger, lower heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are sweet and translucent.

Now layer in luau leaves on top of onion. Add browned pork on top of the luau leaves to weigh them down, add water, cover. Bring heat down to medium low, then very low, and simmer until pork is cooked through. Those sensitive to itching from luau leaves will want to keep it on simmer for 2-3 hours, depending on type of luau leaf.

Finish seasoning with salt, pepper, soy sauce. Add more water if you like your stew thinner. Serve with rice. Makes 4 medium or 3 large servings.

Pairing recommendation: beer


You can read all of Mari’s blogs at Follow Mari on Twitter @NonStopMari or email at

  1. Annoddah_Dave
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

    EO:  Thanks for sharing.  I wonder why the ginger and onions are cooked separately from the pork?  I would think saute of the ginger and onions and pork would add flavor to the pork as well.  The only rationale I can think of is that the onions and ginger would soak up too much of the pork fat and give the stew an oily texture.  It occurred to me that it would combine some steps for efficiency sake.

  2. nonstopmari
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    ginger and onions take longer to cook down to translucent sweetness, and it takes a lower heat to achieve this. the pork is fast, on high heat til browned. then when u cook everything together for a couple hours, all the flavors meld together anyway and the ginger and onion completely melt in.
    u’re thinking of simmering in a broth, maybe, in which case ginger, onions and pork together totally works. for quick sauteing, u shd prolly start the onions first unless v finely sliced. but i’m no expert ;)

  3. EurekaGal
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I wonder if that hukilau was in Kihei on a trip to Maui to visit Aunty and Uncle?

  4. nonstopmari
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:00 am

    @EurekaGal Was it? U’re younger than me and u remember??

  5. EurekaGal
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:05 am

     @nonstopmari  @EurekaGal I think I saw some pictures of the hukilau and of one of us holding a big fish. Dad said that was in Kihei, when Kihei was a LOT of kiawe and some houses by the road. My memories of that day were of Dad jumping out of the car and running down to the water to help. I’d never seen him do that before. I wonder if people still do hukilau?

  6. Soos2005
    Posted September 23, 2012 at 5:40 am

    Taste memories are so powerful – mahalo for sharing yours @nonstopmari 

  7. konaish
    Posted September 23, 2012 at 6:16 am

     @nonstopmari  You seem to be my luau stew connection. I read about Heeia Pier’s luau stew in your Nonstop blog and went down the very next Thursday. It was so good ~ I even got to share some with a tourist waiting in line. Then Mark’s demo at Macy’s where we got the recipe. Your cooking experience has inspired me to try making it!

  8. nonstopmari
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 6:24 pm

     @Soos2005 they ARE powerful, aren’t they? whole worlds come flooding back sometimes

  9. nonstopmari
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm

     @konaish make extra! next time i’m going to try freezing some, see how that goes. it’s simple and i love it, but it’s not quick

About Mari Taketa

Mari Taketa is a dedicated eater who's as opinionated as she is hungry. She covered everything from neighborhood mom-and-pop places to ethnic eateries to fine dining restaurants on Honolulu's dining scene for Metromix Honolulu and The Honolulu Advertiser's TGIF. Before that, she ate her way through Vietnam, Scotland and Japan, where she lived, traveled or worked, after recovering from a journalism career that included stints as editor-in-chief of Hawaii Business magazine and reporter and editor at The Associated Press. Her goals are to always be hungry for more, and to always want to know what's around the next corner.

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