For an island community Hawaii has been anything but insular for quite some time. Visited by Pacific neighbors, even invaded and colonized, these Polynesian peoples have been subjected to influences so extensive that diversity has become an almost defining element of its contemporary culture.
Followers of Jodo Shinshu, a sect of Buddhism that had its origins in 12th-century Japan, arrived in Hawaii in the 19th century. In 1889 they established in Honolulu a temple that grew to substantial membership. And, in due course, as is common with religious centers everywhere, the temple issued cookbooks to serve its community and to raise funds. The first was published in 1973; further volumes appeared in 1975, 1979, 1985, 1989, and 1995. All bear the title Favorite Island Cookery.
Not surprisingly, they represent very well the character of Hawaii’s food—highly diverse and reflecting the islands’ rich history. Multicultural at every level—both specific dishes and the manner in which individual recipes are composed—they portray the broad tastes of the contributors and the tendency to offer ingredient choices based on their own preferences and on family traditions rather than rigorous adherence to a single style of cooking.
The result of this blend of international, local, and religious cuisines leads to striking juxtapositions, such as manapua—a pork-filled steamed bun introduced to Hawaiians by Cantonese immigrants in the 19th century—just a page away from “western spaghetti,” which includes Ajinomoto, a Japanese brand of MSG, and American cheese; laulau adjacent to a recipe for quiche Lorraine. Nutty poi crunch bars—an intriguing sweet snack made with taro root paste, spices, and Rice Krispies—can be found a few flips of a page away from two variations on an Okinawan doughnut.
Although the Shin Buddhist tradition does not require vegetarianism, all three volumes offer meatless and even some vegan dishes. Book II in particular addresses shojin ryori, the Buddhist practice of abstaining from meat, a predecessor to Japan’s well-known kaiseki cuisine.
The three volumes we offer here (Books I, II, and III) are all comb-bound and printed on colorful, sturdy stock. They each carry a previous owner’s name blacked out on the inside front cover and show the usual signs of use, a few handwritten notes on some pages, but are, overall, clean and soundly bound. These books are an engaging treat and a welcome find for those in the know.