By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
The Haili's Hawaiian Foods family, from left: Kaulana Hirayama (representing his mother, Carol Ann), Lorraine Alo, Rachel K. Haili, Sandra Antone, Rachel Ching Haili (their mother) and Roberta Ah Nee. They're showing off a platter of poke.

Poi & Laulau

. . . and kalua pig, lomi salmon, chicken long rice, poke . . . for five decades, the Haili family has been dishing it up

By Catherine Kekoa Enomoto

"No more plen'y poi, no more poi for you."

These refrains sneak into the speech of Rachel Ching Haili, 79-year-old matriarch of the Haili's Hawaiian Foods clan. The words echo from her early struggles in the Hawaiian food business while raising six young daughters.

And they reflect hurdles the Hawaiian-Chinese family has surmounted during five decades of food service - a series of strokes suffered by Haili, starting in 1967; the death of her husband Peter Davis Haili in 1969 at age 53; and increasing competition faced by their daughters, who have carried on the family business.

Not to mention poi shortages.

The Haili 'ohana is up for an 'O'o Award from the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce for serving countless mounds of succulent poke, acres of steaming laulau and barrels of day-old poi - all with a quiet commitment to hard work, wholesome fare, service and fair prices.

The sisters continue their Hawaiian food service daily in the heart of Ward Farmers Market, where they've worked almost continuously since the complex opened in the 1950s.

"Cook, sell, cook, sell," said the senior Haili, recalling the cycle of preparing and dishing up laulau. The septuagenarian is bright-eyed and cheerful although slowed by a walker. Best-sellers were "laulau and the poi, dollah one bag. No more plen'y poi," she said. "Three for one dollah and then 35 cents one laulau."

The elder Haili still wields a mighty influence over the operation. She wanted to prepare and sell everything by taste, keep all recipes secret and send every child to the Kamehameha Schools. She got her way.

Today, the daughters taste as they go, don't divulge recipes and are identified by graduation year instead of by age:

Donna Leilani Haili Pang, Kamehameha class of 1954.

Sandra Maile Haili Antone, '56.

Roberta Kehaulani Haili Ah Nee, '59.

Rachel Ku'ulei Haili, '64.

Lorraine Nanikaikuahine Haili Alo, '70.

Carol Ann Leialoha Haili Hirayama, '71.

While the mother is known for her chicken long rice, ake (raw pork liver) and aku palu (raw tuna head or stomach prepared with kukui and chile), Sandra prefers making lomi salmon, poke and poi.

"All the Hawaiian things we learned through my dad - cleaning the ake and about the poke, the lomi and how to make the raw 'opelu," Sandra said. "After we salt (the 'opelu), we just squeeze the blood from the gills onto the fish, then it makes a nice color on the fish."

The business savvy they got from their Chinese mom.

"We had to fight, too, with our competition," Sandra laughed. "We never gave up though, we're still in business. Companies will do things to us" - "because we're women," Roberta interjected - "but we never gave up. We stood there, looked at them and worked harder," Sandra said.

Roberta said her parents complemented each other, like the soft but chewy chicken long rice she herself loves to make.

"My dad was easygoing and my mom was the feisty one - that's the balance," she said. Likewise, she described sisters Donna and Rachel as feisty, Sandra and Carol Ann as mellow, and Lorraine as a feisty/mellow combination.

"I'm just in the background," she laughed. "I watch everything."

Rachel, the only college graduate, has taken over as "da boss." She excels at squid lu'au and recalled preparing food from age 10 and earlier.

"Sundays our whole family went to the beach. You went swimming and then after that you had to go pick limu," she laughed. "Or else you had to go pick coconuts. That was your family outing for the weekend."

Rachel presides over Haili's impossibly small kitchen, which churns out plate lunches, laulau for fund-raisers and catered meals for up to 1,700. This hub of Haili's is jammed, floor to ceiling, with pots and utensils, produce and condiments, paper and Styrofoam containers.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Rachel K. Haili, left, helps her sister, Lorraine Alo, right, make laulau. Also assisting is Ising Munoz.

She remains busy but calm midst dishwashers clanging pots, a ringing phone and shoes clopping over the raised wood-slat flooring. She directs operations between simmering stews, steaming laulau and bubbling coconut milk for haupia. Her unfinished bowl of pork adobo sits on scarce real estate on a counter. Everyone lugs tubs and trays of foods back and forth.

"We couldn't go out until we finished all our work," she said. "Like we had to make laulau before we could go to football games or go anyplace. You learned to work fast.

"For all of us, that was our life. You come home from school, you gotta do your chores, clean the yard, cook the rice. Then you had to get the garage clean to make laulau - go cut the ti leaves, peel the lu'au leaves, get the coconut all grated and all that. So that by the time my parents came home, it was all ready to start working . . . That's why now it's easy, because we're used to doing two, three things at a time."

Youngest daughter Carol Ann, whose specialty is gelatin desserts like almond float, said she's grateful for her family's "respected" reputation and the way they work together.

"We don't have to wait for Christmas or New Year's or Mother's Day to get together," Carol Ann said. "It can be every weekend, it can be every Friday, every day of the week . . .

"Our family has the Hawaiian value of ha'aha'a," she added, "to be humble in whatever we do. I think people who have known us know that we don't like to boast about what we do, but we're just recognized for where we are today."

No. 5 daughter Lorraine, who excels at poke, said Haili's was frying poke long before chef/restaurateur Sam Choy began serving the dish at his eateries. The difference is that Choy's appetizer "has yellow flowers on it." Despite other big, bright modern purveyors, Haili's old-fashioned food counter is training a third generation to brave "no more plen'y poi" shortages.

"We always stress to our employees that the difference between us and our competitors will be the service," Lorraine said. "Anybody can fry poke, anybody can mix poi, anybody can cut poke and do the kinds of foods that we do, but we just have to make sure that ours will be quality service and quality food."

The daughters were willing to divulge three of their closely guarded recipes:

Haili's Butterfish Soup

2 pounds salted butterfish (black cod)

1/2 round onion, cut in wedges

1 bunch watercress (cut into 2-inch lengths)

1 whole tomato, cut in wedges

Cube butterfish and boil 4 minutes to remove most of salt. Discard water. Add water and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat, add onions and simmer 2 minutes. Add watercress and tomatoes, and simmer 1 more minute. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 220 calories, 12 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 95 milligrams cholesterol, at least 500 milligrams sodium.*

Haili's Chicken Lu'au

2 pounds chicken breast, skin and bone removed

4 tablespoons canola oil

1 piece fresh ginger

2 pounds cooked lu'au (young taro leaves)

2 cups reserved water from cooking lu'au

Hawaiian sea salt to taste, about 2 teaspoons

1 can (13 ounces) coconut milk

Dice chicken into 2- to 3-inch squares. In oil, brown ginger, then chicken. Add 2 cups reserved lu'au water and salt. Simmer until chicken is tender.

Add coconut milk and drained lu'au leaves. Mixture should have soft, chewy consistency; if desired, add more water or coconut milk to taste. Makes 25 servings, each 1/3 cup or 3 ounces.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 80 calories, 6 grams total fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 200 milligrams sodium.*

Haili's Lomi 'O'io

2 to 3 pounds whole 'o'io (bonefish; can substitute ahi, aku or 'opelu)

2 ounces ground kukui nut

Salt to taste

1/3 pound limu kohu, cleaned

1 Maui onion, diced

4 tomatoes, diced

Clean 'o'io, butterflying from the top. Scrape off meat and remove bones. Combine fish, kukui nut and salt; lomi (massage) mixture until fish is minced.

Chop limu kohu so strands are bite size. To the fish mixture, add onion, limu and enough water to make a thick, soupy consistency. Chill.

To serve, add tomatoes and spoon mixture into a ti-leaf-lined bowl. Accompany with chile pepper water. Makes 5 servings.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving, using 2 pounds fish and no added salt: 240 calories, 11 grams total fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 50 milligrams cholesterol, at least 150 milligrams sodium.*

The 'O'o Award

Honors Hawaiian business people who exemplify vision, leadership, Hawaiian values and community growth and cooperation.

1997 recipients:

The Haili family, Haili's Hawaiian Foods

James Ahloy, president of Ali'i Petroleum and chairman of the board of Lunalilo Home

Jim Haynes, head of Maui Petroleum, Minit Stop Stores of Maui, Maui Disposal and Big Island Petroleum

Past winners

In order since 1977: Kane Fernandez, Randolph Lee Jr., Joseph Kealoha, D.G. Andy Anderson, William Kimi, Fred Trotter, Kenneth F. Brown, John Bellinger, Aaron Chaney, Richard Lyman, Winona Rubin, Gladys Brandt, Oswald Stender, Momi Cazimero, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Sam and Fred Kamaka, Michael J. Chun, Haunani Apoliona, Irmgard Aluli, Alia Long, Collette Machado, Bernard Kea, Monsignor Charles Kekumano, and H.K. Bruss Keppeler.

The ceremony

The 21st annual 'O'o Awards ceremonies feature buffet, entertainment and awards program:

Place: Ala Moana Hotel Hibiscus Ballroom

Time: 6 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $50

Reservations: Call 377-5611

Asterisk (*) after nutritional analyses in the Body & Soul section
indicates calculations by Joannie Dobbs of
Exploring New Concepts, a nutritional consulting firm.

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