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The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Thursday, January 25, 2001

Aunties share pasteles
and family pride

One of Bernie Akiona's earliest memories is of her dad building a wood fire and cooking pasteles in a 25-gallon garbage can at their Aiea home. It was an all-day affair that started early in the morning with the peeling and grating of green bananas, the chopping of vegetables and pork, and the wrapping of the ingredients in ti-leaf bundles to be boiled.

"They made it during the holidays and in Aiea it was so cold that we could just leave them sitting outside, and my dad would say, 'Just help yourself.'"

With all the pasteles she could eat, Akiona was spoiled. She'd help her dad and older sister Frances cook pasteles, but never had to solo.

Then her father passed away three years ago, and with her retail career at Liberty House in flux, she took it upon herself to realize her dad's dream of opening a pastele shop.

Aunty's Puerto Rican Kitchen opened in November 1999, and just about everyone except her husband Mike answers to "aunty." There's Frances, Frances' daughter Trisha, and the Akionas' daughter Lynn, all with one mission, to serve and protect the family recipe.

"The only difference is nowadays we make it on the stove," said Bernie Akiona, "Back then it was so awesome because my dad grew up in a (sugar plantation) camp on Kauai, and that's how they made it. What we serve is very, very close to what he made."


Food StarStarStar1/2
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Bullet Address: 907 Kekaulike St. in Chinatown, makai of King Street.
Bullet Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Bullet Prices: Plates $4.50 to $6.25
Bullet Call: 524-7921

That didn't come without a lot of trial and error and weight gain. "I tell you we ate our mistakes until we got it right," Akiona said.

For those who never had the pleasure of biting into a pastele, they might be considered the juicy, melt-on-the-tongue Puerto Rican equivalent to the Mexican tamale, only made with green bananas instead of corn masa. The use of unripened bananas result in a treat that's savory, not sweet. The favorite local filling is pork and black olives, though in Puerto Rico they might use garbanzo beans, raisins and green olives.

When people from Puerto Rico do show up, Akiona says the black olives are the only things left on their plates.

Aunty's basic pastele is not spicy, so those who have tried other fiery versions around town might find them bland. Not a problem. Tables are stocked with plenty of Tabasco. Aunty's does make a spicy version but you've got to ask for it and they tend to sell out early. There's only so many pasteles that can be made on a stovetop.

A single pastele, about double the size of many in town, runs $2.50. A pastele and gandule rice plate is $4.50. Add a small salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cod and the plate is $6.25.

Local-style breakfasts are served until 11 a.m. Instead of the usual bacon and Spam with white rice and two eggs ($4.25), you can opt for pastele sausage, made with all the ingredients that comprise a pastele's filling. Skip the chorizo, unless you want to chew on dry jerky.

Believe it or not, Akiona has not tired of pasteles. "Over new year's we took eight days off, then when we came back and started preparing, there was the smell that was so awesome.

"This place was really God sent. I love it when my mom's friends come, and people from the Puerto Rican Association who have been great in referring people. It's been so wonderful, I getting chicken skin."

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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

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-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- average;
-- below average.

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