Tireless work led
to big, tasty manapuas

By Helen Altonn

Bat Moi Kam Mau, 97, known around the world for her local-style manapua, died April 4.

She co-founded the Char Hung Sut dim sum restaurant and created the larger "Hawaiian-size" manapuas, her family said.

"That name was synonymous with gifts always taken to neighbor island people," said family friend Blossom Tyau, who was raised on Maui. "All ethnic groups ... stopped there to take home boxes and crates of manapua to share."

Bat Moi's son Harry said the buns his mother made were very lean. "She used the best pork she could get and twice cooked it. That's why no more grease. People would take our buns all over the world. ... It can travel good. They're still doing it all the time."

His mother was born in Yin Jai Boo village in Chungshan, China, and met her husband, Harry Marn Sin Mau, when he was visiting from Hawaii.

As was customary at the time, their meeting and marriage were arranged by the village matchmaker, who was her husband's cousin.

The couple came to Hawaii when she was 15, and she worked on his family's farm at Atkinson Drive and Ala Moana, raising flocks of ducks and three children.

She began working at Dole Cannery when her children were older, making candied apples for military forces. The job was declared "essential for the war effort" in World War II.

After the war, she learned to make dim sum, bite-size Chinese dumplings of pork, taro, chicken, shrimp and spices. They were so popular that she opened the Char Hung Sut Restaurant in 1946.

She began work at 2 a.m., preparing dim sum ingredients before opening for business before dawn. The store was open every day of the year and served jook (Chinese rice soup) until 10 p.m.

"I don't know how she did it," said Harry Mau. "Back in those days, we had sit-down service and a lot more items on the menu. Somehow, Mom was able to get by on just three or four hours of sleep every night."

She created the "big Hawaiian-size" manapuas and char siu manapua, he said. "We island people, we love to eat."

Manapua, or mea ono puaa ("mea ono" for cake or pastry, and "puaa" for pork) was what native Hawaiians called pork buns, or char siu bao, popular on dim sum menus.

The buns sometimes are filled with coconut, black bean paste or chicken, but char siu pork has always been the favorite, Mau said.

"Now lots of places super-size them," he said, "but back then everyone made them smaller."

When she retired, he said, "we stopped doing a lot of things. We served the best duck noodles in town, but we stopped that because Mom didn't cook anymore."

However, she would still drop by the restaurant on her way to play mah-jongg and sit at the table and make pork hash and half moons, he said.

The family-operated restaurant still opens at 5:30 a.m. but no longer has table service. It only does takeout, closing at 2 p.m. and taking Tuesdays off, he said.

Mau said his mother went to China regularly to pay respects to ancestors during Ching Ming, and she enjoyed visiting Las Vegas and Macao. "People know her. She's famous. They would see her up all night playing blackjack in a gambling hall."

She is survived by two sons, Harry and Clarence, both of Honolulu; daughter Anna Mau, of Los Angeles; a sister, Mary Kam Lee, of Honolulu; six grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

Services will be from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at Nuuanu Mortuary with burial following.


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