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Step Up to the Plate

Ho Ho Chinese Cuisine

By James Nakamura Photos By Leah Friel
September 29, 2013

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A CLOSER LOOK AT THIS WEEK’S HOUSE SPECIAL: “SPARE RIBS with LI HING MUI SAUCE” ($7.95 ALA CARTE )

“Ho Ho Chinese Cuisine is a place of happiness.” That is how general manager Armando Bauzon, describes his restaurant and explains its handle. “It’s a place of laughter and jolliness.”

Indeed, Kapolei’s Cantonese-style eatery — with its vast, aromatic buffet of 40-plus creations including Bittermelon with Roast pork, Sea Salt and Black Pepper Shrimp and selections that are simmered and sauteed or braised and stir-fried in hoisin, oyster and red bean sauces along with seasonal vegetables — has been putting smiles on the faces of families from within and beyond the neighborhood for more than a decade. And, with a capacity of 200 seats available for large groups and private parties, you can see how this establishment lives up to its joyous name.

Stepping up to the buffet line, you may see a new signature dish coming into focus — Spare Ribs with Li Hing Mui Sauce. This unexpected and playful combination begs for a closer look as this week’s house special.

“We wanted to show customers something different,” says Bauzon. Through many phases of experimentation and tasting, the mixture of Li Hing powder, sweet-and-sour and hoisin sauces were carefully adjusted until the right balance of sweet and savory was achieved.

A handful of locally grown grape tomatoes brightens the dish, dovetailing nicely with the sweet and sour profiles. All of the veggies used in the dish are grown locally, ensuring the freshest flavors.

Spare ribs are a common component of Cantonese cuisine. Taken from the bottom portion of the rib cage and breastbone, they are considered meatier than the upper portion of the rack (where baby back ribs come from). This cut of meat is also fattier and takes longer to cook. Here, the ribs are parboiled, and a lot (but not all!) of the fat is rendered off, while the meat is tenderized.

The chefs at Ho Ho’s make sure that the size and cuts of the spare ribs are larger and heartier than the average offering from competitors. Bauzon is constantly on the lookout for ways to offer more value to his customers.

Once the spare ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, they are tossed into a wok and stir-fried —sizzling and aswirl — with li hing mui sauce, onions, garlic, salt and black pepper, soaking up the sweet and sour symphony of flavors.

Li Hing Mui? Yes. Of course. At first, it may be possible to perceive a mad-scientist logic behind the dish’s inception, but if you think of it as a play off of traditional sweet-and-sour pork, it makes harmonious sense.

This red powder was first imported to Hawaii from China way back in the 1900s and has since been used to coat and dust local snacks from dried mangos and lollipops, to the rims of martini glasses. Here, this fine ingredient is elevated and paired with succulent spare ribs.

However, this isn’t Li Hing Mui-coated gummy worms. The flavor pairing here is exceptionally refined.

Ho Ho Chinese Cuisine

Kapolei Marketplace
590 Farrington Hwy., Kapolei
692-9880
Daily, dim sum and manapua available from 6 a.m.
Lunch buffet: 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner buffet: 5-9 p.m.