The Many Faces Of Sweet And Sour
You know it when you see it because it’s instantly recognizable by its bright red color. On top of that, its flavor profile has a bold personality to match its vivid appearance. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m gushing about sweet and sour sauce, the fabulous flavoring most kamaaina can’t live without.
There’s something so addictive about those opposite flavors that attract to make any sweet-and-sour dish a unique-tasting item with no substitute in sight. Often combined with an array of meat, vegetables and seafood, the sauce takes on new layers of tastiness with every ingredient it meets.
This versatile comfort food is worth having fun with, so I’ve set out to explore the many faces of sweet and sour cuisine. Ono, You Know will show you the most enticing ones right here, from classic renditions many of us have adored for years to lesser known examples you’ll love trying for the first time.
THAI LAO RESTAURANT
Many Americans are familiar with the Chinese approach to sweet and sour menu items, but Thai cuisine is home to its own fanciful — and delicious — interpretations of those flavors.
You can try them at Thai Lao Restaurant in Pearl City, where the Chaleunxay family aims to prepare authentic, family-style Thai food just as it’s made in Thailand.
In Thai cuisine, sweet-and-sour heaven can be reached by balancing tamarind with sugar in dishes like Pad Prik Pao ($10.95 chicken, beef or pork; $12.95 for shrimp or seafood; $9.95 for vegetables with tofu).
“Tamarind has a very sour quality to it,” describes waiter Vinson Chaleunxay, when explaining why the ingredient is perfect for dishes like this one. A colorful melange of veggies and protein soak up the fantastic sauce, which also gets a burst of heat from chili paste and garlic.
While many of the restaurant’s dishes are traditional, there is some room on the menu for a Chinese-inspired favorite: Sweet and Sour Stir-Fry ($10.95 chicken, beef or pork; $12.95 for shrimp or seafood; $9.95 for vegetables with tofu).
“My parents worked in a lot of Thai restaurants before we opened our own, and it was a popular item, so that’s why we decided to put this item on the menu,” says Chaleunxay. The dish delivers on flavor with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, carrots, cucumber and pineapple soaking up the thick red sauce.
Thai Lao Restaurant
803 Kamehameha Hwy. Ste. 203, Pearl City
RAY’S BYOB KITCHEN
Sure, Ray’s BYOB Kitchen is one of many Chinese restaurants within Chinatown Cultural Plaza, but there’s nothing typical about this charming spot.
Executive chef and owner Raymond Chau is known for putting gourmet spins on his affordably priced Chinese fare, and the sweet and sour specials he’s currently offering are a few examples of his healthy and creative cuisine.
“Most people like sweet and sour because it’s a good combination of tastes. When you’re eating something sweet and sour, after the first bite, it opens up your appetite and you want to eat more,” says Chau.
During November, enjoy Sweet and Sour Deep Fried Crispy Perch for $15.99, and when you order it, you’ll receive a complimentary Steamed Moi with ginger, green onion, hot sesame oil and homemade soy sauce. Chau’s textured sweet and sour sauce features a unique blend of apple cider vinegar, diced tomatoes and homemade pickled daikon, carrot and onions to give it one-ofa-kind flair. The perch fish also is nice and flaky on the inside, and perfectly crisp on the outside.
Guests also may enjoy Red Wine Beef Stew for only $12 during November (normally $15 per pot). As a fun twist on a local favorite, the dish is prepared with brown sugar, tomatoes and red wine to give it sweet and
sour flavors. It’s rich, homey and full of root vegetables, and Chau uses steak tip in the stew because it’s lean and tender.
Ray’ s BYOB Kitchen
Chinatown Cultural Plaza
100 N. Beretania St., Ste. 113, Honolulu