Eggplant EcstasyOno, You Know
January 28, 2018
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
I recently sat down for an amazing Moroccan dinner at the longstanding Kailua gem, Casablanca. As our party waited for the first course of authentic cuisine to arrive at our table, I couldn’t help but notice a poster depicting all the different types of eggplant — various shapes, sizes, colors and all — hanging on the wall amid gorgeous tapestries. This was followed by the arrival of our appetizer spread, which included some divine baba ghanouj, a hummus-like puree of roasted eggplants.
Though the entire meal was delicious, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that eggplant. So I’ve made it my mission to uncover more mouthwatering recipes around the island — this time with an emphasis on Chinese-style preparations, which reign supreme here in Hawaii. Trust me, just like the regulars at these establishments, you’re going to become obsessed with the following dishes.
GET INTO THE MIX
When you order something like Eggplant & Pork in Garlic Sauce ($9.50) from Asian Mix, you’re not only getting a super delectable dish, you’re also getting a lesson in the diversity of Chinese cuisine, as presented by friendly owner Daniel Leung. The menu item’s bold sauce, he says, is representative of Northern Chinese cooking, a stark contrast to the milder flavor profiles of the South.
Northern fare is known for its spicy seasonings, but Leung says there’s another secret ingredient that’s just as important. “Northern cooking, like what we offer, applies vinegar to the recipes, making it a little more sour, and it really opens up the appetite,” he describes.
In Asian Mix’s Sichuan-style eggplant and pork dish, the vinegar comes together with sugar, soy sauce and a hint of spice to create a truly addicting gravy. Customers can enjoy the vegetarian version as well: Tofu & Eggplant in Garlic Sauce ($9.50).
“Locally, there aren’t too many northern Chinese restaurants, but these dishes here, we just sell tons every day,” adds Leung.
The tofu version is especially popular among vegetarian diners, the owner shares, and it’s not surprising, either, seeing as eggplant is a hearty, filling and fiber-rich substitute for meat.
As the takeout eatery’s name implies, Asian Mix also is home to other styles of Chinese fare, including Cantonese and Hong Kong favorites — not to mention a slew of local flavors. Recently, the catering side of the business has grown in popularity, with quality and value that can’t be beat.
FOOD THAT’S BOUND TO MAKE YOU HAPPY
There are many ways to enjoy eggplant at Happy Days Chinese Seafood Restaurant, as our star ingredient is incorporated into many of the Hong Kong-style dishes the eatery is known for, from sweet-and-sour options to classic eggplant with pork.
According to owner Lisa Lum, however, there are a few standouts in which eggplant takes center stage.
Great for a main dish, Eggplant with Salted Fish & Tofu Casserole ($13.95) is a Happy Days winner dressed up with garlic, ginger and shoyu seasonings. Thick wedges of sauteed eggplant add richness to the dish, which is topped off with green onions.
At this family-style restaurant, Garlic Eggplant ($11.95) is a welcome side order perfect for passing around the table. The enticing aroma of fried garlic can be smelt from the moment the dish leaves the kitchen, while chili pepper and ginger add the sizzle factor once you finally take a bite.
“Eggplant is very popular here because it’s good for the heart, healthy and makes your body feel good,” explains Lum, who adds that the vitaminand mineral-packed health food also nicely soaks up sauces.
FUN FOOD FACT:
Though people commonly think of eggplant as a vegetable, it technically belongs in the fruit category.
When stopping in for your eggplant fix, be sure to pick up freshly made gao in honor of Chinese New Year, available for $6.50 a pop. Happy Days’ version might just be the softest I’ve ever tasted. Even better, the eatery will feature a set menu (in addition to the regular menu) on Chinese New Year’s Eve and Day, with a lion dance each night (at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 15 and 6 p.m. Feb. 16). Reservations are recommended.