Friday, March 1, 2013

Hawaii and A Japanese Steakhouse Tradition and How Benihana's Chicken Fried Rice Kept the Tradition Going

When I was in 2nd through 5th grade we lived in Hawaii. My father was a naval officer and we got stationed at Camp Smith in the Pearl Harbor area of the island of Oahu. It was a total cultural change for us as a family. At the center of this culture shock was a new wave of foods that while we were living there became a part and parcel of our family dinner table and were carried on with us wherever we traveled on from Hawaii as a family and to some extend as individuals.

There were really four parts to this cultural awakening for us. First was the multitude of cultures that we encountered. No better place to find this out than in our church in Hawaii. Pearl City United Methodist church. We were a mixed family of protestant backgrounds and Catholic undertones so in Hawaii my parents decided upon this congregation as they had a really excellent mix of military folks and locals as well as a strong sunday school program for my brother and myself. My parents came into their own as believers in this church and it shaped many of my brother's and mine experiences in faith for years to come. It was also here in this church that the term "pot luck supper" took on a new and exciting meaning. With a congregation representing over 60 different nationalities and cultural back grounds we had some amazing church suppers. And the spirit of fellowship that those meals created in the congregation was a lovely thing. It was here that the concept of food and fellowship first made sense to me.

The second was the military presence in Hawaii and it's impact on the economy, especially our families economy. We lived for the first time in military housing which was a big change for us. Shopping at the commissary and exchange and living only little off the local economy. Especially because of how expensive everything was on the local economy.
But this also gave rise to our use of such things as the Officer Club dining rooms ( scene of some amazing meals). As well as recreational activities we would have otherwise not have had access to. I like to joke that my mother taught my brother and me all the country club sports there are. Tennis, golf, swimming, horseback riding and diving were all explored because of the plethora of options available to us on the bases there. I also like to joke that she taught me and my brother how to bowl and play pool. Doing so in the enlisted mens clubs and getting no short supply of looks from the young men recreating around us! After all she was a stunner!

The third was the incredible diverse activities we could partake of in Hawaii from snorkeling to climbing the steps of the largest Buddhist and Shinto Temples. Camping, enjoying historical gardens sites and even tea houses from the time of Robert Louis Stevenson. Who was the author of some of my favorite books as a boy.  There were forts and palaces from the time of the Hawaiian Royalty and Asian fish and food markets which held untold treasures in dinning yet undiscovered!

The last was the Island itself which presented a natural setting for everyday life that was unparalleled in my way of thinking. One of the most truly beautiful settings imaginable. And it was the 1970's so it was still not as developed as today. In short it was for a young kid a perfect place to be growing up. Summer all the time, long play days and a never ending string of discoveries that kept life exciting and interesting. From school and interacting with kids of all backgrounds to the endless canvas of imagination that led us on adventure after adventure being cowboys or knights or explorers. Being a kid there was a grand thing.

Amongst the many food experiences we had in Hawaii, none became more of a tradition that the Japanese Steakhouse. Teppanyaki or the Japanese Steakhouse cooking method is the showy cooking used as a showcase at a grill in front of the customers. It was first experienced by us as a family in Hawaii.  It was quite a show and we loved the fun and flair it provided the meal. In fact, when we returned to the main land in Virginia, we sought out a Japanese Steakhouse for special occasions. And I can remember going every year on my birthday after we returned to Charleston. It was a special and singular reminder of the sweet, gentle, growing time we all had in Hawaii. As a child it was wonderful. I sometime contemplate how it must have been for my folks as adults, and what I would have seen as an adult that I missed out on as a kid. But alas that time is gone forever and even if I went back now it would not be the same.

SO...As an adult traveling the country I have enjoy reliving all of this by going to the Benihana Chain. While on my last Musical Theater tour I hit every Benihana in every city we went to. And that meant a lot of them! And every time I go I feel like am transported back to that first Japanese Steakhouse experience. The adult man in me fades and  I am suddenly again the 7 year old little boy I was then. Smiles and eyes popping at the pomp and showmanship of the chef preparing the meal. There aren't many places that can do that to me but Benihana does it every time.
But it's not just the meal, it's the fact that like that first time, I am usually with people, I love having a wonderful time and sharing food that is just fun, festive and yummy.

So aside from the steak and chicken and lobster, ( Ha Lobster!!) one of things I love at Benihana is the chicken fried rice. In fact I am not a fan of fried rice generally, but this is special stuff let me tell you! So I thought I would recreate it at home. As well my favorite sauce that i like to smother the rice with. So that's my story and  here is my take on this dish from Benihana, hope you enjoy it Ya'll!

Benihana Chicken Fried Rice

(Serves 2)
2 ounces cooked chicken
8 ounces steamed rice
2 eggs
2 tablespoons onion, chopped
2 tablespoons carrot, chopped
2 tablespoons green onion, chopped
2 tablespoons green peas
1 teaspoon sesame seed
3 tablespoons butter
1 to 2 tablespoon safflower oil ( or other cooking oil)
3 teaspoons soy sauce ( or more)
6 pinches pepper
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
Sesame seeds
Salt to taste


In a wok or large pan :
Heat chicken quickly in a pan with a little oil reserve
Scramble eggs till very soft reserve and chop after cooking.
Saute chopped onion, green onion, seasoning and carrots in the oil until done and mix with chopped scrambled egg and chicken.
Break off chunks of steamed rice and mix with vegetable, egg and chicken.
Add sesame seed, minced garlic, ginger, salt and pepper, stirring well.
Add butter and soy sauce into the mixture, stirring well until done.
Enjoy Ya'll!


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