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Island Manapua Factory


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#1 skchai

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Posted 23 December 2003 - 01:17 AM

Island Manapua Factory
Manoa Marketplace
2752 Woodlawn Dr. #5-113
Honolulu HI 96822
808 988-5441 / 5442

What's manapua, and how is it different from dimsum? Proceed, dear reader, and I will enlighten you . . .

The Island Manapua Factory occupies an inconspicuous corner of the venerable Manoa Marketplace strip mall; it's only noticeable at lunch when long lines of customers stretch out their door well into the outdoor eating area shared by the numerous eating places in the mall. The Manoa location is actually the second one, the original is located on Gulick Ave. in Kalihi.

Manapua originated, like much of Hawai`i popular cuisine, in the lunch carts that roamed around to feed plantation workers in the early part of the 20th century. Chinese immigrants sold large steamed buns bao as a kind of eat-out-of hand meal. These buns soon acquired a Hawaiian name, mea `ono pua`a, or "delicious things filled with pork", which contracted and contracted until we got the term we use today. Similarly, alternate coinage got attached in Hawai`i to har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) which are called pepeia`o, and siu mai (steamed pork dumplings) which are called, somewhat perversely, "pork hash".

While the origin may be Cantonese, the manapua that you see for sale at Island Manapua factory are a far cry from the bao you'll find at the Hong Kong seafood palaces. First of all, the variety is much wider and more eclectic. While it's unusual to find to more than one or two varieties (usually char siu and curry chicken) at proper dimsum places, manapua comes in dozens of varieties. At the Manapua Factory (don't call it the IMF!), you'll find the following steamed types: braised pork, char siu (glazed roast pork), oyster sauce chicken, curry chicken, smoked turkey, mixed vegetable, black sugar, and lup cheong (Chinese sweet / dry sausage). It's with the baked types, however, that the East-West thing really gets going. Besides most of the fillings found in the steamed varieties, there are also breakfast (spam and eggs), ham and cheese, hot dog, Peking Duck, and custard.

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Here's the baked manapua display at the Manapua Factory. The torpedo-shaped ones are hotdogs, the strange canolli-looking ones are lup cheong.

This leads to a second difference between the manapua and your typical bao -manapua are much larger. The bao you get at Hong Kong Dim Sum restaurants are about the size of half a baseball, while manapua are usually at minimum about the size of a half a softball and range much larger than this. One reason for this is that manapua are supposed to be meals in themselves, not just a "small bite" to complement a larger meal. When local people buy manapua, they buy it in the same way that they would buy a burger - something to eat quickly, along with a can of guava or passion fruit nectar.

Which brings us to the final characteristic that distinguishes manapua from Hong Kong bao. Manapua are almost exclusively fast food; it would be very unusual to find them on the menu of a local sit-down restaurant, much less one with aunties pushing carts around. Almost all of Island Manapua Factory's business is take out - there are only a couple of small tables to sit at. Prices are cheap - 80 cents for most steamed manapua, 90 cents for most baked one.

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At lunch time, things get pretty hectic behind the counter! They don't take credit cards or checks, and if you get your order wrong the first time, too bad. Be prepared to wait in the long, long, line again.

Aside from manapua itself, the Manapua Factory offers a full line of dimsum of the pork hash and pepeiao variety, as a number of non-Chinese local hand-held fast food specialties such as mochi (pounded rice cake) and musubi (rice shaped into a ball or cube). The musubi is a kind of East-meets-East-meets-West fusion; it comes with char siu, lup cheong, or spam toppings - you can see it, second from the far right end of the counter pictured above.

You can also get good roast duck, char siu, and roast pork with crackling, as well as a variety of steam-tray specials such as "minute chicken" or spareribs in black bean sauce, that you can order with rice or chow fun. Around New Year's day, they carry gao, a kind of festive cannonball made from glutinous rice, brown sugar, and coconut.

We come here all the time, but on the day we went with the camera, they were having a special kind of manapua - shrimp and black bean sauce. So we tried that, along with the baked peking duck manapua.

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Above is a lewd "action" shot of two kinds of manapua side-by-side. O.K., the shrimp and black bean one is not exactly brimming with shrimp, but it did have four or five in there somewhere. The black bean flavor is kept pretty subtle; it doesn't salinate the whole mixture like you sometimes get elsewhere. The duck is chopped up pretty small, as you can see. There was hoisin sauce in that mixture, but not so much as to overpower the flavor of the duck.

Close to the University of Hawai`i, Manoa Marketplace is a straight shot down East Manoa Road, guarding the entrance to the valley. It's anchored by a Safeway and Long's Drugs, though both are highly "indigenized" and carry a wide variety of local products. It also has a good mix of ethnic restaurants: a Korean plate lunch place, a ramen shop, a Vietnamese sandwich shop / Thai restaurant, a Japanese buffet, a fast food sushi place, a sit-down Korean place, and a traditional plate lunch place, as well as burgers and pizza. So you can go there for lunch or dinner with a crowd, and have everyone split up and get something different. Which my family usually does.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#2 Sweet Willie

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Posted 23 December 2003 - 01:20 PM

thanks alot skchai just one more place to visit while in HNL. :angry: :wink: :biggrin:
"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"

#3 gus_tatory

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Posted 23 December 2003 - 01:26 PM

interesting~! and tasty looking... :wub:
thanks skchai...
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--Isak Dinesen

#4 rlivings

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Posted 24 December 2003 - 10:28 AM

great writeup skchai. While growing up, I especially remember the steamed manapuas from the Holiday Mart (now Daiei) near Ala Moana. The manapua at Char hung sut (I think the name is) in chinatown is popular and tasty. They also have little chestnut dim sum that is tasty.

#5 skchai

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Posted 06 January 2004 - 02:39 PM

Great memories, Rlivings.

Many people were afraid that Char Hung Sut would close after founder Bat Moi Kam Mau passed away at the age of 97 in April. However, it's still open and going strong, after nearly 60 years in business. According to her obituary, Mrs. Mau was the originator of the oversized "local-style" manapua.

I'm not sure whether the Holiday Mart / Daiei manapua house still exists, since there are so many food booths near the Daiei entrance now, that it's hard to tell what's what!

Anyway, until I get over to Char Hung Sut one of these days, here are a couple extra Island Manapua Factory images to keep things going:

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Their char siu / roast pork combo. One of the most popular takeouts, though it's hard to keep from gobbling it up in the car before you make it home.

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The spam, char siu, and lup cheong musubis. A prime example of pan-Asian hybrid local fast-food.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#6 kaukaulesa

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Posted 10 February 2004 - 02:05 PM

Right after returning here from New York in July, I tried an Island Manapua Factory pork manapua. Wow was I disappointed. I had become accustomed to the more richly flavored char siu bao of Mei Lin Coffee Shop in Manhattan's Chinatown. Still just $.60 each, steamed or baked.

#7 skchai

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Posted 10 February 2004 - 06:32 PM

I actually like the steamed pork manapua at Island Manapua Factory - its filling is completely different from that of the baked pork manapua, which is nothing to write home about. The steamed one has a shredded pork and fat and daikon filling, with traces (I think) of fermented tofu, while the baked one has the more usual chopped char siu and hoisin sauce fillling.

But it's true that overall it's not the place to go if you're looking for the best traditional dim sum. Its appeal (at least to me) is more the way in which it goes over the top in taking just about everything on the Hawai`i fast food menu and stuffing into a dim sum of some sort. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
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Former Hawaii Forum Host


#8 jschyun

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Posted 11 February 2004 - 10:34 AM

Fantastic job on the review/writeup. You're making me hungry
I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
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#9 Chad

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Posted 11 February 2004 - 10:44 AM

This is very cool. I went from "mana-whata?" to wanting one (or six) in the space of 10 paragraphs. Now, to find a sample in Kansas . . . :laugh:

What are the red dots on some of the manapua in the display case and on your lurid manapua-in-action shot?

Chad
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#10 skchai

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Posted 12 February 2004 - 01:32 PM

Thanks for the kind comments, jschyun and chad.

Chad, the number of dots on top of the manapua help the employees to keep track of what's inside, since they all kind of look the same from the outside. Other manapua houses in Hawai`i use the same technique, though I'm not sure who originated it. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
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Former Hawaii Forum Host


#11 FoodZealot

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Posted 12 February 2004 - 01:46 PM

Thanks, SK. This reminded me that we didn't have great manapua on the Big Island when I was growing up, and so one of the most treasured omiyage items was often a box or two of handcarried manapua, pork hash, and such, tied with string. As sometimes the filling was less than abundant, my mom would doctor up some canned corned beef to put in the empty side of the bun. To me the bun is the special part - you could put almost anything in it and it would be good.

BTW, they freeze well if you use real steam to warm them.

#12 Elle

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Posted 08 March 2004 - 01:34 PM

OMG! Those are just simple lovely photos!!! Where's the drooling icon??!!! :laugh:

L