Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New year sparked old memory of dau lau

Nadine Kam photos
Dau Lau, or Dau Lo, was a surprise treat at Grand Cafe and Bakery’s Chinese new year celebration. We picked up the mochi with a toothpick, and that’s a piece of candied lotus in the background.

Grand Cafe and Bakery hosted a Chinese New Year celebration Feb. 26 at the Hawaii State Museum, with new year delicacies on the table and lion dancers from Saam Fu Chinese Cultural Arts.

What was amazing was the power of food to bring back forgotten memories from my childhood, that had been wiped away by every outside-my-own-heritage food experience I’ve had since then. I may be Chinese by blood, but all-American by culture, and that culture is so strong I remember making pancakes with my mom and siblings as a bonding experience because I see pancakes all the time. But I forgot that we shared that same experience making dau lau, or dau lo, soft mochi dumplings coated with crushed peanuts and brown sugar.

It was one of the sweets served up by Grand Cafe and Bakery chef owner Mona Chang Vierra and her son Anthony Kui Sin Vierra, and I don’t even think I recognized it on sight. But as soon as I tasted it, I thought, “Hey, I made this with my mom when I was a kid. How come she stopped making this?”

Well, we kids grew up. There are things people are willing to do for others and offspring that seem like luxuries or humbug to do for oneself. I know this because I cooked at least four evenings a week when my husband Christopher was alive. He was always fun to cook for because he was the most loving and appreciative audience a woman could have. Absent that cheerleading and support, I feel no desire to cook for myself when the prep takes hours and the payoff lasts 15 minutes.

Shrimp chips and salad.

Look funn rolls.

Grand Cafe is all about maintaining a legacy of family ties and recipes. During the event, I also enjoyed picking candied dried fruit from “The Tray of Togetherness” as a sweet way to start the new year. I haven't enjoyed these since the closing of Chinatown's Shung Chong Yuein, so it was nice to nibble on candied coconut symbolic of togetherness, and lotus root, representing abundance.

I'm left wondering what else I may have forgotten in my journey through life.

There's a science to this phenomenon of recall through smell and taste. Food molecules reach the olfactory bulb that is part of the brain's limbic system, associated with memory and feeling, and this prompts instant recall of memories and the people, places and emotions linked with them.

That just tells me how important it is to share family meals together. You don't want your kid one day recalling, "Oh yeah, I used to eat this when I was all alone in my room watching YouTube."

Kalua pork bau.

Patsy Izumo and Mona Chang Vierra, foreground, feed the lions at Grand Cafe and Bakery’s Chinese new year celebration.

Chef Anthony Vierra is also blessed by the lion.

It’s always fun to watch kids respond to the lions.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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