Our recently-concluded The Hunt Club contest called upon Voracious readers to find 10 esoteric edibles somewhere in Seattle. This week, we'll look more closely at a few of the listed items - and tell you where our top scavenger hunter found them.
When Rachel Laudan was researching her book The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii's Culinary Heritage, she was so taken with sushi and mochi that she didn't spend much time snacking on gau gee, the crispy Spam or pork-stuffed won tons that islanders crave when they come to the mainland.
"They never struck me as being at the top of my list of favorite foods, but that may have been because of my age and social situation and what have you," says Laudan, who's British by birth. "It would have been a great thing for young people to have with beer at a garage party."
It's unclear exactly when gau gee entered Hawaii's culinary canon. The snack "obviously has some kind of vague Chinese connection," Laudan says, but is recognized as distinctly Hawaiian by its fans. "Our friends tell us Chinese restaurants on the mainland will look at you real funny if you try to order this," reads the caption on a gau gee illustration printed in Pupus to Da Max, a 1986 book that humorously chronicled Hawaiian food customs.
"My guess is gau gee evolved in the 10 or 20 years after Hawaii became a state," Laudan says. "What you had then was a feeling, suddenly, that we are all local. You suddenly get a huge cross-fertilization to create these pupus."
A 1964 edition of Mary Sia's Chinese Cookbook -- a standard text that thousands of Hawaiians bought after its publication in 1956 - included a recipe for crisp kau tze, in which wonton wrappers are stuffed with shrimp, water chestnuts and ginger before deep-frying. Laudan isn't sure whether the same recipe appeared in earlier editions.
Laudan also found a gau gee recipe in The Gourmet's Encyclopedia of Chinese-Hawaiian Cooking. The preparation outlined in the 1972 book includes ground fresh pork, water chestnuts, oyster sauce, green onions, tapioca and mushrooms.
Although she hasn't been able to find a citation, Laudan also wonders whether the Hormel Company, which manufactures Spam, invented gau gee for a recipe booklet promoting its tinned meat.
Laudan remembers a departmental secretary dragging a deep fryer to campus in the mid-1980s to make gau gee for a potluck, enlisting students to fold the wontons.
"She was going to considerable trouble to make gau gee, quite certainly in defiance of all safety codes," Laudan says.
The Hunt Club winner Jessica Moseley found gau gee at North Shore Hawaiian Barbecue. Another entrant tracked the crispy snack to Hawaiian Sun BBQ in Everett.