Aloha ‘Oe Kawate Seed Shop
It wasn’t just about getting one last gravy burger, a final ice shave, or a bag of crack seed. I think it was also about showing respect to a long-time business.
I parked yesterday in the lot near Kawate Seed Shop, which is closing on April 30. A long line of people, waiting to get into the tiny store, stretched toward Hilo Rice Noodle.
After nearly 65 years in business, Hilo will lose another iconic store, along with its quirky charms. If you grew up around here, you’re probably a little sad about the loss and worried about losing more mom-and-pop stores.
“I just wanted my grandchildren to see it before it’s too late,” a grandmother in line explained, waiting with her grandkids for an ice cream.” The college kids behind me in line were planning to hit the beach, but “we wanted to be able to say we were here and ate the crack seed,” so they were waiting, too.
For those of you readers not familiar with what “seed” or “crack seed” is, let me attempt to explain (As a transplant, I was completely mystified by what this was, when we moved here.). Seed, or crack seed, refers to a snack made of dried fruit or sometimes fruit peels. “Crack seed” specifically refers to the seed in the dried fruit that has been cracked to add more flavor. In Chinese, it is called see mui.
When the Chinese began immigrating to Hawai’i, they brought with them dried plums, lemons, and ginger, preserved with salt. Eventually, local shops experimented with their own recipes and added li hing mui to suit island palates. Translated, li hing mui means “traveling plum.” I’m struggling with how to describe li hing mui, but I’ll go with sweet, salty, and a little licorice-y. Li hing mui is also available as a powder, which is now popular on candies, shave ice, and even on the rims of cocktails. One of my co-workers makes a great li hing mui cucumber salad.
Seed shops also often carry a variety of cuttlefish, which is a leathery, chewy (and, yes, fishy) dried-fish snack. To get the sweet-salty flavor, cuttlefish also is sometimes dipped in chocolate. I know, if you haven’t heard of these flavor combos before, you’re probably raising your eyebrows. But don’t knock ‘em until you’ve tried ‘em. They are deliciously addictive.
Also popular in “seed” shops are arare and senbei, introduced here by the Japanese plantation workers in the 1900’s. These are delicious, light, salty, and/or sweet crunchy rice crackers. They come in a large variety of shapes and sizes, including wasabi peanuts. Mixing arare crackers into buttered popcorn is a delicious treat. Senbei are larger, baked crackers, just lightly sweet. They’re almost airy.
Yes, we are losing Kawate, but we can still support other seed shops. Check out 5-Spice, located at 2100 Kanoelehua Ave. in Hilo. They also have bentos, sandwiches, sweet bread, and hot dogs. Hilo Seeds & Snacks (15 Waianuenue Ave., Hilo) carries the “classics” like shredded mango, rock salt plum, and li hing apricot. Crack Seed, Etc. (65-1290 Kawaihae Road) not only serves up seed, arare, and candies, but also local crafts. Munch & Joy (111 E. Puainako St.) gets high marks for their lemon peel (my personal sour favorite) and is conveniently located in the Prince Kuhio Plaza. (Readers, please jump into the comments section if you have more suggestions.)
Thank you, Kawate Seed Shop. I think Hilo joins me in wishing you all the very best.