It’s the dead of winter, and most of the fun holidays are behind us—but there’s still months of cold and slush to get through. So we’d like to welcome you to Tropical Staycation, a week of island-inspired recipes and other stories that will transport you to much warmer, sunnier places. Just don’t look out the window while reading.
My first job out of college was as a reporter for a now-defunct newspaper in the town of Kaunakakai on the island of Molokai. And while your culinary thoughts of Hawaii probably go to pit-roasted suckling pig, beachside plate lunches, and/or some of the finest fresh seafood in the Pacific, I was living on reporter money—really, I only stopped eating Hot Pockets and started cooking because I found a bone in one.
In fact, if you lived at the Molokai Shores condo complex in the summer of 2006, I probably owe you an apology. Rather than cook at my place up the road, I’d fill a backpack with food, schlep it over, and (posing as a resident down to the name and apartment number of someone I knew) commandeer the grill* for a couple of hours with my sous chef, a plastic fifth of whiskey. There are many ant- and centipede-based reasons I didn’t much like to cook at home, but that’s not an appetizing anecdote—and honestly, a minor complaint in contrast to living in super awesome damn-hell-ass Hawaii for a summer.
So please enjoy my favorite hot dog creations from the time. They’re a combination of being blown away by the people, food, and culture of Molokai (and Hawaii in general) and also being freshly out of college and absolutely poor as shit. I hope it makes you look into the actual cuisine of the islands, which is wonderful and to which I probably owe an apology.
*I also did my laundry there.
Each of these recipes assumes enough ingredients for four dogs and four buns (ish). Slice a cross through the end of each dog to let it char on the grill without exploding. Warm your hot dog buns on a grill or steam them in a bamboo steamer before serving—this is the difference between mom-and-pop excellence and office picnic disappointment.
At the time, savory and sweet marmalade blew my mind. In retrospect, this is a crab rangoon sausage and I am very cool with that.
- 3/4 cup fresh diced pineapple
- 3/4 cup diced papaya
- 3 Tbsp. cane sugar
- Unseasoned rice vinegar, to taste
- 8 wonton wrappers sliced into ribbons
- Oil, to fry
- Cream cheese, softened
Add the pineapple and papaya to a small pan, pour the sugar over, and simmer for 25 minutes. The sugar should dissolve and the pineapple/papaya should break down into a texture that looks just a loud shout from becoming a jelly. Remove, blend, and season to taste with rice vinegar
Fry the wonton ribbons in oil over medium-high heat for 20 seconds until they blister and brown. They burn fast, so don’t walk away. Remove, season immediately, and set aside.
Spread one side of the bun with cream cheese (Seattle does it, and I would jump off a cliff if Seattle told me to), add your hot dog, and top with the pineapple/papaya mixture and wonton strips.
If you’ve never tried Spam musubi (griddled Spam and seasoned rice wrapped in a sheet of nori), please correct your error now. It’s available as a grab-and-go option at Hawaiian convenience stores in the same way that disappointing wraps are in your local urban business district. But, you know, edible.
The shaker of Furikake rice seasoning (the essential element of good musubi) that I inherited with my house paired really well with this Shiitake-based sauce I totally stole from an early morning Sam Choy TV segment. If you can’t or don’t want to get Furikake for this, those seaweed snack chips and some sesame seeds do a decent fill-in job.
And please, put musubi on your to-do list when you’re done making hot dogs.
- 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 2 Tbsp. tamari soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. mirin
- 1 tsp. fish sauce
- 1 green onion, sliced thin
- 1 sliced Anaheim chile, quick-pickled
- Furikake (seaweed bonito or your favorite)
Cook the mushrooms in the sesame oil until they begin to brown and release their liquid. Add the tamari, mirin, and fish sauce, and cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring until the sauce is smooth and consistent. Turn off heat and stir in the green onions. Spoon the the mushrooms and liquid over the dog and top with chiles and Furikake.
Get it? I promise this seemed clever at the time, long before Pizza Twitter made any discussion of the subject a series of breathless “WELL ACTUALLY”s.
- 4 slices ham or Canadian bacon
- 2 slices fresh pineapple, brushed with olive oil
- Barbecue sauce
Grill the pineapple, turning frequently and maybe brushing with any spare dark rum lying around, until visibly charred, about 10 minutes. Remove, cool, and chop. Cook the ham or bacon 2-3 minutes until just crispy around the edges, and chop. Tuck the pineapple chunks and crispy ham on either side of the dog and give it a generous squeeze of sauce.
Mama mia, that is some authentic original Hawaiian pizza, just like my Nonna used to make.
(No joke, take the ham out and sub in blue cheese and this is maybe the ultimate “marijuana is now legal in my state” hot dog topping combination.)
As a young food person who was also kind of a jerk, I would frequently read those breathless essays about the beauty and harmony of a single perfect ingredient, roll my eyes real hard, and then go back to searching for copycat Cheddar Bay Biscuit recipes. That is until one day, covering a local surf meet, when one the organizers handed me a paper plate heavy with mangoes from the tree in her yard and just a touch of honey. I’ve eaten more than my fair share of very fancy food over the years, but that plate of Yard Mangoes is still firmly placed in the top five.
- 1 very, very ripe mango, diced
- 2 tsp. honey
- 1/2 tsp. crushed Aleppo pepper
- 1/2 red onion, shaved thin
- 2 green onions, sliced thin
Toss the mango with the honey and Aleppo pepper. Taste for seasoning, then add to the dog with the red and green onions.
The origin story here is about what it sounds like. I’ve since made this willingly many times, and it’s just as tasty out of not-desperation. I’ve also tested various permutations and can give the thumbs up to Chili Cheese Fritos for crunch and the thumbs down to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos for a texture that gives up too easily.
- 1 (6-oz.) bag Flamin’ Hot Funyuns
- 4 oz. crema or sour cream
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Zest of 1/2 lime
Pulverize the Funyuns to a size large enough to retain their texture but small enough to remain mostly bun-bound. We’re making art here, and details are vital. Stir the lime juice and zest into the crema. Top your dog.
I had an open tab at the Sundown Deli because the publisher traded food for ad space. Kind of a lot of it. Long story short, the paper died not long after I left (but the Sundown lives!).
The thing about Sundown was it never, ever had pastrami in stock. I really love pastrami. I tried every second or third visit to order pastrami, and would get the same sad “Oh, we’re just out of it” verdict.
One magical day I asked, hoping against hope, and the cashier brightened. “We sure do!” he said with a big smile, and went back to make my sandwich. He came back with sad eyes two minutes later. Turns he was new and had just found out they’re out of pastrami.
This went on until I would have done unspeakable things for a hot pastrami sandwich. Eventually, it hit me that hot dogs are basically tubed pastrami, and there was much rejoicing at the Shores.
- 1/4 lb. Swiss cheese, grated
- 1/2 cup sauerkraut, drained
- Thousand Island dressing or spicy brown mustard
Make a cheesy nest on the bun. Grill the dog and remove it to the bun. Top with a heap of kraut and all thousand of the islands.