The food is fresh, simple and authentic at Kahiau Jerky Co. in Chinatown, where owners Hinano and Tiara Delgado make even the poi from scratch.
Their first brick-and-mortar shop started up in February, open just four days a week in a hole-in-the-wall on Smith Street, four years since they started selling poke and jerky at a farmers market at Pearlridge Center. It has zero room for a freezer or storage, so everything has to be made fresh.
“We are a mom and pop; we want to be like the old-school fish markets where the smell of laulau is in the air and there are only three kinds of poke.… (You get) a good value and you know your customers’ names. That’s what we’re striving for,” Hinano said.
His wife, Tiara, acknowledged, “We’re not the only poke stop in town, we’re not in the best location, we don’t have a lot of parking, but our customers make the effort to come here. It’s the connection you make with people,” she added.
Their business’s name, “Kahiau,” means “selfless generosity; to give from the heart.”
Both worked as flight attendants for Aloha Airlines until it shut down in 2008. Hinano now flies with Hawaiian Airlines, but after Aloha Air closed, he said, he spent “thousands of days fishing or at the helm,” or cooking for the crew on a tugboat.
Although Hinano no longer has time to catch his own fish, “We buy the best fish we can,” he said. Tiara’s father, Raymond Perkins, comes in at 3 a.m. to do all the prep work, as he’s done since they began at the farmers market.
Their customer base grew out of the Pearlridge market, where they continue to do business on Saturdays, but the downtown lunchtime crowd and others have found Kahiau Jerky through word of mouth, mainly via social media. That includes a half-dozen visitors a day from the mainland “straight from the airport,” Hinano said. “We heard our spicy poke is life-changing!”
One devotee is Mark Mangibin, Hinano’s best friend from intermediate school days, who flies in from Hilo once a month and makes a point to pick up some poke to take home; he loves the dried aku and the poke seasoned with ginger and scallions. Mangibin said Hinano knows the best sources of fish and how to judge quality, thanks to his lengthy experience as a fisherman, and also knows the “old-school ways”of making Hawaiian food. (Hinano said he learned food preparation while helping at family and friends’ luaus and parties.)
“The lines are unreal when I come. They’ve been so long, sometime I’ve tried to help behind the counter,” said Mangibin.
Another fan is master sommelier Chuck Furuya, a partner in Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar, whose favorite poke also is the ginger/scallion, flavored just like the cold chicken dish that’s a Chinese restaurant standard.
“It’s just so fresh!” Furuya said. “You can see it’s hand-done, the size of the cuts of the ahi, it’s the right bite size.”
The fish is well chilled, and has a wonderful texture, he said. “They season simply and it’s done with balance in mind. So ono … a very clean, vibrant touch, nothing strong or overpowering to the fish. Nothing fancy at this place. Just a couple doing their own thing through hard work and from the heart.”
WHAT TO ORDER
All poke is $19.99 a pound, and includes shoyu, taegu, cold ginger/scallion and spicy varieties. The Kahiau special is a sweet and salty poke mix with limu.
Poke bowl combos ($10) come with two choices, the most popular being spicy ahi with cold ginger. The Poke Bomb — inari (cone) sushi topped with spicy tuna (three for $5.99) — is great for a grab- and-go lunch.
Poi ($7 a pound) is made from wetland taro flown in weekly from Hanalei on Kauai. Laulau ($5), loaded with more meat than leaves, are on the small side but well-flavored; and a Hawaiian plate ($10; $2 more with poke) is available on Fridays.
Beef jerky ($10 a bag), comes in regular or a thin and crispy version. Smoked fish sticks average $15 a pound; and dried ahi and aku are $22 a pound.
Sashimi platters are custom made at $25 a pound, but prices can vary on holidays. Miscellaneous items include their famous limu kohu chili pepper water, boiled peanuts, smoked fish dip and pickled onions.