Frequent contributor Ken Fujii told me recently that on the Big Island, beef tomato was called tomato beef and shave ice was called ice shave. I wrote about that in my Jan. 17 column.
“You ended the column by asking for opinions on differences which your readers have noted about terminologies found on different islands,” Fujii said.
“And offhand, the only one which immediately came to my mind was the puzzling difference which I encountered growing up in small town Hilo and then moving to the big city: What’s the difference and the origins of the name of the tabletop dish which all Japanese families prepared, often at celebratory occasions, with some calling it sukiyaki and others calling it hekka?
“I grew up in Hilo calling the dish hekka, and so did most of my extended family and relatives, and family friends in Hilo. Chicken hekka is what we called it (although we sometimes used beef and called it beef hekka).
“But when I moved to Honolulu, folks mostly referred to it as sukiyaki, although I found some folks in the Oahu countryside referring to the dish as hekka.
“It made me wonder whether hekka is a vernacular from southern Japan, like Hiroshima, Yamaguchi or Fukuoka where many of our plantation families originated. Or are hekka and sukiyaki separate and different dishes?”
The question came up in the newspaper decades ago, and the consensus is that they are the same. Sukiyaki is a classier name than hekka, which is stir-fried chicken, pork or beef with vegetables. It’s often made with ginger, garlic, shoyu and mirin.
My friend and former Honolulu Advertiser food editor Wanda Adams delved into this in 2007. She concluded heka or hekka was Hiroshima dialect for sukiyaki.
Rachel Lauden, in her book “The Food of Paradise,” said hekka was one of the first Asian recipes to receive wide acceptance and was included in many early community cookbooks.
Alan Okamura wrote to say, “My ancestors were from the Yamaguchi prefecture, lived on the Big Island and called the dish hekka.”
JoAnne Yamamoto said she wondered about the difference between hekka and sukiyaki, thinking that they were different (yet similar) dishes.
“I couldn’t figure out exactly what the differences were except that hekka used chicken instead of pork or beef and that it was usually cooked in a big wok or cast-iron frying pan for a big gathering.
“My grandparents and aunties would make hekka when we had family gatherings. Growing up, I don’t remember my mom cooking hekka or sukiyaki for just our small family.”
Floy Kaku wrote, “In 1968, when I met my husband, who is from Hilo, I was already questioning his names for food dishes and other things.
“I took a survey of my dorm mates and found that girls from Kauai, Maui and Oahu called dishes beef tomato and shave(d) ice, while those from the Big Island called those tomato beef and ice shave.
“I told my husband that the adjective usually comes before the noun, as in pickled mango, not mango pickles, or the main item in a dish should come first, like beef tomato.
“The funniest difference was in calling a person’s tummy a ‘pon-pon’ from the child’s ditty, ‘pon poko pon no pon pon,’ as we patted the tummy.
“But one day at the dorm, a gal from Kauai told a gal from the Big Island, ‘Karen — your pon pon sticking out!’ Karen jumped out of her chair and looked at the seat.
“We all screamed with laughter as we asked gals from different islands what pon pon meant to them. They all said stomach or tummy.
“Only people from the Big Island (my husband included) took the song and the digestive process inward and one step further and said pon pon meant doo-doo or kukae!
“I guess the Big Island was the farthest away from other communities, so they found their own language.”
Kailua Local Taxi, Windward Bus Service
Wade Shirkey asked me to look into the Kailua Local Taxi and Windward Bus Service. He lived in Kailua, and his dad was president of Children’s Hospital and was a founder of the University of Hawaii medical school.
Wade says the taxi used old black cars that were long, like limos. Riders got on in mid-Kailua and off in downtown. They took groups of riders to town and back for a low fare.
The newspaper archives show an ad for the taxi in 1965 with a drop-off point on Hotel Street near Bishop Street and Union Mall. Next to it was a stop for the Kaneohe Taxi and Wahiawa bus.
They are still around, I found, but no longer in the taxi business. It’s called the Tomasa Bus Co., and was founded before 1943 by David Tomasa. His son Stanley told me they provide school bus services today but may be nearing the end of their journey due to Department of Education regulations. That would be a shame.
John Corboy said he remembers the Kailua Taxi well. “They were long black cars with jump seats and Filipino drivers. During the late 1940s-early ’50s, they lined up at Punahou at 2:30 every afternoon and took the Windward-side kids home, returning them the next morning.
“A couple of times when my parents were traveling, my siblings and I stayed with friends in Kailua and made the daily round trip in those cabs. I recall that payment was handled through a weekly or monthly subscription service.”
Lowell Angell also remembered the taxi service. “In the mid-1950s I would go with my mother when she went shopping downtown. Fort Street was the main shopping street, with Liberty House, Andrade, McInerny, The Hub, Ritz, Kress, Woolworth and many other stores.
“We’d always park at a small taxi stand and lot on Bishop Street, just above Hotel and mauka of a tiny ‘lunch counter’ on the corner that was open to the sidewalk.
“I think it was called Swanky Franky and run by Spencecliff. Going to and from the car, I recall seeing the large black taxi ‘limousines’ parked there with a few passengers sitting inside with their packages, waiting for more fares. I never noticed what it cost, but I’m sure it wasn’t much.”
It’s interesting to me that Angell remembers Swanky Franky. It was the first step into the restaurant business by Spence and Cliff Weaver in 1939.
Swanky Franky was an upscale frankfurter drive-in on Ena Road and Ala Moana Boulevard, where Canterbury Place is today. They also had “mobile units” — small Bantam cars that were the precursors to modern food trucks.
The company parked its Bantams at Hotel and Bishop streets, downtown, and on Kalakaua Avenue near the Moana Hotel, in front of the Civic Auditorium.
Each car sold hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, scrambled eggs, ice cream, coffee and soda.
The Weavers went on to found Spencecliff, the largest restaurant chain in the islands. Their restaurants included Coco’s, the Ranch House, Tahitian Lanai, Fisherman’s Wharf, South Seas, Kelly’s, Tops and Queen’s Surf.
Swanky Franky Drive In opened in 1939 and then became Tops Coffee Shop around 1956.
By 1980 Spencecliff had owned over 50 restaurants with sales over $40 million and employed over 1,700.
Some suggested I ask my readers whether they have any interesting stories about:
>> A favorite teacher and how they changed your life.
>> An interesting Junior Police Officer experience you had.
>> People and companies displaced by building the H-1 freeway.
If you have an noteworthy experience about one of them, drop me a line.
The Rearview Mirror Insider is Bob Sigall’s weekly email that gives readers behind-the-scenes background, stories that wouldn’t fit in the column, and lots of interesting details. My Insider “posse” gives me ideas for stories and provides personal experiences that enrich the column. I invite you to join in and be an Insider at RearviewMirror Insider.com. Contact him at Sigall@yahoo.com.