Field Notes: The People Who Make the Piping Hot Andagi at Hawai‘i’s Bon Dances
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: andagi makers.
Photos: Aaron Yoshino
Golf-ball-size globs of sugary fried dough better known as andagi are a staple of the Okinawan bon dance experience. Originating as a Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors, the bon dance season brings festivities, a sense of community and mountains of the much-adored andagi. Although the task is daunting, someone needs to cook more than 350 pounds of batter into about 8,000 andagi for some of Hawai‘i’s most popular bon dances.
That’s where Guy Ujimori, the 58-year-old Mililani resident otherwise known as “Da Andagi Guy,” steps in. Guy has been making andagi for more than 30 years and now owns an andagi-making company with his wife, Cindy, and 25-year-old son, Grant.
“I started at Waipahu Hongwanji,” says Guy. “I asked if I could learn, started making andagi there and branched out.”
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
Da Andagi Guy has been running his business for 18 years. In addition to owning a location at Don Quijote in Waipahu, Guy travels often during obon season—he makes andagi for the bon dances at ‘Ewa, Honpa Mission, Waipahu, Wai‘anae, Mililani and Pearl City.
“I’m invited to come,” says Guy. “I am the andagi guy!”
Guy’s son, Grant, was born while the Ujimoris were residents of ‘Ewa.
“When we were living there, they took care of us,” says Guy. “My son started helping as a cashier. We think he started helping us when he was 5. He could count back change. The people are good—if he made a mistake, they’d help him.”
Guy’s hands are a blur as he scoops batter out of a massive bowl and flicks round lumps into a cauldron filled with oil. Cindy stirs another cauldron already filled with piping hot andagi.
“It’s still steaming,” she says with a smile.
Lynn Bryan is a 64-year-old Mililani resident who goes to bon dances every weekend during the obon season.
“It’s a tradition for me,” says Bryan after purchasing a dozen andagi. “Most of them I take home. My mom really enjoys them.”
Bryan comes to the bon dances with friends, cousins and relatives. She has three sons.
“I wish they would come,” says Bryan, underlining the fact that young adults without kids are few and far between at the festival. “I like to support the ‘Ewa Hongwanji Mission because membership is dwindling.”
Roles are assigned in an assembly-line fashion and include:
The mixers mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk and vanilla. Mixers need to have very light hands. “The key is having good batter consistency for easier dropping and light and fluffy andagi,” says Ellen Higa, an andagi-maker for Okinawan festivals.
The droppers drop the batter into the hot oil. Some droppers use spoons, but the pros use their hands to quickly form little round balls.
“I’m the only one that drops,” says Guy about his family business. “I’m the only one that’s fast enough.” Guy says his son can drop, “but he is not as fast yet.”
The Baggers and Sellers
The baggers and sellers count cooked andagi into small packages and sell them to the public.
Lynn Bryan, 64, Mililani, regular bon dance attendee
“They’re very fattening, but I still get them every weekend.”
Guy Ujimori, 58, Mililani, Da Andagi Guy
“People ask, ‘Are you Okinawan?’ I say, ‘One-fourth.’ They say, ‘Oh, well, that’s OK, then.’”
Myra Nohara, 61, Honolulu, dancer for ‘Ewa Fukushima bon dance club
“There’s always a line. It’s best when it’s hot.”
More than 40 volunteers cook a total of 120,000 andagi for the annual Okinawan Festival, scheduled for Sept. 3 and 4.