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Editor’s Page: Operation: Best of Honolulu 2019

There are two reasons why I love the Best of Honolulu issue. And this year, only one of them involves a man named Tony.


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Christi Young
PHOTO: KAREN DB PHOTOGRAPHY

Thursday morning at 9 a.m. I am driving on the H-1, my car reeking of almost tear-inducing (and definitely nasal-passage-clearing) fumes of vinegar emanating from four containers carefully secured on the passenger seat—each cracked open to keep the fried skins crisp during my morning commute, allowing the strong aromas to circulate. My Best of Honolulu assignment is to find the best salt-and-vinegar wings on the island.

 

It’s one of our favorite features of the year, but the list of food categories we gleefully come up with in the early spring—“We should find the best biryani!” “Edamame!” “Granola!”—often has us swearing off our favorite dishes by the time weeks of testing end. Some honorees are simple to identify. Others take miles of travel, hours of research and many, many scientific-esque samplings. This year, after seven rounds of amped-up edamame, 30-plus flavors of crispy beef jerky, the four types of tangy wings and dozens of other tastings, our list of 32 editorial food winners was created. We also asked our readers for their picks and then hit the pavement to find the other winners in shopping, services and fitness. And we tapped the HONOLULU Family team for its selections for the keiki set. The result is a list of more than 100 people and places that make O‘ahu a great place to experience.

 


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best of honolulu

This cardboard sign—in English and Chinese—is the only menu you’ll find at Mrs. Cheng’s Soybean Products.

 

The exploration is fun. But the other part of our Best of Honolulu issue that I love is the opportunity to highlight local businesses that serve local readers.

 

Take the editor’s pick for Best Tofu “Cheese.” I discovered Mrs. Cheng’s Soybean Products Soy Cheese in my college days. My aunt talked about it and on an expedition to Chinatown with my mom, we found the small brown blocks of soy cheese tucked away in the back of a small market on an unmarked shelf in a wall of refrigerators. A favorite snack was discovered. A few years later, when it disappeared from that store, my cousin noted that I could buy the baked tofu—still warm—from the factory on Kalihi Street.

 

That’s where Mao-Chi Tzeng and his wife, both pharmacists by trade, and their team of six quietly turn out nine different tofu products. The day I stop by, I meet a soft-spoken man efficiently pulling blocks of fresh tofu out of containers of water. His name is Tony, and he smiles as we chat, especially when he asks if I’m Chinese. (Not Chinese enough, I say laughing.)  Tony introduces me to the owner, Tzeng, through a phone mounted on a wall. Tzeng and I have a friendly conversation—him in his office, me with workers moving around me. On the way out, Tony hands me the bag of my items, but won’t take money for the tofu pudding I picked up for my mom. We have a small money fight until he says, “the boss says.”

 


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I have been buying his tofu for decades but had never talked to Tzeng before. I didn’t know his story, about his move from Taiwan in 1984, how his family poured their savings into upgrading the equipment at the tofu factory and how it helped support his then-young family (his son, Shawn, and daughter, Sandra, are both professionals now raising families in California). Or how his wife likes to fry up thin slices of the soy cheese with green onion and chiles. Those stories we get to share are, for me, the real Best of HONOLULU.

 

Christi Young

 

Got a good story? Reach me at christiy@honolulumagazine.com

 

Read all of these stories in the August issue of HONOLULU Magazine. Available on newsstands in August, or purchase the issue at shop.honolulumagazine.com. Subscribe to the print and digital editions now.

 

 

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