My Honolulu: The Legit Crack Seed Stores From Small Kid Time
Right when I walk into a crack seed store, it hits me—the sweet-sour-salty aroma of li hing mui. My mouth waters, and instantly, I feel like a kid in a candy shop again.
I love crack seed stores, but ironically, I grew up hating crack seed.
It was literally cracked seed and painstakingly difficult to eat. I would watch my mom dig out all the edible parts (the meat) while plucking out all the cracked parts of the seed inside. That’s how she grew up eating it. For me, that way was ridiculous and too time consuming. I opted for seedless, or whole seeded, rock salt plums, cherry seeds, mango seed, sweet li hing mui and lemon peel. They all offered the same addictive punchy sour, extra salty, hint of sweetness flavor found in crack seed, minus all the humbug work.
During my hanabata days in Hawaiʻi Kai, I frequented three main crack seed stores: Crack Seed Store in Kaimukī, Doe Fang in ʻĀina Haina and Crack Seed Center at Ala Moana Center. My visits to these localized candy dime shops were often to stash up on snacks for a long day at the beach, a bribe from my mom so that when she shopped at Ala Moana my sisters and I wouldn’t whine—and scrap—and sometimes, when my craving got real bad, I would pretend to have a sore throat. Locals know, lemon peel is winnahz when you’re sick.
Going as often as I did as a kid, you get to know the menu and workers. The Ala Moana store always had aunties in red aprons who would quickly approach you. “What you lookin’ foh?” If you were a longtime pro, you would look unsure and ask to “sample” a few different ones. Once you decided, you always asked for the bag unsealed. At least I did. Crack seed is like french fries—once you get a whiff of it, there’s no saving it for later. At Doe Fang, the lovable Uncle Clay treated (and hugged) all his customers like ʻohana. His popular li-hing flavored Icees were the hands-down fave. The Kaimukī seed shop was known for marrying crispy kakimochi with the sweet-sour juices from wet li hing mui. It’s drool worthy. Maaaybe more than Henry Golding. Nah.
In college on the Mainland, I remember my mom sending me care packages full of li-hing-this-and-that. I would tell my haole friends, “It’s like dried cherries.” They did not agree. One lick of a cherry or rock salt plum seed would send them into a food fit that involved sour faces, gagging noises and promises of revenge. I have to admit, my evil side enjoyed their reactions, but it wasn’t as if I was giving them natto (slimy, fermented bean curd)—that’s just cruel.
Over the years, my need for crack seed has diminished. So did the number of shops. When Crack Seed Center closed at Ala Moana and Doe Fang changed to a shave-ice-only shop, that stung—and not only on a nostalgic level. I had started creating my own memories with my own daughter, taking her to my favorite crack seed haunts, even bribing her with a treat from Crack Seed Center during a long day of shopping. (The li-hing apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) And, yes, I can take her to Wholesale Unlimited and Longs for sealed packages of li-hing mango and peach strips, but not having uncle or auntie scoop up some sweet li hing mui from a glass jar—even though you know the shelf life is way expired—de-flavors the experience.
My Gen Z 13-year-old has no idea what she’s missing. She thinks li hing is an accessory to freshly cut apples, malassadas or gummy worms. Every now and then, I take her to the Kaimukī shop, the only one that’s still around. Even though she’s more interested in the latest flavor of Hi-Chew, it’s OK. I savor every seed and moment I get to spend with her in a place so special to me.
*If you have a little seed money, here’s where our list of still standing crack seed shops:
Crack Seed Store, 1156 Koko Head Ave., (808) 737-1022
Kay’s Crackseed, Manoa Marketplace, (808) 988-4338
Seed City, Pearlridge Center, (808) 488-9755
Seeds ‘n Things, Windward Mall, (808) 235-5050
C-Mui Center, 1111 Bethel St., (808) 536-4712
Rainbow Crackseed, Windward City Shopping Center, (808) 235-5553