Here’s the Secret to Shopping Chinatown’s Markets Like a Chef
Chinatown’s marketplaces are overflowing with fresh, cheap fish, meat, fruits and vegetables. How to navigate it all? We tagged along with the duo behind three of Honolulu’s hottest gathering places as they shopped, to see how the pros do it.
CHEF JESSE CRUZ BUYS AN UHU OR PARROTFISH AT A CHINATOWN MARKET FOR THEIR EMPLOYEE DINNER.
PHOTO: ROBBIE DINGEMAN
ILLUSTRATIONS: SERGIO GARZON
We recently joined chef Jesse Cruz and business partner Dusty Grable on a morning market crawl through Chinatown. These days, Grable brings along his baby girl, who is scoping out the sights, sounds and smells from her front-facing carrier strapped to dad’s chest.
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The partners shop in various quantities for Livestock Tavern, Lucky Belly and The Tchin Tchin! Bar about three times a week, and their managers visit the markets daily. They can’t buy everything in Chinatown but do rely on it for many must-haves—Lucky Belly, for example, sources its bao buns from Hoong Wun Market (126 N. King St.). “It’s just cheaper and it’s fresher,” Cruz says. For local veggies, the two favor Chinatown Hawaiian Market (110 N. Hotel St.), for fish, 88 Fish (145 N. King St.).
When Lucky first opened, merchants met Grable and Cruz cautiously and wanted to be paid cash. Slowly, they built relationships. They advise home cooks to get to know the merchants, ask questions and try new foods.
The deals make their case: $1 for a fresh bunch of curly kale that easily costs three to four times more at a supermarket; Aloha Tofu, less than $3; fish that came off the boat within the past 24 hours, less than $6 a pound.
See a fish you want to try but don’t know much about? Ask the person behind the counter what to do. “They’ll clean it for you,” Grable explains. “Dungeness crab? They’ll even crack it for you.”