I’m Finally Stocking Up Because of COVID-19. Here’s What’s In My Pantry.

Food that brings comfort, joy and local produce to my door.
Roots Café’s CSA (left) with kalo, ‘ulu, cassava and dried mai‘a, and ‘ulu and kale soup
Photos: Martha Cheng


We should have had this all along. 


A few months ago, unrelated to COVID-19 (although, really, everything is connected, if current events haven’t convinced you), when I was researching a story on Hawai‘i’s food system and agriculture for the April issue of HONOLULU, I spoke with Albie Miles, professor of sustainable community food systems at UH West O‘ahu. He said that given the state’s limited facilities in food storage, “It’s important to understand that … the emergency management agencies have set as a goal that you and I and everybody in the state has a 14-day supply of food and water on hand. They’re expecting everybody to be prepared. The public is not being educated to achieve that goal.” (And indeed, this information is buried deep on the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency’s website.) Though this preparedness was probably intended for natural disasters such as hurricanes, we are now literally in a state of emergency. In response to COVID-19, the CDC now also recommends keeping a two-week supply of prescription and over-the-counter medications, food and other essentials. 


I’m not great at planning, and I’m not prone to panic, but, well, these are unprecedented times. And as a friend said, if you don’t want to keep these supplies on hand, “that’s fine, but ask yourself why you’re resistant to the idea.” So I did: why months after Miles’ warning, months after the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, when my ER doctor boyfriend predicted this current disruption and advised preparing, why I still had not stocked up. 


And the answer was laziness and denial, which I sometimes justify as “living on the edge.” (And maybe a bit aesthetics: a two-week food supply crammed into open shelving is not #mariekondo #declutter #beautiful.) Some things sound dumb when you say them out loud. So I started stocking. Though to be clear: I’m preparing for two weeks and not hoarding so that there are enough supplies for everyone. 


Having spent the past weeks social distancing to protect an immune-compromised parent, I’ve discovered that while shelf-stable foods are, of course, key, so are joy and comfort to stave off boredom, anxiety and loneliness at a time when physical touch (who knew, as the daughter of Chinese immigrants and awkward aloha kisser, that I would miss touch so much!) and social gatherings are best avoided. I lean toward local producers, such as Roots Café and Forage Hawai‘i, to keep in figurative touch with community and humanity, even if sometimes it feels out of reach (or more than 6 feet away).


Here’s my pantry list (assuming basics such as olive oil, salt, shoyu, vinegar, onions, garlic … Chinese chile oil), sorted by emotion, though there’s lots of overlap:



These are the things I love making, but don’t always find the time to. Now’s the time!



Pork, cabbage and dumpling wrappers: Freeze the pork and wrappers until you’re ready to fold dumplings. (Round cabbages will last a good long while in the fridge.) Nothing fits into tidy packages, except dumplings.


Yeasted breads

Flour, yeast, sugar: from cinnamon rolls to sourdough. World events rarely transition from shaggy to smooth, but soft dough does.



Butter: keeps beautifully in the freezer—suddenly, laminated doughs go from tedious to titillating in times of coronavirus.


Soup stocks

Maybe you know this as bone broth. Either way, simmering bones for hours to make a rich stock is my version of an aromatherapy diffuser. 



Pickle beets, okra, carrots, radishes, mangoes, anything and everything. Preserve and persevere.



  • Honey (literally never goes bad)

  • Jam (Monkeypod Jam is one of my go-tos)

  • Parmesan cheese (or similarly hard cheeses that keep longer—and because my heart hurts for Italy)

  • Chocolate (Favorites include: Lonohana, Mānoa, Madre and Waialua)

  • Hot sauce (I always have Adoboloco on hand; among the newer brands, I’m a fan of Kaua‘i Juice Co.’s)

  • Ice cream (mini Uncle’s ice cream sandwiches and pints from Via Gelato)

  • An herb garden for the lānai/counter


SEE ALSO: Local Honey is Having a Moment: What You Should Know About This Sweet Comeback



  • Instant ramen

  • Frozen saimin

  • Soup (bouillon/cans/boxes)

  • Crack seed 

  • Mayonnaise (can’t go wrong with the unglamorous but essential pantry staple of the Hōkūle‘a worldwide voyage)

  • Kimchee



  • Cooked and frozen ‘ulu chunks (available at FarmLink Hawai‘i and via Roots Café’s CS‘Ai)

  • Spam

  • Lup cheong

  • Canned fish and seafood (tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies, mussels)

  • Canned tomatoes 

  • Kimchi

  • Rice (I love shopping at The Rice Factory, which stocks the freshest rice on the island, plus fancy pantry staples from shoyu to furikake to miso aged to Vivaldi)

  • Pasta

  • Beans (dried or canned, though I’m partial to dried for their beauty)

  • Shelf stable tofu

  • Shelf stable soy milk/almond milk

  • Eggs (which last longer than you think)


SEE ALSO: Honolulu Gift Guide for Food Lovers


Here are some great resources for stocking up, especially if you want to minimize wandering through grocery aisles. It could also be a good time to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) or sign up for a veggie subscription box:

  • Local I‘a

  • FarmLink Hawai‘i

  • Forage Hawai‘i

  • MA‘O Organic Farms’ CSA

  • O‘ahu Fresh


SEE ALSO: Kokua Kalihi Valley’s Roots Café Introduces Honolulu’s First CSA to Emphasize Cultural Starches 


Supermarkets that deliver: