My Midnight Lū‘au from 7-Eleven
You haven’t been dreaming. There is Hawaiian food at local 7-Eleven stores, sometimes even at midnight.
A midnight lū‘au requires a little bit of nostalgia, resourcefulness and desperation. It’s midnight, after all. It doesn’t matter what got you to this point—a marathon day of work, residual pau hana munchies, or in my case, a query from Frolic Managing Editor Mari Taketa. “Can you put together a decent Hawaiian plate from stuff you find at 7-Eleven?” she asked.
It’s a legitimate question. When sentimental hunger pangs hit late at night, Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Yama’s Fish Market, Highway Inn and other Hawaiian restaurants have long since slipped into a dreamland where dancing he‘e lomi the salmon. But 7-Eleven? The 24-hour convenience store chain may be known for Spam musubi, noodle bowls and a mean pork guisantes bento, but it’s not exactly a destination for Hawaiian food.
With the challenge set, I was primed to improvise. Would I need to gut a ham sandwich and call it kalua pig? Pair a tomato with salmon from a nori roll to make lomi salmon? Not necessary, it turns out. 7-Eleven had pretty much everything I needed. So I’ll dive right in.
The Pork Lau Lau and Kalua Brand Pork Combo ($8.99) from Hawai‘i Food Products in Waipahu came vacuum-sealed for freshness. My hopes dwindled a little at the knob of shrink-wrapped kalua pig wrapped so tightly it looked like chewed food. But the ti leaf wrapping on the lau lau was reassuring.
The lomi salmon ($3.69), also from HFP, was a surprising find, and was the last one on the shelf at the 7-Eleven at Kalāaaua Avenue and Young Street. Sitting in a clear plastic tray, the ingredients were less than vibrant, as if the color had leached out of the tomatoes. But it was a key component of my midnight lū‘au. So I bought it.
All of this screamed for poi, but the best I could do was a package of Golden Coin taro rolls ($1.59), some Cadina Taro Chips ($2.50) from Taiwan, and Pomai Kūlolo ($6.69) from Kapa‘a Quarry Road. This triangulation, I hoped, would keep the spirit of poi present.
For rice, I found a precooked, microwavable bowl ($2.49) from South Korea among the instant noodles.
Now for the feast prep. Everything must be quickly, conveniently microwaved. If you have the time and mental capacity to steam anything for 15 minutes, then this midnight lū‘au is not for you. This is for those who are delirious, hungry and impatient.
The smallish portion of lau lau came out moist, with fatty silky leaves, tender pork and salty sablefish so good that it left me shredding that ti leaf as I scraped for missed morsels. There was a mini lau lau option on the shelf, but I can’t imagine how un-lau-lau-like that portion must be.
That bolus of kalua pig fell apart with a fork and regained its original shredded state. It was good—I would call it the equivalent of plate lunch kalua pig, not restaurant quality—but it’s midnight, which skews that equation and a lot of other things.
These Hawaiian food mainstays needed the lomi salmon, a refreshing bit of acid and tanginess that in turn screamed for poi. The kūlolo, though a tad dry, helped with its tartness and when I unwrapped it a heady sour poi essence filled the room. Not bad. But the taro rolls were dry and superfluous, and the taro chips were too sweetened. My triangulation plan didn’t quite pay off.
The real low point was the rice. It’s strange how such a bland, flavorless ingredient can make or break a meal. Good rice can make bad food taste good. But bad rice can sink the freshest, most luxurious ingredient. You would do better with leftover rice at home. Or buy a Spam musubi and peel off the Spam. Or skip the rice altogether.
Finally, while you won’t find this at 7-Eleven, in the spirit of the occasion, how about some background music by The Waikīkīs? They’re a Belgian band from the ‘60s that put out a steel-string, easy listening, Hawaiian-style homage aptly titled Midnight Lū‘au that covers famous Beatles songs, and track one is Yesterday. Sure, it heightens the surrealness of this afterhours meal, but we’re talking about a midnight lū‘au from 7-Eleven, of all things. So won’t it do for now?
Multiple locations, @7elevenhi