Ocean Sushi in Hilo
It's Presidents Day and the place is packed-- a weary fan looks this way and that next to the door. There's a family of seven lined up sweatily by the counter, waiting to catch the waitress's eye. She's wearing belligerent thick black eyeliner, and a tight t-shirt with a picture of a bowl of soup, and the caption "Miso Hot." She shrugs us over to a sticky table, in a maze of mismatched chairs.
There's a pair of Hawaiian aunties right next to us, and I eavesdrop and peer at their food before I order. And it's lovely-- thin little strips of yaki-something, and sweet little rolls like gems. They strike up a conversation with a family at the table kitty-corner from us.
--Oh-- you folks from Honokaa! You never go work with my brother them?
--Oh yeah, over there at the kine. My husband work with your brother Jon Gomes?
--No the other Gomes. Milton Gomes. I get a brother Milton and Jack. Not the Ahualoa Gomes.
Honokaa. I'm a honokaa girl.
--Oh! Me too!
--Oh this my granddaughter. She make one already. So cute yeah? The mother's 19, the father's no good, yeah? They broke up already. Try make up work but broke up already. You know them Fukunaga guys? That's the grandparents.
--Oh over, Laupahoehoe? He the guy work with the kine, yeah? the electrician?
--Yeah, they never help with nothing. I had to make one baby shower for help my daughter, she never had nothing. So now I get the baby, ever since she was a newborn. I'm old already, had my kids at 34. My other daughter she 24 already but she never get any kids yet. She see what her sister went through and says not yet. She just live with the boyfriend, that's all.
--What the baby get, small kine Asian already yeah?
--Yeah the dad folks they Japanese that's why. Oh you went retire already?
--Oh yeah it's hard but, make do yeah?
Then our food comes: I ordered the Chirashi-zushi supreme. For a mere 10 dollars, I got a heap of beautifully scattered soft plump fresh fish on a deep bowl of sweet vinegared sushi rice: saba (mackerel), salmon, maguro (tuna), ikura (roe), tobiko (more roe), tako (octopus), shrimp, and various other items of raw deep-sea goodness. A small white bunch of fresh pickled ginger (not that neon pink stuff, thank you), a dab of wasabi, and some crunchy yelow pickled daikon slices garnished the side.
The auntie next to me incredulously watched the waitress lower it onto my table, and said,
--What, you know how to eat that!
--Oh, yeah, I lived in Japan for a couple of years. I love Japanese food.
--Ooh, is it nice over there? not too expensive though?
I assured them that yes, Japan is beautiful, and expensive, but probably no more expensive than here.
--Oh, then no need go! Ha!
The aunties and their neighbors turned to my husband and eyed him--
--oh but you one Hawaiian boy?
--Oh well, sort of, my mom's from Maui, but I grew up on the mainland...
While they quizzed him on his ancestry and connections, I stole a bite of firm lemony grilled ahi from his bento special. So flavorful and delicious-- fishful, but not fishy. Seasoned but not overwhelmed. In the Beginning, there was fish, and this is how it was meant to taste.
So if you go to Hilo, find Ocean Sushi. Yes, the floor is gummy and it's hot, but the food is divine and the company wonderful.