Hawaii gets a 'taste' of China with Popo Tong

Popo Tong (left) with Stephanie Lum
Popo Tong (left) with Stephanie Lum

By Stephanie Lum - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - This year, Hawaii will get a "taste" of China, literally as a special guest will be tantalizing taste buds at the 7th annual Splendor of China Festival this weekend. Before the cook-off, I was lucky to get a quick cooking lesson from Popo June Tong.

Popo Tong is the woman you want to learn from if you're like me and you can't cook. She invited me to her home in Palolo to learn how to make two of her most popular dishes: Oyster Roll and Chinese Pot Roast Chicken.

"It's not hard," Popo Tong said. "Anybody can cook."

We started off preparing ingredients for the Oyster Roll: pork hash, chopped ham, diced shrimp and water chestnuts. Popo mashed them together in a bowl and then held up something that looked like a spider web.

"This is what we call leafy fat and it comes from the pig," Popo explained as she proceeded to shape the mixed ingredients into balls with her hands and then rolled them up using the leafy fat.

Next, they're coated with flour, pan-fried and then steamed. I was amazed at how quick and easy it was to make this authentic Chinese dish. "That's why people like my cookbook," Popo said. "They say my recipes are very easy and quick."

It turns out, her cookbook, "Popo's Kitchen" is quite popular. Already, more than 40,000 copies have been sold with proceeds going to help her autistic next door neighbor. Even while we were cooking, her phone rang off the hook with people inquiring about them.

"So you want two for yourself, two for Alvin and two for Lynette?" Popo asked the person on the other end.

Once the Oyster Rolls were done, we moved on to the next dish: Chinese Pot Roast Chicken which Popo claims is perfect for the person who doesn't have time to cook dinner.

"This recipe calls for Costco rotisserie chicken," said Popo.

Popo basically takes the already cooked chicken and spices it up with a gravy consisting of ginger, whisky, green onions, button and black mushrooms, lily flower and Chinese parsley.

Food is used to bring people together in the Chinese culture and that's exactly what Popo and I did in the end; enjoying mouth-watering Chinese meals at the dinner table.

You can see cooking demonstrations by Popo June Tong, kung fu as well as more than 130 booths featuring all things Chinese at the 7th annual Splendor of China Festival and Trade Show. It happens this Saturday and Sunday at the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.