Monthly Archives: August 2011

Cookbooks

In addition to tiki stuff, I love cooking, so naturally I’ve accumulated a few tiki cookbooks. The best ones are, of course, the older ones, so I was screamingly thrilled when Andrew gave me this 1968 classic for my birthday:

“Trader” Vic Bergeron, Jr., one of the two men who claimed to have invented the Mai Tai (the other being the equally famous Don the Beachcomber), was a genuine world traveler, and the recipes in this book, not to mention the colorful anecdotes about his jetsetting adventures abroad, are more authentic than most tiki kitsch from the era. At the same time, it’s hard to take Vic’s swingin’ swagger without a measure of retro irony. A typical entry, on the Tahitian city of Papeete (spelled “Pepeete” in the book):

That island drives me crazy. And I don’t mean just the sweet young things–I’d have to be a hundred years old not to notice them–but dammit, this island was made for the bon vivant. We stopped off at a little mom and pop grocery store for a couple of bottles of champagne. We came away with some pâté de fois gras, cut from a loaf in the refrigerator, some veal loaf that was excellent, some Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, a can of Planter’s Mixed Nuts, a can of Piff-O-Puff for cocktails and a Delic de Deux Cheese which I have difficulty finding even in the States.

Now that’s a man who knows how to live! And no, I don’t know what Piff-O-Puff was. According to the Internet, it may have been a brand of shrimp chips, but in that case I don’t know why Vic and his friends needed it for cocktails. It’s also the German name for Chip and Dale, which is interfering with my Google powers, so this mystery may have to go unanswered.

Admittedly, it’s a sign of the not-so-multicultural times when a cookbook of “exotic” cuisines includes Mexico and Texas (plus a stop back in Vic’s own San Francisco, where we learn to make Veal Rosemary and Liz’s Cheese Puffs). And there are tips that might not be relevant to modern readers, such as advice on what white women living in Hawaii should instruct their native servants to cook:

Um, yeah.  But in 1968, a book that advised Americans to cook with wasabi, chutney, and curry powder (oh, and the occasional heaping spoonful of MSG) was pretty culturally savvy, at least on the flavor front. And I advise modern cooks not to scoff until they’ve braved Vic’s recipes for fish in ti leaves (“Scale and clean a fish, weighing from 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, and rub with Hawaiian red salt…”) or shark’s fin soup, or until they’ve successfully prepared one of these gentlemen:

A steaming slice of roast pig and a goblet of some unknown but doubtlessly highly alcoholic punch: that’s a perfect evening. Speaking of which, having made some of the drink recipes, I can attest that they are boozy as only drinks designed for people of the “Mad Men” era can be. I had to water down the Tahitian Wedding Punch after seeing that Vic’s version calls for an entire bottle of gold rum and two bottles of wine, tempered only by a can of crushed pineapple and some sugar. Whew.

Trader Vic’s Pacific Island Cookbook dances along that fine line between healthy fascination with foreign cultures and experiences and cheesy old white-guy exotica, between appreciation and appropriation. But Vic is a hell of a raconteur and can apparently hold five or six Ernest Hemingways’ worth of liquor, so I declare this cookbook awesome.

But what’s that? You want more cheese? And also canned pineapple in Jell-O molds? Next weekend. I promise.

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Mugs

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a tiki bar-cum-office must be in want of plenty of tiki mugs. The classic tiki mug is the area of tiki collecting in which it’s hardest to find bargains. They’re too much in demand, and for good reason: tiki mugs are awesome.

Except for this wooden guy, sold for fifty cents at my personal place of worship, the Ashby Flea Market. This guy is awesome. But he was also cheap.

But my most treasured tiki mugs are souvenirs from bars I’ve personally visited. This surfer-girl mug comes from the Tonga Room in San Francisco.

Frankly, she’s kind of a letdown: she doesn’t even have the name of the bar stamped on her back. But anyone who’s visited the Tonga Room knows the score. The people in charge do a half-assed job, but they can get away with half-assing it because holy crap, they’ve got a genuine 1940s-vintage tiki restaurant/bar with a lagoon in the middle of the room and a raft bandstand that floats out to play music and every twenty minutes it rains into the lagoon. They can even get away with the house band playing awful 1970s covers instead of tiki music because, seriously.

And so it will be until the swanky Fairmont Hotel, which somehow hosts this miracle in its basement, follows through on its ongoing threats to tear the Tonga Room down and kill a little bit more of the magic in this world.

Now I’m sad. Let’s look at this guy instead!

This is a great guy!

As you can see, he comes from the Kowloon Restaurant in Saugus, Massachusetts, where genius cartoonist Dirk Tiede was kind enough to take me this spring. Thanks, Dirk! And thanks for waiting with me for half an hour while the restaurant staff shuffled around looking for the one guy with the key to the cabinet with the mugs in it so they could sell me this mug. And, um, sorry about your car breaking down in the sweltering parking lot outside while we waited. I’m sure you’ll agree it was all worth it, because hey!

Kowloon, founded in 1950, is one of the true unadulterated greats. In addition to full tiki decor and an authentic 1950s menu of questionably authentic Chinese/Japanese/Hawaiian cuisine, it has a boss collection of signed posters and photos from visiting wrestlers from Killer Kowalski onward. It’s down the road from Boston Garden.

Pro wrestling seems to have emerged as the secondary theme of this blog. This was not intentional. Anyway, check out Kowloon’s website, even though it plays music at you, because the “Nostalgia” section has pictures of old menus, place mats, and these amazing moai salt-and-pepper shakers.

Two more mugs from two more tiki spots:

My man on the left proudly represents Hula’s Bar and Grill, locations in Monterey and Santa Cruz (warning: this website plays music at you, too). On the right is a stately ambassador from Forbidden Island in Alameda, which I cannot recommend highly enough, especially if you’re in the mood to do some serious tiki drinking. I mean, check out the giant cocktail menu on their website (no music). The mug comes with their signature drink, the Forbidden Island, which is really, really good.

One time we went to Forbidden Island and my husband Andrew got two of the drinks with five-grog booze ratings, and he was drunk for 24 hours. He went to sleep and woke up still drunk the next morning. I had never seen anything like it. So, um, don’t do that. But try the Forbidden Island.

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Music

When I build my tiki bar/office in the back yard, my dream is to have it rigged so it plays haunting Hawaiian steel guitar music every time you open the door. I would also like to have a button under the desk that produces thunder and lightning effects, like in the Tonga Room. I have a small CD collection of tiki-appropriate music: traditional Hawaiian music, 1950s tiki lounge music, the soundtrack to Blue Hawaii, you know how it is.

Still, as convenient as digital music is, it’s also pretty swank to have some tiki records around. I noticed that Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda, which mixes some of the best tiki drinks I’ve ever had, uses framed vintage record albums in its decor, and I thought I could borrow a little of that look.
For example, at the amazing Alameda Point Antiques Fair, I got this album of music designed to teach hula dancing to the world’s largest, whitest women:

Sadly, the album no longer includes the instruction booklet with which it was originally packaged, so I still have no idea how to hula.

This beauty was on sale at the Ashby Flea Market for fifty cents. With the booklet still included, even! Are you kidding me, Ashby Flea Market?

Look, it even teaches you helpful Hawaiian phrases!

As I said, I was inspired by Forbidden Island’s collection of albums, but this past weekend I ate at the nicely kitchy Hula’s in Monterey (second location in Santa Cruz) and noticed that they had framed song sheets on the walls. Even classier! I picked this up cheap at an antique store in Salinas.

Also on the wall at Hula’s: a framed copy of Obama’s birth certificate. Maybe next weekend…

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Birds

When creating tiki atmosphere, one should never overlook the value of birds. Sure, hula girls and tiki heads have their place, but nothing suggests the natural beauty of Polynesia in a graceful yet kitschy way like a bunch of tropical birds. Also monkeys. But especially birds. Anyone who’s been to the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland knows that the right birds can create the perfect mood. And anyone who’s been to the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disney World knows that the wrong birds can destroy it.

Yes, I have considered opinions on Disney theme park attractions. I am one of those people.

Anyway, I’ve taken special care in selecting birds for my future tiki office. I got this bookend at Jamie’s Flea Market (“Northern Ohio’s Largest Flea Market”) in Amherst, Ohio while Andrew and I were home for the holidays last year.

And this guy came from the storied Ashby Flea Market here in Berkeley. He cost $1.50, he opens bottles, and he is my favorite guy.

I mean, look at this guy! How great is he? This is one of my very favorite tiki things. When it comes time to choose beloved objects to infuse with pieces of my soul so that I can never die, I’m making this bird my first horcrux.

My second horcrux will be this 1960s wrestling magazine featuring an interview with the Fabulous Moolah.

And my third horcrux will be a kitty, because that will make me unstoppable.

That’s right: my love for this cast-iron tropical bird is so deep it can only be expressed through wrestling magazines and Harry Potter fanart. If that’s not the kind of love you can understand, please enjoy my cat getting into a box while I was taking these pictures.

Because cats in boxes make everything better. Thanks, cat!

In other news, remember the fantastic watercolor hula girl by Kostas Kiriakakis in last week’s post?  My friend Brian Kolm got some pictures of Kostas creating this illustration at the San Diego Comic-Con.

You can sample Brian’s own art, including, yes, tiki stuff, at Atomic Bear Press.  Thanks, Brian!  And thanks again, Kostas!

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