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Hirono Shepherds Taste of Hawaii to the Hill

Of all the “firsts” Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, has accomplished since succeeding retired solon Daniel Akaka, we’re most excited about the inaugural “Taste of Hawaii” event she’s cooked up for late July.  

(Courtesy Mazie Hirono)
(Courtesy Mazie K. Hirono)

Why it’s taken this long for our friends from the South Pacific to have the culinary stage all to themselves remains somewhat of a mystery.  

“No one had ever asked before,” Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, said of the missed opportunity no one had apparently given much thought to before.  

Until Hirono came to town. “I personally love going to other states taste-offs,” the Hawaii Democrat said of her habit of peeking into the regional dining receptions that crop up in congressional office buildings from time to time. She introduced a handful of colleagues — including always famished New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer — to her favorite hometown foods a while back. The menu for the informal gathering included Spam musubi (potted ham meets sushi), somen salad and Kalua pig (think: pit-roasted swine) sliders.  

But that was just a warm-up.  

According to Menor-McNamara, Hirono approached the chamber about leading the “Hawaii on the Hill” initiative, which is scheduled to swoop through Capitol Hill on July 22 and 23, shortly after she assumed control of the business group last fall. “We thought the timing was right and the opportunity was right,” Menor-McNamara said of the panel’s debut showcase here in the District.  

The chamber has since rounded up nearly a dozen local businesses — a roster ranging from ukulele manufacturers to defense contractors — hoping to show Washington what their home is all about.  

“It’s not just a place for tourism. It’s the gateway to the Pacific,” Hirono counseled, pitching energy independence as a unifying goal among the archipelago.  

“Clearly, we want to feature the foods because that really grabs people,” she quickly added.  

The items Menor-McNamara is keen on sharing include:

  • Kalua pig with cabbage (“Smoked pork with local flavor to it,” she advised).
  • Taro- and sweet potato-based snacks .
  • Macadamia nut-laden sweets.
  • Island-grown gourmet coffee (“It’s very deep and rich and flavorful”).

And, of course, booze.  

“We gotta have some Mai Tais, right?” she teased.  

Hirono, meanwhile, held out hope that someone would follow her lead and show the world just how delicious Spam can truly be.  

“I would be really surprised if one of these vendors did not provide it [musubi] as one of their taste experiences,” she suggested.  

The invitation-only gathering is scheduled to take place July 23 from 5-7 p.m. in the Kennedy Caucus Room (Russell 325). Hirono is expected to be joined by her colleagues, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Reps. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.

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