breakfast at ruby, and the search for manapua.

we stayed at a hotel in downtown honolulu this time around, mainly because it was pretty easy to get to the freeway/airport/leeward side. a nice aside was that it was walking distance to chinatown, so i had the chance to explore a little. i've only eaten at one or two restaurants in the area before--indigo and some of the stalls in the maunakea market place--and i didn't know anyone who spent a lot of time there, so my mom and i just decided to go to wherever looked good.

we looked for a place for breakfast (a meal we usually don't spend much time on) because we didn't know when we'd get to eat later in the day, as we would be visiting my uncle in a hospice in ewa beach. also, we were on the hunt for manapua, a local favourite. manapua are chinese-style buns, either steamed or baked, filled with savoury items, most commonly minced char siu (roasted pork). the word is thought to be a contraction of the hawaiian mea ‘ono pua‘a--"delicious pork thing." when i was growing up, they were relatively easy to find, but in recent years, i've had trouble finding a particular variety i'm fond of--a soft baked bun with a brown "hash" of finely chopped roast pork and gravy.

one of the first places we went to was ruby restaurant, on hotel street:

one of my uncles with us, who had spent a good portion of time in indonesia, ate most of his breakfasts at the malaysian places in the marketplace food stalls, but sometimes joined us for breakfast, which you can see, wasn't exactly american-style. my mom and i mainly had jook or congee, chinese style rice porridge, which can be flavoured with almost any ingredient. my mom stuck to a seafood rice porridge, which had nice fat pieces of sea bass, a couple of shrimp, and a bit of squid. i tried a couple, including the one pictured below, sampan, which had bits of everything in the kitchen--tripe, pork, jellyfish, squid, and goodness knows what else, then topped with fried rice noodles, crushed roasted peanuts, and green onions. in some places they precook the congee as a water-based rice porridge just flavoured with salt, then just dump whatever ingredients in before serving, but here it seems if they spent some time adding broth along with the requested ingredients and letting it simmer a bit to develop a richer flavour. it would arrive at the table steaming hot, and fragrant.

we also tried the crispy gau gee as an alternative to the fried bread or fried dough sticks often eaten with congee. i found out gau gee is a popular dish, but i'd never had it; it's basically a pork-based dumpling, but instead of a ball, it's a small rectangular pillow. i saw it offered mostly as a dumpling in noodle soups, but also as a fried item. the wrapper also seems to be slightly thicker than an wonton wrapper, but i imagine it could do as a fine substitute if you were to make them at home (which i intend to do). one morning, i had the wonton soup, which also had noodles and a lot of fresh choi sum (a kind of flowering cabbage related to bok choy) and my uncle took a shine to the roast duck on rice, which also had choi sum. the duck was flavourful, just slightly too fatty, not too salty, and the skin retained just a hint of crispness. i don't recall the exact prices of anything, but the rice porridges ranged from $3 to $5, and the duck was just over $5. a bargain meal, especially since the portions were large enough to tide us through 'til late afternoon!

the thing that brought us into ruby, however, was the pastry counter and window display:

gorgeous! and the scent of sweet buns straight out of the oven wafting out to the street was irresistible. in the window, rows of bright yellow daan custard tarts, pale yellow and dark chiffon slices, golden brown cones of baked sponge cakes. inside, we found steamed and baked buns filled with sweets like custard, red bean, or the black bean mash known locally as "black sugar", savoury ones like cheese or ham; cream cakes slathered with butter, coconut, or lashings of condensed milk or honey baked in; fried flatbreads and youtiao, the deep-fried dough sticks which you dip into steaming hot bowls of fresh soy milk in the morning; and jin dui, those crazy massive sesame-coated rice balls with a bean paste center:

and of course, my manapua! i think people look for the "classic" variety with the red char siu slices inside, but i crave the slightly sweet, slightly salty brown gravy with the tender meat and bun. ruby's variety was just the one i was looking for, and just 90¢ to boot. i bought a couple, along with a red bean bun (the one cut to resemble a flower), and a couple of the sponge cakes to go:

a tasty way to start the day.

ruby restaurant and bakery
119 n. hotel street
808 523 0801