Wednesday, October 21, 2009

To Everything... Turn! Turn! Turn!

When I went to visit my sister on the mainland, I really got to like Greek food, particularly the gyro (by the way it's pronounced "yee-ro" not "jai-ro").  There's just something about that beef and lamb meat which is so succulent.  It's not as finely ground as a hamburger or meatloaf, yet it's much softer and more uniform in texture than a piece of steak.  I think it's all that time it spends spinning on a spit.  The constant turning and cutting means that every slice is perfectly browned and crispy, while the unexposed side remains so soft and yummy.   But you offset that meatiness with the cold, creamy (but not fatty tasting), slightly tart, brilliantly herby tsatsiki yogurt sauce and your mouth just wakes up with the flavor.   While, gyros are as common as a hamburger or hot dog on the streets of New York, Hawaii is pretty far removed from the Middle East and so we don't really get good Greek food right?   Or do we?

It's true, we don't have nearly the Middle Eastern influence that New York has being on the Atlantic.  However, we do have a number of good Greek restaurants.    Did you know, we even have an annual Greek Festival held at McCoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Park.    We do have a small Greek population, and even have a Greek Orthodox Cathedral here..   We've got quite a number of little Greek restaurants too.   If you're working downtown, you're probably familiar with Leo's Taverna.  If you attend UH, you're probably familiar with the Greek Corner at Puck's Alley, who make this totally addictive garlic mayo for dipping your fries in.  If you're in Kahala, you're probably friends with Sabas over at Olive Tree Cafe.  Ironically though, if I'm hungry for a gyro, it's not a Greek restaurant that I seek out, but an Egyptian one, The Pyramids on Kapahulu.

Maybe it's not so ironic.  In Hawaii we're all the way on the other side of the world, so we're not so accutely aware of it, but Greece and Egypt are just separated by a small strip of water called the Mediterranean.  They've got much shared history.   In fact, all of the cultures in that area that border the Mediterranean do.   When visiting my sister in New York, it wasn't a Greek place she took me to, but a Turkish one.   She has a good friend from Turkey (who by the way has this super suave Turkish accent that imbues his singing voice with romance.  You can imagine all the little girls swooning when he sings U2).   She took me to eat some savory halal meat off a cart on the street as well as a Turkish restaurant for "doner kebob" (pronounced "doh-nair").   Her friend explained that "doner means to turn and kebob... eh, kebob is a kebob"  (okay that bit of circular definition sounds a lot funnier with the Turkish accent).   Fittingly, the word "gyro" itself also means to turn in Greek.  So it shouldn't really be such a surprise that an Egyptian restaurant would have some really good gyros.

Buffet at the Pyramids
Just walking in, the Pyramids are appropriately themed with heiroglyphic wallpaper.  If you visit the Pyramids in the evening, the you will be treated to real belly dancing, and some tasty Egyptian fare, like clay pots of rice and spiced beef.    But to me, the time to go to the Pyramids is for lunch.  Pyramid's lunch menu is mainly their lunch buffet.  Unlike other buffets around town, the Pyramids buffet is pretty affordable.   But this is especially nice, because Greek food in Hawaii is actually kind of expensive.  While you can pick up a gyro in New York for the same as what you'd pay for a hot dog or hamburger, getting a small gyro here is always pricier than buying a plate lunch, so it's nice to be able to have as much as you want for just a little more.  They also don't fall into the trap of all buffets, which is letting the food sit, dry out, and overcook.  They only shave off a little at a time, but have a good turn around for guests.

So what's good there?    Well, the hummus is particularly good.   I don't even like chickpeas, because I don't like the powdery starchy texture.  But their hummus is wonderfully smooth and thick.   It's got a very mild taste, with very sublte hints of the oils and herbs against the smooth backdrop.   Shmear that onto some warm, thick, chewy pita bread and it's immensely satisfying.  On top of that, do you know how expensive it is to buy a small container of hummus in the grocery store these days?  Again, being able to have as much as you want here is fantastic.

My own gyro at Pyramid's buffet
Of course I love their beef and lamb kebob.    I love building my own little shawarma, with a stack of pita bread, Greek salad (lettuce, cucumber, feta cheese), beef and lamb kebob, and some tsatsiki to top it all off.  All of these bright flavors bouncing off each other.  Warm and chewy against cold and crisp.  Browned and meaty against tangy and herby.  They all add up to a perfect bite.    But again, being able to get as much or as little as you want is a big plus.  The first time I took my wife to eat a gyro at a Greek restaurant, I thought she would really like it, because she loves the gaminess of lamb.  But she was really turned off because the herbs in the tsatsiki were just too strong for her.  She doesn't like strong herbs or strong spices, and particularly doesn't like a lot of sauce (a remnant of the those old School House Rock cartoons where they warn you not to "drown your food").   So it took me a while to be able to convince her to try it again.   But she really likes Pyramids, because she can control exactly what she's adding to her plate in just the right proportions.  

Besides the beef and lamb kebob, Pyramids has one of the best barbecue chickens in town.   But it's not barbecue as in marinated in sticky sweet barbecue sauce.  It's not even glazed in kal bi or teriyaki sauce like we're used to.   It's simply got a few herbs to it, but the smoky charcoal flavor is what is so aluringly intense, and it brings out the savory chicken flavor.   It seems like a simple chicken, but the smokiness gives it so much depth.  My parents are also crazy about the tomato stewed okra at Pyramids.  Between my mom's diet, my dad's pickiness, my wife's aversion to spiciness, and my son's young palate, it's usually kind of hard to agree on a place to eat.   But somehow we all agree that we like Pyramids.   That really says something.

We really are on the otherside of the world from the Mediterranean.   As such, I can never really comment on the authenticity of Mediterranean flavors that we have here.  But the world we live in always amazes me, that we even are able to enjoy tastes from the other side of the planet.

1 comment:

  1. You should try the greek place in Koko Marina. They're also pretty decent. I liked them.