Originally, pūpū ("bundle" in Hawaiian) were bits of banana or other strongly flavored foods such as pulehu (grilled) chicken and dried fish served with ‘awa to diguise the bitter or muddy taste. With the influx of other cultures, the term came to be applied to any appetizer, hors d'oeuvres, or finger food.
Although some people claim the word "pupu" came from "baobao," saying it is Chinese for "little treasures," and that the concept is based in Cantonese cuisine, I can find no such etymology in any known Chinese dialect, and it is not supported by any of the Chinese linguists or Chinese chefs or cooks that I know.
My own observation and research indicates that pūpū is Hawaiian and that the "pupu platter" combines Hawaiian concepts, Chinatown tourist food, and tiki bar esthetic. Don the Beachcomber is credited with introducing the pupu platter to the American continent in 1934. It rapidly caught on, and became a tiki bar standard. It also spread throughout Chinese-American restaurants, and in America is most strongly associated with Chinese-American cuisine.
In Hawai‘i, pūpū were, and remain, standard fare in island establishments. Of course, pūpū have evolved. Few restaurants remain which serve the elaborite pupu platter. And the days of "heavy pupus" coming free with drinks are long gone.
In my youth, an establishment that served "heavy pupus" generally had a buffet table with warming trays full of shoyu chicken, tempura vegetables, shrimp, poke (Hawaiian style cubed and seasoned raw fish), small skewers of teriyaki meat or chicken, sushi, and other similar finger foods. "Light pupus" generally referred to the cold foods such as poke, sushi, and vegetables. Today, most establishments serve pūpū to the table, ordered by the plate.
Here are some very simple pūpū recipes that my Nana used to serve at the wonderful parties she gave at her homes in Hilo and Kehena. And, of course, fresh fruit in season was always available.
In those days, canned abalone was affordable, so Nana always kept a few cans on hand. Today, you may wish to substitute more affordable canned shellfish, or even goeduck clam. If you can get a nice fresh goeduck, you can prepare it like sashimi.
ablone or substitute
Slice the shellfish very thin, actually, as thin as you can. Arrange it on a platter. Grate the ginger over the slices. Mix shoyu and sugar to taste. Sprinkle mix over the shellfish. Serve chilled.
This is a classic Chinese pūpū, and when I was a girl served at most establishments, and sold in crack seed shops. My mother remembers the peanut man walking through our neighborhood with tins of boiled peanuts hanging from a pole over his shoulder.
1 pound raw (green) peanuts
1 tablespoon Chinese 5 Spice
4 tablespoons rock salt
plate and weight
Leaving the peanuts in their shells, wash thoroughly, throwing away any twigs, stones, spoiled nuts, etc. If you want to make this in a slow cooker, place the peanuts in crock, sprinkle with spice and walt. Set the plate on top and add the weight. Add water to cover, plus three inches. Cook on "high" overnight. If you make this on the stove top or over a fire, after adding the water, let it soak overnight. Simmer for 1 hour, or until the peanuts are as tender as you like. Serve hot or cold.
You can substitute various flavorings for the 5 spice, or use only salt.
Some suggested flavorings:
cinnamon and star anise
crab boil mix
Try your own mixes, have fun!
Really ono, this can also be made with slices of Spam.
1 Portuguese Sausage
1 can pineapple chunks
Slice the sausage into thin diagonals and fry until just browned. Place on a broiler tray. Place a pineapple chunk on each slice and affix it with a toothpick. Broil until the tops of the pineapple chunks start to brown. Serve hot, but it's still ono cold.
5 pounds chicken drumettes
1 can crushed pineapple
3 cloves garlic
1 round onion
1/4 cup shoyu
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Rinse the drumettes and place them in a roomy pot. Add the juice from the crushed pineapple and just enough water to cover. You can start heating it already. Mash the garlic and add it to the chicken. Mince the onion and add it as well. Add the shoyu and vinegar. Simmer until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken, reserving the broth. Place the chicken on a broiler tray and cover with the drained crushed pineapple. Broil on each side to brown. Add the cornstarch to the broth and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until it becomes glossy. Use as a dipping sauce for the chicken.