Let me introduce you to a Pebble Collector Urchin. It lives in the shallows of tide pools and at depths of 50 feet. It is approximately 5-inches in diameter, generally round in shape, grayish-white to purplish-black in color. It radiates short, slender spines and looks like a fully-loaded pin-cushion. The invertebrate's mouth sits on the underside of its body, so it can snag food as it shuffles along the the ocean's substrate at night. During the day, it tucks into crevices of the reef and covers itself with bits of coral, shells, pebbles and, even, seaweed.
The Pebble Collector Urchin's Hawaiian name is hawae poo hina. Because it yields mostly liquid and little meat, its name, hawae, in Hawaiian translates to English as "no substance" or "useless."
As I travel these Hawaiian Islands, I tend to pick up brochures, business cards and bits of information, stashing them in my backpack, stuffing them into my pockets and slipping them between pages of books.
I meet all kinds of interesting people--a woman translating early Hawaiian language newspapers in search of references to Hawaiian monk seals, a biologist-turned conservation fine artist, a husband-and-wife team unearthing 10,000 years of life in a limestone cave system on Kauai's south shore.
I dine at restaurants--brand new ones, re-concepted ones and old standards newly-discovered by me. I order meals from restaurants on wheels, tucked in alleys, or serving up dishes across a table at farmers markets, cultural festivals and canoe races.
I come across cool things made from locally-grown or locally-sourced ingredients and sold by creative entrepreneurs like young, single-moms sending their daughters to Hawaiian immersions schools.
Sometimes I write about these finds; other times I toss the card, brochure or handwritten note in a pile on my desk or tuck them into a file for later use. I am a hopeful person by nature. I am also a collector of bits and pieces of things and information. But, truth be told, "later use" rarely happens. Until now.
Starting today, I will share these cool finds, tips and recommendations with you under the banner, "Collector Urchin."
Today's find: Da Falafel King
This one-time hot dog cart now serves "Taste of Jerusalem, Kosher, Middle-Eastern Cosine." I ordered the cart's standard and popular "Falafel," three fried balls of mashed garbanzo beans stuffed in a hummus-lined pita with a dash of hot sauce, pickled vegetables and yummy tahini sauce on top. (Other selections include eggplant, grilled chicken/lamb and grilled beef/lamb.)
I watched a young woman named Marina, new to Honolulu from Brazil, as she scooped and shaped my falafel fritters while her mother, Sam, served up tourist advice to another customer. (Hanauma Bay, yes, go to Hanauma Bay. And Polynesian Cultural Center. Or the "hula mound" at Kuhio Beach Park in Waikiki on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30 for a free one-hour performance.)
While the falafel fried, I asked Marina about the tattoo on her arm, not your ordinary tattoo, this one made up of several lines of airy text that turned out to be verses of a poem by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, something about living an authentic life, the path to happiness.
"All fresh made ingredients," the mother said. The older woman smiled at the younger and the younger woman smiled back. One reached across the other for the squeeze bottle of tahini, arms crossed and entwined and busy in purpose and ease behind the counter of the cart. And "You don't pay until you're satisifed," the mother said.
And, boy, was I satisified. Satisfied, indeed.
Da Falafel King is located at 2255 Kuhio Avenue at the entrance to the Waikiki Trade Center. They are open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.
Da Falafel King gets 5 stars at UrbanSpoon and 4.5 stars at Yelp.