If you’ve been to Honolulu, it’s very possible that you’ve eaten at Helena’s. The first time I ate there was over a decade ago before they renovated and expanded. I wasn’t quite sure what the hub bub was going to be about – all Hawaiian food was the same, right? WRONG. What I ate that day changed my perspective on Hawaiian food for the rest of my life. I went to Hawaii for the first time when I was 7 on a family vacation; quite possibly because it was pre-internet (yes, I’m that old), but my parents had no idea where to go eat. They did the typical stop-at-whatever-was-nearby but that means falling for tourist traps. We attended a luau and being a kid, I thought that was the best the islands had to offer in terms of culinary cuisine.
Back to my first ever Helena’s experience. I waited for an hour in 90F degree weather and finally sat down in a very hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Being a newly minted adult with a “real world” job now, I was trying to discover what my own personal taste was in food. What stunned me were the short ribs. They were all hanging above the stove and drying out. It was such an incredible sight. And the taste! The beef was concentrated with flavor from both the marinade and the drying/smoking process and the texture was tender but has a great bite (also from the drying process). I fell in love with traditional Hawaiian food right then and right there.
Chris and I always try to go to Hawaii at least once a year. Sadly, it just wasn’t in the cards this year. And then my favorite local Hawaiian restaurant, Āina, closed. It’s been a super tough, no Hawaiian food kind of year. So I decided to make my own. Commence, Sandy’s Pipikaula-ish Ribs!
Pipikaula means “beef rope” in Hawaiian. Pipi = cow. Kaula = rope. In 1793, King Kamehameha I was gifted with six cows and a bull by a British officer. King Kamehameha I secured 400 acres of land for the cows to roam free and banned the hunting of cattle. By 1845, over 25,000 wild cattle roamed Hawaii. King Kamehameha III lifted the ban and Meixcan cowboys, later dubbed paniolos by the locals, were brought to the islands to teach Hawaiians cattle ranching. The paniolos would sun dry strips of beef to chew on while driving cattle. Being in Hawaii, with a huge Chinese and Japanese immigration population, the beef soon was flavored with soy sauce and pipikaula was born.
Tips for making your own pipikaula:
- Marinate the short ribs for at least 24 hours. If you don’t have the time, use a vacuum sealer to seal in the ribs with the marinade to speed things up. You don’t want to skimp on this part!
- Invest in a dehydrator! I know, I know. If you grew up in the 90s like I did, you saw all those infomercials for dehydrators and thought it was the dumbest invention ever. But now as I’m cooking up a storm in my kitchen, I’m finding a dehydrator key to so many dishes. There are lots of appliances that pull double duty and multi-task if you don’t want to invest in a uni-tasker. It’s not a deal breaker as you can use your oven, but I promise you that the texture will be all worth it.
Also, this is my first multiple part recipe! I’ll also be posting my recipes for mac salad and squid luau. Two Hawaiian sides I can’t get enough of!
- 3 pounds quality beef short ribs
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 ponzu
- 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon sambal
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- Step 1 In a medium bowl, mix all marinade ingredients together.
- Step 2 Place all short ribs into a ziplock bag and add marinade. Marinate for at least 24 hours.
- Step 3 Remove ribs and blot on paper towels.
- Step 4 Place ribs into a dehydrator for 8 hours at 135F (or an oven for 6-8 hours at 150F or however low your oven can go).
- Step 5 Remove ribs and grill each side on medium heat for 3-4 minutes on each side.
- Step 6 Serve with Hawaiian sides.