Uncle Clay's "Slurpees": Real Hawaiian Food
by Mollie Chen
Pacific Rim cuisine is all well and good, but for real Hawaiian food you're talking spam musubi, kahuku corn out of the back of a pickup truck, and, most important, anything with li hing powder. Li hing is a particular Hawaiian fetish, a brick-red powder that is puckery, salty, sweet, and savory. Crack seed shops (wide-ranging candy shops, essentially) sell a huge array of candies, crackers, and dried fruits that have been dipped in copious amounts of the stuff.
This past trip to Hawaii, I tagged along with my cousins to their favorite neighborhood candy shop to meet the famous Uncle Clay and try his offbeat Slurpee-esque concoctions. Uncle Clay is like a cartoon character come to life. For the last 13 years he has run Doe Fang, a small storefront in Aina Haina, selling candies, knickknacks, and these amped-up Slurpees. When I say Slurpees, I don't mean it in a deconstructed haute junk food way (cue Thomas Keller's "Kit Kat"). These are shaved-ice drinks dispensed from an ICEE machine in an array of neon hues. They're not good for you in any way, especially not the way Uncle Clay serves them, mixed with toppings such as his secret creamy sauce (less-thick condensed milk, perhaps?).
From the slightly wacky collection of jewelry and Pokemon cards on sale to the ever-smiling Uncle Clay, the whole experience is pure Hawaii. You can't come to Doe Fang expecting a quick snack; waiting in line while Uncle Clay catches up with longtime customers or gently interrogates new ones is part of the experience. No one seems to mind, though, and people seem to come as much for the camaraderie as for the sugar rush. And they're aware that old-fashioned places like Doe Fang have to fight to turn a profit. "It's like paying tithings to the church," a regular said as he left a $5 tip on his $4 Slurpee treat. "If you want places like this to exist, you have to do your part to help them survive."