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New Year's demand keeps Esaki's buzzing

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Posted: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 12:00 am

KAPA‘A — More than 2,000 pounds of mizuna, literally a ton of mustard, passed through Esaki's Produce.

“We ran out,” said Earl Kashiwagi, general manager of Esaki’s, “We are getting orders from Times, Sueoka Store and other markets for at least another 500 to 1,000 pounds just for today. We have more coming in, but I think we wiped out all the farmers on the island.”

Mizuna is just one of the items being sought after by shoppers and celebrants for the New Year.

“A lot of the food popularity stems from around the o-zoni soup people eat during New Year’s,” Kashiwagi said. “There are a lot of different varieties of the soup around today, and they all use produce.”

Outside of food, flowers and greenery also contribute to the New Year celebration as Kashiwagi spread out a fresh shipment of kadomatsu, or a bamboo-pine bouquet, moroba, or fern and eucalyptus bouquet, and kamibana, or bamboo, pine and croton (the green-yellow variety) bouquets.

These bouquets are not eaten, but placed around the home to welcome spirits of good luck while dispelling evil spirits for the new year.

Kashiwagi said Asian-Americans, like Westerners, celebrate the arrival of the new year with a lot of the root products including burdock (gobo), raddish (daikon), lotus (hasu), and dasheen (araimo).

Joining those products green onion and the mizuna are the highly-sought after greens, Kashiwagi said.

“During the winter months, there are not that many things that grow,” the produce wholesaler said. “Japanese cucumber also is in high demand, but there are not that many available.”

He said during the time of year when produce is plentiful, five acres of land can flood the market. But when the season turns, 50 acres of land cannot even make a dent in the demand.

Adding to the scarcity of produce, Kashiwagi said customers’ discerning tastebuds keep his people busy.

“A lot more chefs are requesting local,” Kashiwagi said. “Where once upon a time we only stocked dried shitake mushroom, today, chefs want fresh mushrooms. But not just fresh mushrooms, they want the ones grown in Hawai‘i.”

Kashiwagi said those demands keep the Esaki’s staff on their toes, ordering local wherever possible before turning to the Mainland and then to the world market.

He said with current demands, Hawai‘i produces about 10 percent of what is being asked for. The remainder comes from the world market, imported in to fill demand.

Kashiwagi pointed out a packaged portion of renkon, or lotus root.

“When we get it locally, it’s not cleaned and the chefs need to prep it before cooking. This packaged variety is already cleaned and prepped. The chef merely cuts it up and uses it without all the prep work,” Kashiwagi said.

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