Snow outside, palm trees inside

United Noodles’ traditional Hawaiian luau warmed visitors who braved the ice for a piece of island culture.

Hawaiian plate lunches are lined up at the food window at United Noodles on Sunday, Nov. 11 in Minneapolis. The Asian grocery story and restaurant held a traditional Hawaiian luau.

Will Tooke

Hawaiian plate lunches are lined up at the food window at United Noodles on Sunday, Nov. 11 in Minneapolis. The Asian grocery story and restaurant held a traditional Hawaiian luau.

Samir Ferdowsi

On Sunday, local Asian import grocer United Noodles hosted an event that was as close as you can get to a traditional Hawaiian get-together in a snow-plagued landscape.

As ukulele music filtered through the grocery store’s frozen foods aisle, aromas drifted past people waiting in a 15-minute-line.

The deli’s one-day-only authentic “Hawaiian plate lunch” brought hundreds to the store for a sample of what some attendees call home.

“Anything with Hawaiian food, I usually try migrate to, [and] this was fantastic,” Hawaii-native and luau-goer Haku Kaiminaauao said. “It’s an excellent vibe here.”

Local musician Keola Santos serenaded the masses with classic Hawaiian tunes, while many people, like Kaiminaauao, awaited a unique opportunity — trying a dish you can usually only find in Hawaii.

This is the store’s sixth year putting on the luau.

“It’s a whole day of celebration right when winter really starts,” United Noodles co-owner Eric Fung said. “It gives people a little bit of respite from the cold weather outside.”

Heavily influenced by Hawaiian culture growing up, Fung dedicates the day to making sure everyone in attendance feels as though they are at home. This homemaking takes many forms, from clearing a dance space to serving up food with the traditional Hawaiian measuring instrument: an ice cream scoop.

“The plate lunch is really an amalgam of different ethnicities as Hawaii is a melting pot of all the East-Asian nations as well as Southeast-Asian and Western influences,” Fung said. “[The food is] something you bring to the beach.”

So, what did the heavily anticipated meal include? The plate offered a rainbow of color and taste, making the 15-minute wait worth it. Wrapped in banana leaves, the slow roasted pork literally dripped with flavor. It soaked the rice it was next to, making each forkful better than the last. 

The Hawaiian macaroni salad provided a perfect way to cool your mouth after scarfing down the delicious pork. A umami mix of imitation crab, dashi and fresh vegetables made the salad a spritz of warm weather goodness, making you wish you were watching the sunset in a floral shirt and sandals.

Next, a melody of kale and yu choy coupled perfectly with coconut sauce, giving a one-of-a-kind sweet tang to the greenery. Put this sauce over the top of anything green — you’ll change your ways.

Last, but absolutely not least, came Lomi salmon.

Do you think you’ve had good poke in Minnesota? Unless you were at the luau, we doubt it. Paired with tomato and Himalayan pink salt, the salmon offered a new taste bud experience. We love sushi and sashimi — but this poke was on a different wavelength.

“It’s an awesome feeling, knowing that we have a huge Hawaiian population in the Twin Cities that come here to enjoy a piece of home,” said United Noodles chef Adam Wilson. “As a chef, it’s always awesome to give that to anybody. It’s been a pleasure to have cooked for hundreds today [who are] looking for a taste, and bring them back to the motherland.”