A Big, Hairy, Nutty Root!

Photo by OCW staffThe faded sign outside Young's Market in Santa Ana proudly proclaims, “Polynesian Food.” For haoles (“non-islanders” in Hawaiian), that might conjure up visions of South Pacific luaus with suckling pigs buried in leaf-lined pits; sloe-eyed hula babes in grass skirts; and thick-armed, hull-chested men spinning batons of fire, but walking into the tiny bazaar is more like opening the cupboard at 10 Downing St. than something out of Hawaii Five-O.

Certainly Young's has crates of coconuts and packets of poi (the taro-based paste similar to applesauce) galore. But items such as corned beef, pork bangers and breakfast biscuits are the true imperialists of Young's three aisles. See, the Polynesian palate is dominated by British faves. Brits colonized most of the Pacific Islands and left their fattening diet as their most delicious legacy. Spam came later, with the Yanks. Corned beef is a Young's best-seller; they stock seven types of the salty standard. The Pacific brand comes in something approximating an oil drum, but the Salisbury type has its namesake sauce kissing each slice. There's also corned mutton (blecch!). And anyone who cares about health will shun the turkey tails, which are little more than gristle in grease.

Those skittish about British cuisine should stick to Young's many South Pacific-specific items. For example, Hawaii's take on soy sauce is sweeter than the bitter goo sushi lovers are accustomed to. The island also provides a dazzling assortment of chip flavors ranging from shrimp (lighter than pork rinds but with the same fatty aftertaste) to plantains (surprisingly salty and possessing a punch).

Young's sells six types of Samoan coconut milk, unctuous stuff perfect for sweetening anything. Fiji makes a rare appearance in the county in the form of kava, a root that's pounded into a cocaine-fine powder and used to make a beverage of the same name by boiling it like tea. The taste is vodka-smooth and so potent it'll have the hardiest alcoholic blabbering like a baby. Added bonus: it's supposed to cure gonorrhea!

There's taro here, of course, the Polynesian staple that's a big, hairy, nutty root. It's the starchy gold of Young's Market, the foremost reason for its 20-plus-years existence.

“Some customers come only for the taro,” a Young's staffer says. “If I don't have it, they leave!” So, Young's ships in a fresh batch from Hawaii every other week.

The shop also carries cultural items, including CDs of various Polynesian singing sensations such as Auckland R&B stars Jamoa Jam and the late Hawaiian pop singer Iz Kamakawiwo'ole, karaoke videos, and intricate Samoan ceremonial mats. Posted on a wall near the store's entrance are fliers advertising church events, DJ listings and clubs.

Young's cares so much about its clientele it gives out free samples of new products. The current goodie is a coconut soda that reveals coconut bits with each sip. Because of this hospitality, county Polynesians have made Young's their piece of paradise. The proof is atop the checkout counter: numerous photographs of the Young's clientele throughout the years, some photos yellowing, others vibrant with color. Most of the beaming men, women and children use the store as their setting, the corned beef and biscuit canisters their background of palm trees and sunsets.

Young's Market, located at 12317 Westminster Ave., Santa Ana, is open Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m-4 p.m. (714) 554-0690.

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